How to develop truly conversational bots

Have you ever had a pleasant conversation with a bot? Chances are high that you have, as chatbots are getting smarter and better at helping us deal with the products we’re dealing with everyday.

Barcelona startup Caravelo is at the moment developing six chatbots for some of the biggest airlines in the world. The chatbots they build help millions of travelers to book and reschedule flights, provide customer service, act as personal concierges and much more.

Even though all their bots use NLU (natural language understanding), they’re not building their own solution, but are using existing NLU solutions to cope with all the different languages airlines need to speak with their customer, according to co-founder JoseLuis Vilar:

“If we would try to build an NLU solution for all the languages our client’s needs, we would be dead.”

Not replacing apps

Caravelo says beyond the hype, that the bots they’re building are not replacing apps, they just doing the same things very differently in terms of UX and UI, but also in terms of use cases.

“We won’t build bots for everything, only where it’s natural to have one.”

After being live with several chatbots for nearly 3 months, collecting thousands of interactions, they’ve already learned a lot of valuable lessons, the biggest being not ask the same questions over and over again.

According to the startup the distance between success and failure is quite short, so you need to get things right the first time around. And according to Vilar, even though the risk for failure is high, the reward for the customer when things go right is much higher.

Repeating answers is the worst a bot can do to a customer according to Caravelo.

Work on building a solid knowledge base

After tracking their bots conversations the latest months, Caravelo has found that 20 percent of the inventory of intents (Q&A’s) makes up around 80 percent of the total value. So you need to focus on that part first, building a really strong inventory to start all conversations, the right username and contact, pictures, etc.

The next 15 percent of value is based on the inventory of questions and answer (intents) where you need to build a solid knowledge base for your specific industry. In Caravelo’s case, they’ve built a database of 1000 FAQ’s related to the airline and travel industry, and this is based on interactions the airlines have had with their customers over the years.

The last five percent of value are from the questions a bot cannot answer, and the idea is this is the place where we get the human take-over, and a customer service agent will serve any remaining problem.

The three different categories of value provided to the customer, either by a bot or a human.

Key learnings

The most important learning Caravelo has done the last months is to avoid user loops, like shown in the pictures above. There are few things as annoying for a user to go through the same questions over and over again.

So far Caravelo’s solution to bugs like this one has been to build a small fix where the bot only can ask the same question a certain amount of times.

Caravelo co-founder and CIO JoseLuis Vilar.

Another key learning is to use, but not abuse the NLU (natural language understanding). So for example, today they have some answers that go through the back-end from their database, and some answers that go through the NLU, but they classify the easy answers, like affirmations, to not go through the NLU.

Just as with any product, the on-boarding of the user is crucial to keep people talking to the bots. In the case of chatbots, you need to tell them what you’ll be doing for them, and give the user clear options.

The last take-away the Caravelo team has learned over the course of using bots in real life, is to not take too much advantage of bot trainers (external services), as they’re not building a natural language understanding themselves, and it’s easy to get too dependent on them.

To get the full value of Caravelo’s learnings, take a look at the video at the top.


If you want to learn more, take a look at our latest podcast about the European VC industry:

https://blog.itnig.net/first-rule-of-talking-to-vcs-show-metrics-that-support-the-story-you-re-telling-3d31160db889

Learning the Design to Code process

Even if you’e not a designer and never used design software before, you can still release products that do the job and are well designed.

The following steps I’ll guide you through can be divided into three parts:

  • Planning
  • Designing
  • Coding

It’s far from a complete UX process, but it will allow you to take your own design and make it come alive.

1. Plan it

In your initial phase of planning you need to know your goal, and what you want to achieve with your project.

When you know for what purpose you’e building your app or your product for, you need to know who’s using it.

You should think of your audience in three different ways.

>Who: Demographics, age, gender, profession, etc.

>Where: In what setting they will use your product in.

>What: The kind of device they’re using your product on.

Take this information and let it influence your decision as you design.

The next step is to do at basic flowchart, in other words see how the user goes through your product, step by step, instead of just hard-coding it.

When you make a flowchart you avoid making mistakes that forces you to go back and do big changes. An example of a flowchart I’ve used in Quipu is pictured under to give you a rough idea, but if you want to dig into it — here’s a video explaining the process using Sketch.

It’s extremely important to have a thorough plan for whatever product you’re designing. It will save you time and effort for sure.

The last part of the planning, is to define a functional definition of each page in your product. It’s a document that will be your documentation or knowledge base about what each screen does, what it shows, and what routes and actions are possible to take from there.

So if you’re building an app, you should have a page with the following information for each interface:

Name of the view (or the module) –> The purpose of the page –> Full information –> Partial information –> List information –> Routes/actions.

If you did your flowchart correctly, the documentation will be heavily dependent on that Flow Chart.

2. Design it

The most important thing as a fresh designer or working on a project you’ve coded yourself, is to use established patterns.

There’s no reason to reinvent the wheel again.

A place where you can find questions and answers for most issues are ux.stackexchange.com. It’s similar to stackoverflow.com, just for design, and we know how important that is to most designers, so don’t be afraid to seek inspiration and help from more experienced people.

Then start on your wire-framing. Translate your flow and functional definition to a low-fidelity screen that contain everything but the design finish. In other words, focus on getting all the routes, actions, buttons and content right before making it look nice.

One of the most important thing of the design process, is to design it like you would code it. I recommend using Sketch, but use whatever software you’re comfortable with, like Illustrator or Photoshop.

Design as you would code it simply means using non-filled transparent containers to imitate containers and wrappers. Also use naming conventions for layers and groups just as you would use while coding your components.

The last thing I want to mention in terms of design, is to use Atomic Design principles which is a way of designing interfaces that extends to what we’ve been covering in the “Design as you would code it” part above.

It talks about structuring your design, and define it into atoms (colors, fonts, shapes) and form molecules by using them (buttons, inputs, lists etc..), to finally do organisms. An organism then becomes a template For example, A navigation bar that has a menu, a search bar and a logo (few molecules).

Foto: http://bradfrost.com/blog/post/atomic-web-design/

3. Code it

As a designer I will not teach code, most of you probably are more talented coders than I am, so I’ll just mention the software you should use to help you get all the CSS styles you will ever need.

Zeplin.io is a software that takes Sketch Designs, exports CSS styles and gives you all the sizes, margins, paddings, borders you need in order to translate your design to code and not loose the quality and level of detail you worked so hard on.

Zeplin.io is in my opinion the best way to translate design to code.

If you followed the atomic design, and designing as you would code it, then this process is simple, quick and with minimum errors.

I can honestly say that in Quipu where I do the design, this is the most time-saving tool I’ve ever come across. It drastically reduced both cost and time spent on getting the looks of our apps and website translated to all browsers.

Also read:

https://blog.itnig.net/why-ux-ui-designs-should-be-aimed-at-zombies-1968d72b0472


This post was written by media manager at itnig, Sindre Hopland, based on the presentation by lead designer at Quipu, Kamil Jura.

2017 — The year eSports really goes mainstream

In stadiums meant for physical sports are thousands of fans gathered to see their idols play more virtual kinds of games. Foto: Bago Games

In 2016 reports showed that over one billion people are aware of eSports the industry brought in around one billion dollars the same year. Both analysts and experts see 2017 as a year this growth continues, and that in a fast pace, as this will be the year eSports goes mainstream.

Pol Ruiz is the co-founder and CEO of Playfulbet, one of the biggest social betting platforms in Europe with over seven million users. They were one of the first startups that saw the eSports wave coming:

I have to say that eSports have evolved a lot since we started Playfulbet four years ago. At the time we were the only ones offering betting on eSports (though not with real money). Today all the betting sites lets you bet on eSports and it’s growing rapidly month over month.

Pol Ruiz, CEO and co-founder of Playfulbet.

Talking about sports, the only thing growing faster than eSports itself, is betting on eSports. According to the market analyst SuperData the eSports market will be worth 1.8 billion by the end of 2018. The sum is small compared to the betting market says Pol:

What many analysts doesn’t take account for is the betting industry around eSports which is also growing exponentially, and is anticipated to generate around $20 billion in turnover by 2020.

https://upscri.be/285782-2

Gamers are more loyal than football supporters

Stadiums used for traditional sports, are filling up with energetic audiences hungry for eSports live tournaments. It’s important to note that there are several key differences between the normal sports fan and the eSports enthusiasts.

The things that are special with eSports fans is that they support, interact and are much active than normal sports fans. They identify themselves with the game in a bigger degree than with other sports fans, and this makes the eSports sector both so interesting and valuable.

Pol and his team at Playfulbet are monitoring both sports sectors, and see trends emerging.

The industry is exploding, and especially after many traditional football and basketball teams got associated with the online sports games, and even formed professional eSports teams.

Mainstream means money

Until now eSports has been associated with one particular kind of demography, but that is changing rapidly, according to Pol:

As traditional TV and mass media companies are entering, this is becoming a mainstream thing. In Spain there’s TV channels dedicated to eSports and Mediapro is covering the LVP (the national eSports league in Spain).

He continues:

As most experts predict, the eSports sector will continue to grow fast the next couple of years, particularly with the entry of mainstream brands and additional famous profiles from the traditional sports world.

Also read:

https://blog.itnig.net/how-playfulbet-grew-to-400k-followers-on-facebook-and-300k-on-twitter-c207cb286559

Focused on eSports because no one else did

To strengthen their focus on eSports, Pol and Playfulbet is adding more gaming streams to the platform:

we’re integrating streaming of eSport matches so you can follow the games you’ve been betting on without leaving the platform, and you can also chat with your community watching the same games. But there’s still much more to be done for the eSports community using the platform.

Playfulbet moved over the offering bets on eSports fairly early because of one main reason:

We added eSports mostly because no one else did it, so for us it was a competitive advantage. We’re still not more focused on eSports with respect to other sports, but we’re working on offering even more content and functionality in this niche.


This post was written by media manager itnig Sindre Hopland.

Breaking VIM’s unbreakable «learning wall»

First of all, let’s make things clear. VIM does not stand for Very Intuitive Magic. It’s not easy to learn and it’s like going to the gym. You have to be consistent and use it daily to see the results and keep in shape once you are fit.

But why is it so confusing for most of the people? It is a modal editor, and every mode has its own key bindings. By default VIM opens in «normal mode», which won’t allow you to type. You have to get into «insert mode» pressing the «i» key to be able to insert text, but you could also place the cursor on a character and press «r» to replace it with whatever you typed next, or you could press «o» to create a new line and enter «insert mode» at the same time, etc. You have to remember what every key does in every mode, and you’ll only achieve this with practice. That’s what makes VIM different.

Why bother?

So why would anyone try to break the learning wall and master VIM? Some will say it’s just to prettend you are cool, but they couldn’t be more wrong. There are some features that make the VIM user objectively faster than any other editor user.

No mouse

The first one is the fact that you don’t have to use the mouse for anything. Think about how many times you use the mouse to move around a document in any other editor and sum all those precious miliseconds. It’s a lot at the end of the year.

Changing an “IF” condition and adding an “IF” in 10 seconds

Hands always in standard position

It’s not only that you don’t use the mouse, but you actually don’t have to move your hands out of the standard position, meaning that you don’t need to use arrow keys, or other keys outside the normal reach.

Preinstalled

It comes preinstalled in almost every decent operative system, so you don’t have to go through the hassle of downloading it every time you change your computer or want to edit something somewhere else.

Runs in Console/Terminal

It runs GUIless, in a Terminal or Console, so if you are working on a development project running servers, scripts and commands, you don’t have to switch context. You can feel at home even when editing files in remote servers. This means you can even access and use VIM from a smartphone with an SSH app.

Editing the itnig website in a Mac, with and iPad, through SSH

Lightweight and fast

It’s lightweight and fast, super responsive and never crashes. It takes 60ms for it to open a file containing the 131843 lines of the Holly Bible.

100% Customizable

If there is something you don’t like just change it. The .vimrc config file lets you customize the behaviour of your editor and confortably replicate your settings between setups. If there is something missing, just install it as a plugin.

Macros and scripts

You can actually record your commands to automatise repetitive tasks. Imagine you have a data file you want to make JSON compliant. By recording what you want just once, you can replicate it as many times as you need.

Making a data set JSON compliant by recording and playing a macro

And if that’s not enough for you, you can write scripts using VIM Script and customize your VIM even more.

How fast can you type all IP’s in a local network in your editor?

With just a few lines you can for example create your custom syntax highlighting toggle, and use a shortcut to activate it.

VIM syntax toggling script https://www.ibm.com/developerworks/library/l-vim-script-1/

Breaking the wall

The best way for learning VIM is using it for everything. From writing documetation to typing code in every project you have. Start with the basic commands: i, :wq, dd, p, hjkl.

You can try this awesome Zelda-like game to learn how to use VIM.

Keep using it, because you’ll never feel you know it enough.

I hope this gave you the essentials to start exploring the eternal possibilities of VIM. Feel free to comment below if you have experience using it yourself, the more tips the better. When you master VIM, I can guarantee that you’ll never use any other editor again. Enjoy!

 

What app to build in 2017? Native, Hybrid or Progressive Web Apps?

The global apps debate got another dimension as Google proposed progressive web apps as the next big thing in 2015.

However, most people building apps today still prefer native apps, for several reasons, mostly because it’s what people actually use.

We gathered three experienced developers and CTO’s to discuss the three types of apps most developers are building today. jordimirobruix, former CTO of Wuaki.tv, senior developer at Ulabox, Rubén Sospedra and founder of Javascript coder bootcamp Codeworks Alessandro Zanardi.

Friction, friction friction

A big question in the app-building discussion, is about the app install friction. In other words how many clicks there are from finding the app in the app store – to becoming an active user.

After voting on what type of app most people with build something with tomorrow, more than 40 percent of the people attending the debate chose native.

Briux believes the friction is the same in both PWA’s and native apps:

What’s the difference of the friction generated by the app store, compared with downloading a web app to your home screen?

Zanardi believes progressive web apps is much more frictionless because the device itself promotes the use of PWA’s:

There is much less friction in installing a progressive web app because the device your using is actually wanting you to install it. Compared to going to the app store, installing an app that takes up tons of space, and needs an update every two weeks.

Sospedra turns to the metrics:

The numbers tell us a story when 86 percent of the media being consumed on mobile phones are through native apps and only 10 percent of the total time spent on smartphones are used in browsers. PWA’s are still the new kid on the block, so maybe in five years we can talk again?

https://upscri.be/285782-2

The evil app store?

In one of the last question rounds, the app defenders had to reveal their answer about app stores — good or evil?

Miro says that if you get rejected it’s an evil thing and continues:

Android is pretty easy, just push and you’re in. With iOS however, to wait for someone from the other side of the world to test your app, that’s a black box for developers and nobody likes black boxes.

Codeworks CEO Zanardi points to that the app store or Apple, is the biggest preventer for making PWA’s really big:

The biggest problem PWA’s have at the moment is that Apple’s Safari doesn’t support service workers and that kills a lot of the purpose of the app. Firefox and Chrome are embracing PWA’s. As long as Apple is making tons of money from the app store we’ll have a real challenge.

What does your startup need?

Former Wuaki CTO Miro says choice of app to build all boils down to what kind of business you’re building:

If you asked me four months ago, hybrid apps were not the way because we couldn’t build what the business needed in Wuaki. But today for what I’m building, we’re looking for speed, something that’s tested and reliable and we wanted access to Canvas or WebGL, so hybrid is the way for us today.

Miro explains how the business decisions often dictates what kind of apps you end up building.

Sospedra agrees with Miro, saying that your business goals need to be clear before deciding what kind of app you’re building. He’s also adding that what kind of technology your team is comfortable with is important as well:

If you have a team that are really good at Javascript, then go for React native, but that’s my opinion.

As progressive web apps might be the bet for the future, Zanardi wanted to end the discussion with a statement:

I completely agree with these guys that if you’re building an app today to work on iOS and Android I would go native. The main problem you would have with PWA’s is with the iOS. If you’re targeting mostly Android devices you might go for a PWA. As long as Apple is blocking the spreading of PWA’s we’ll have an issue we need to solve.

There was a lot of other interesting points in the full debate, so check out the video at the top!


The post and video was produced by the itnig media team Masumi Mutsuda and Sindre Hopland.