Just ahead of Google’s I/O event kicking off later today, some details have leaked out about a new service that Google is launching for developers that are building chatbots. TechCrunch has learned that Google has developed a new service called Chatbase, which provides analytics and suggestions for how to “fix” bot experiences to make them better for users.
A source tells us that the service is being hatched out of Google’s Area 120 internal incubator, and it was developed by Ofer Ronen and Hari Rajagopalan, both of whom came to Google by way of previous acquisitions.
[Update: Google confirmed all of the details in this story about Chatbase, and a spokesperson said it will be in early access release starting today.]
Chatbase appears to have been in a private beta with about a dozen companies, including the chat app Viber (which launched its own foray into chatbots late last year), eBay, JustFab and Unicef.
(Note: Chatbase is not the same thing as this ChatBase app in Google Play.)
There are no screenshots on the Chatbase website, although there are options for developers to sign up for access, which leads me to think it might be one of the items getting announced today.
What you can see on the website is that it’s connected to API.ai, the bot management startup that Google acquired in September last year.
The site also has a description of what you will be able to do with Chatbase. Google notes that it will let you “track key metrics like active users, sessions, retention. View metrics per intent, sentiment, or chat platform”; fix broken experiences by viewing “a prioritized list of user messages not handled well”; and “optimize user churn based on an automatically generated visualization of all sessions.”
Bringing “Dark data” to light
With Chatbase, I think Google is moving on a couple of themes. First of all, it is tapping into one of the biggest recent developments in the world of messaging apps: chatbots, or automatic response systems that sit on top of existing messaging platforms like Slack and Facebook’s Messenger. These tap into innovations in areas like natural language processing and machine learning to provide information and much more to users in a chat messaging format — a new way for users to interact with organizations and apps.
But the business of chatbots is still very nascent. While there has been a lot of interest in making and using chatbots, there have been a lot of stumbles, too, with chatbots serving up questionable or just useless results. This has led to some brands cooling on the idea of developing these, and many examples of how chatbots fail, even as the platforms continue to get smarter.
In short, Google is filling a gap: Chatbots need fixing.
At the same time, Google has largely missed the boat when it comes to social media, and that includes messaging apps — despite the many more recent efforts it has made with new apps like Allo and Duo, and possibly other future apps that have yet to be released. The same goes for bots. These are largely written for popular messaging and communications platforms like Messenger and Slack, meaning that Google is completely cut out of the loop in the development and running of these services.
As our source describes it, chatbots are a “dark space” for Google. “Most of the traffic [for chatbots] goes through Facebook Messenger, Slack, and other platforms. With Chatbase, Google hopes to gain knowledge about conversations brands are having with customers.”