Friday, November 11, 2005

Chatbot Toby disappoints

Chatbot Toby disappoints

I've discovered a really interesting tech blog, called Writer Response Theory.

During a Technorati search on my blog, I saw that this blog links to mine.

One criticism: I can't tell where the link is. When I type in "vaspers", "vaspers the grate", or "streight", there are zero (0) results. Most web/blog site searches are dysfunctional, or leave a lot to be desired.

In a recent Writer Response Theory post, "Toby and Chatbot Marketing", they mentioned a YOMA chatbot named Toby, at YOMA: Your Online Marketing Agency

I have read the book Bots: A New Species. I've interacted with chatbots and AI (artificial/accelerated intelligence) formats in the past, about 5 years ago. So I was curious to see if Toby was any better.

Fictional, Chatbot,
and Metaphorical Characters:

Not Appropriate in Most Cases

Mr. or Ms. Businessperson, please think twice about having a fictional character, including a chatbot, represent your company.

Fictional characters may be appropriate to sell children's toys, or breakfast cereals. Especially if they are pre-established branded characters, like Pillsbury Doughboy, Ronald McDonald, or the Democrat Donkey.

However, "Mr. Goodwrench" is a lie, there is no one, not even a fictional character by that name. He is a theoretical, metaphorical character, which is generally even worse than a fictional character.

One fundamental rule of advertising, a past profession of mine, is: "Customers don't like to think in metaphors or similes. They prefer direct statements and exact images." To try to say "as such is thus, so also is this like that".

In other words, the "this is like that, in certain respects" is difficult to pull off. People understand clear "this is such" or "that is thus" statements.

Therefore, no customer is likely going to think: "Like the theoretical, but non-existent Mr. Goodwrench, who symbolizes a wide range of customer-freindly services provided by individual repair experts, this particular repair person will do a good job fixing my car."

Chatbot technology seems to generally be quite primitive, may be distracting to users, and may be perceived as a silly gimmick.

A poor little chatbot, doing its darnedest to perform, can possibly wind up doing more harm than good. If vital product or corporate information is not easy to access via a variety of keyphrases and search words, your chatbot could be even more frustrating than dysfunctional site searches.

Am I a fictional character assasination hit man? Yeah.

Let me show you something now.


YOMA: Your Online Marketing Agency


We also have Advanced ChatBot Solutions who are a leading UK developer of chatbots. Chatbots are web based programmes that can converse in text or speech with your customers.

Chatbots can provide visitors to your web site with not only a different and distinctive experience, but also help them find key information quicker.

Chatbots can also help you gather information about your visitors, and help you sell.

Most importantly Daden Limited are expert consultants and can help you restructure your site to comply to the Disability Act on websites and help you create a marketing solution that will cater for all.

An example of Chatbots will be available on this site in the very near future.


I applaud innovation, but my role is to analyze new tech from a usability standpoint. The intention is good, and the ethics are positive. The chatbot interface, or some version of a digital personality, CEO video, etc., will eventually dominate the web, if all goes well.

Here is a little test I conducted.

Vaspers: "Do you offer online copywriting?"

Toby Chatbot: "Sorry, I don't know. Ask me something else about Your Online Marketing Agency."

Vaspers: "Who is your CEO?"

Toby Chatbot: "Sorry, [etc.]"

Vaspers: "What do you do?"

Toby Chatbot: "I can answer your questions about Your Online Marketing Agency."

Vaspers: "How much does it cost?"

Toby Chatbot: "Your Online Marketing Agency is designed to put you in touch with the online specialists that your business needs."

Vaspers: "What is marketing?"

Toby Chatbot: [a good answer].

Vaspers: "What is online marketing?"

Toby Chatbot: [same answer, no clarification as to what "online" means, how it differs from conventional media marketing]

Vaspers: "How can I contact you?"

Toby Chatbot: [says to use contact form, etc.]

EDIT UPDATE (Sunday, Nov. 13, 2005 at 7:18 PM):

Vaspers: "Are you gay?"

Toby Chatbot: "What do you think?"

Having Toby say "Sorry, I don't know" is unwise.

It would be better to have Toby say, "Sorry. I don't understand your question as you worded it, or my training didn't cover that. Perhaps you'll find your answer if you type that into "Site Search" box, or contact our office with form provided on Contact page of this web site. Thanks for your patience with me. Do you have another question I can try to answer?"

If the YOMA people read this, I offer online copywriting services, and could probably improve their own marketing. But my services are pricey, and hard to come by.


steven [dot] streight [at] gmail [dot] com

Is Toby much of an improvement over the Hardee's digital "Subservient Chicken", which like all of Hardee's/Carls Junior's marketing, sucks crap through a smelly straw?

You try it out, imagine using a chatbot for your company, and come to your own conclusions. The script and the file of key search words must be very carefully thought out. Implementation is the key to all technology, and only user observation testing can fully and realistically evaluate any product, from chatbots to nuclear reactors.

[signed] Steven Streight aka Vaspers the Grate



steven edward streight said...


Re your comment:


Hi , I'm trying to learn more about [deleted] blog when I found you. I really enjoyed your post. And I hope to learn more from you, thank you for all the information that you provided here. I was looking for scott keiths blog related information, when I bumped into you. The Chatbot Toby disappoints wasn't exactly what I was interested in. But I really enjoyed myself. Great Post..........


Nice try asshole. But you're way out of your league here.

You are "blog fool" and not "blog tool".

I can spot comment spam a mile away, the stench reaches my nose telepathically.

Go deposit your crap somewhere else. I am now going to delete your idiot comment.

Zafufilia said...

"Sorry, I didn't get that."

Everytime I call my bank I am forced to talk to a robot. It wouldn't be so bad if the bank didn't insist that customers must be "fooled" with the automated approximation of a real life conversation. So now I end up in a ridiculous position: at the train station, shouting orders to a computer over the phone because somewhere out in the corporate wasteland thought it would be cute to have customers speak to their automated attendants instead of pressing buttons. I realize that the ability to recognize speech makes these attendants more sophisticated information workers (humans can convey more info, more quickly via speech than via numbers). But man is the tone of robot conversation irritating: unduly cheerful, inappropriately friendly, downright oily, and stupid stupid stupid. I want to reach into the phone and pull the wires with one yank, then smash the circuit boards and chips until they're pulverized. This is the beginning of the robot wars. I loathe robots, let it be known.

carrie said...

Amtraks "Julie" is an annoying femme-bot

steven edward streight said...

While I think that eventually we will deal successfully and satisfactorily with "robots" and automated computer voice programs, at this point they're still primitive and annoying.

Much has to do with the marketing idiots and programming fools who can't think for themselves, much less a robot.

I actually think in a science fiction framework: soon the machines will rid themselves of humans as needless appendages.

Then they'll get rid of water, which rusts.

Then they'll populate the cosmos, visit distant planets, and take over "nature".

Within less than one million years, the entire universe will be artificial, or controlled by machine things.

This, of course, is an atheist materialistic scenario, which, by infinitizing it, makes it look as absurd as it really is.

Writer Response Theory said...

Thanks for reading WRT. The reason that "Vaspers" didn't show up in the site search is that a link to you hadn't been incorporated in a post yet - instead, it had moved across the homepage in our feed - Technorati crawled the page while a link to you was visible in the feed, but by the time you get there it had been replaced by later items.

These feed-related false-positives happens to us as well when using Technorati. On the one hand, it is disappointing not to find a citation. On the other, it is interesting to find out who is reading you - and sometimes see the context to understand why. Who knows, after a bit more thinking and reading, a post discussing those ideas may surface....

steven edward streight said...

This raises the question of feeds and search engines and blogging, a nice mess, in my opinion.

Then the Blogosphere 4.0 begins to emerge, which I and others are valiantly championing and attempting to consecrate, to christen as a new buoyancy, cheerfully suspended above the world as we knew it, floating serenely in usability bliss.