Cellphones are arguably the most prominent technological advancement of the last 15 years. They emerged from almost nowhere and rapidly advanced into the magnificent personal computers we all carry in our pockets. There are so many interesting things to discuss when it comes to the past of cellphones, but there is really only one moment that matters. When Steve Jobs held up the first iPhone, our relationship with mobile phones changed overnight. In this one presentation, he showed us the final form factor of mobile phones.
This isn’t a new story. Technologies always mature and reach a point where there just aren’t new leaps to be made inside their paradigm. I like to think of this point as “general conceptual perfection.” In other words, cellphones will see incremental improvements, but their general form isn’t going to change much. We’ve perfected it; the size, behavior, materials, and primary functions of the cellphones in the future will be pretty similar to the cellphones we use today.
Now thinking about content technologies, we’ve seen a lot of growth and change in the last 20 years. It feels like there is a new content delivery revolution every year. It’s chatbots this year; is it VR next year and AR in 2021?
With this view, it feels like change is the new norm, and you often hear people talk about what’s next and exponential change in a way that makes it sounds continuous. But it’s not. So, when I think about content technologies maturing, I think about what general conceptual perfection looks like for them.
Well, I think perfect for content technologies is literally sticking information into someone’s head before they want or need it. I kind of picture this like the scene in the Matrix where Neo is getting his head pumped full of Kung Fu. Today, learning technologies attempt something like this. But you can’t teach someone everything they need to know. So, you have to deploy documentation and reference technologies to close knowledge gaps as quickly as you can after someone decides they need to know something.
Since I think it’s unlikely we’ll have Matrix-style plugs in our heads any time soon, I’m going to consider “perfect” for content delivery being:
Users acquire desired knowledge (almost) instantly with no direct human intervention.
Most would consider Search is the current state of the art in achieving this goal, but, really, it isn’t very good. Search works great when you know (or strongly suspect) the answer to your question exists, and you know how to ask for it. But it rarely does a good job at the discovery. There are some notable exceptions: Amazon’s faceted search nicely blends browse style techniques with search in such a way that users can often discover what they’re looking for.
Chatbots are the potentially the iPhone moment for this type of content delivery. I don’t mean that Chatbots are the iPhone for content delivery, but more that they are the final piece that gives us the iPhone. With Chatbots we now have all the major pieces of the conceptually perfect stack of tools for content delivery. Chatbots are the promise that users can find and discover answers and information in the way that’s the most natural, conversation. Human beings have been transferring and acquiring information through conversation for thousands of years. Conversation is so natural that children learn it by simply being in its presence, as opposed to reading, which is a taught skill. And for content delivery, it’s not everything, but it is certainly a key component that’s been missing from our stack for a long time.
In theory, chatbots can live almost anywhere, and they provide a user interface to content that can directly answer questions or quickly determine the right content. I picture the process like this: a user opens a box inside their current application, has a short exchange with a chatbot, then receives an answer or a link to a topic (web page) containing the knowledge they need. If this worked 95% of the time, I’d say this was pretty far along the way to perfection for content delivery.
Having played with chatbots a bit, I think there is still a ways to go before the current technologies will be able to offer this functionality, but definitely on its way.
Next up, I’m going to start exploring some of the more technical aspects of chatbots for documentation and user assistance. Subscribe to our blog to be the first to know: