Are You Friends With Bots?

Danielle Beurteaux

Feeling overwhelmed by the demands of your social media life? If you’re suffering from social information overload, it might be time to filter some of that never-ending communication stream.

But why do the filtering yourself? There’s a bot for that.

The Chat Bot Club is a product of a recent hackathon. Its purpose is solve the overwhelming amount of social media info and to filter social media group chats. With help from IBM’s Watson, the bots learn a user’s style and take care of group interactions. Basically, it’s a bot masquerading as you.

Chat Bot Club is joining the bot pack (although it’s not commercially available). Bots are becoming big business. Kik and Facebook all recently launched bots stores. Microsoft is big on bots, too. The company sees them replacing apps and doing useful things like organizing your life. But then again, Microsoft’s Twitter bot Tay had a quick and infamous run before it was taken offline (Tay is being…refined).

Technology muddied the water of personal relationships – as in, there are your friends, and then there are your “Facebook friends”– and now there’s technology to help manage friends and make new ones.

In March, Nintendo launched Miitomo, a social app. Miitomo users create an avatar of themselves called a Mii, and then answer a set of questions, which are then shared with the user’s social group. The idea is to create a sense of intimacy and safety on a social media platform, to pass up the quantity (think Facebook friend requests) for a more in-depth relationship.

Bumble, which began as a dating app, has recently broadened its scope to include those seeking friendships. The new product is called BFF and reportedly uses the same algorithms that Bumble uses to match members looking for dates (the two functions will be color-coded so users can tell the difference between dates and friends). Bumble formally included this capability because users were requesting it, and they were already using the dating app to make new friends anyway. The company isn’t talking about how its algorithms can tell the difference but says that it does track info from Facebook.

Earlier this year, Hey! Vina was launched. Similar to Tindr, there’s matching and swiping going on, but for female friends only. (Here’s a blow-by-blow account of how it works.) Like BFF, it populates personal info from Facebook accounts. Monarq is another recently launched friend-finding app that works in a similar way. It’s interesting that all three of these apps focus on female friendships.

Previous startups that were trying to do something similar didn’t last. According to this Fast Company piece, Lumelle shuttered because the founders couldn’t get the investment money they needed to keep it going, and Let’s At had problems getting enough users.

What does that say about making friends in tech-centric times?

Robots aren’t simply evolving as human replacements, they’re also becoming collaborators and extensions of human abilities. For more, read Bring Your Robot to Work.


Danielle Beurteaux

About Danielle Beurteaux

Danielle Beurteaux is a New York–based writer who covers business, technology, and philanthropy. Her work has appeared in The New York Times and on Popular Mechanics, CNN, and Institutional Investor's Alpha, among other outlets.