It’s been hard for the Facebooks and Microsofts of the world to explain how chatbots will be useful to consumers. Their attempts to wow users have included onstage pizza delivery demos and ho-hum promises of better ways to find news online. So, with the big names in tech underwhelming us with a collective lack of vision for bot applications, we’re forced to look to the smaller, more obscure brands for innovation and craftiness: Take realty search company Apartment Ocean for example.
“We see it as the future,” Junjie Shi, cofounder of Apartment Ocean, tells Inverse. “We all know how difficult it is to find an apartment and we’re very excited about chatbots becoming popular right now … In the future, our users won’t need to hire a real estate agent.”
Instead of painstakingly going through app preferences to endeavor on an aimless apartment hunt, Mary starts up a conversation about what kind of amenities users are looking for in an apartment, what their price range is, and where they want to live. She then delivers a few living options through links on the main Apartment Ocean website.
Though nothing about automating an apartment-search app through a bot feels groundbreaking, Mary’s future does sound promising.
“The next step [is],” Nick Kljaic, the other cofounder of the site, tells Inverse, “if you have house problems, you could say, ‘Hey, Mary, I need plumbing done tomorrow,’ and then our advisor Mary shoots the message and you get the scheduled appointment the next day.”
Any technology which can prevent an extra face-to-face with your landlord sounds like a winning one. And even if you don’t recoil at the site of your building owner, giving the logistics work behind repairs requests and utilities and rent payments to bots could make city living a lot easier. But the founders recognize their Mary bot is still very much a new product and will take time to develop up to that level.
Chatbots have not been all that impressive upon their launch. Consumers are reporting even simple bots, like those that are supposed to tell the weather, simply don’t work. Plus, not only can everything that Mary can do be done directly on the company’s website, but bots also only take apartment seekers so far. Eventually, consumers will have to meet with a real person, sign a lease, and check out the place for themselves.
And, while companies like Foursquare and Kayak offer similar bot services for restaurant and travel suggestions on Slack, finding an apartment does seem like a particularly distracting, off-time task to be doing on the work communication app.
Though Facebook’s Messenger, probably the appropriate place for leisure and personal business bots, does offer some some beginnings of good ideas for bot applications (take TheScore’s chatbot, for instance), we’re probably still looking at a lengthy wait before the chatbot economy officially takes off.
But! In the meantime, do make sure to tell your landlord we said hi!