Slack and the Decline of Bots

Remember when bots were the new apps? Now it’s the opposite.

Will Oremus
OneZero
Published in
4 min readOct 22, 2019

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A close up of a phone display with various messaging and social media app icons, featuring the Slack app icon in the center.
Photo: Chesnot/Getty

“B“Bots are the new apps,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said at the company’s annual developer conference in 2016. His company had just updated Cortana, its virtual assistant, and built a system for developers to build bots of their own.

The idea was that people would no longer have to open an array of different apps or websites to do things like order lunch or a ride, check the news or weather, or get work done. They could do all of it simply by chatting with artificially intelligent software, which would automatically plug into the services they needed.

Nadella wasn’t the only big bot believer. Three months earlier, the Verge’s Casey Newton had published a long feature on bots as the future of user interfaces. He cited the prevalence of text-based bots in Slack, the workplace productivity app, as well as their proliferation in products like Whatsapp, WeChat, and Facebook Messenger.

Fast forward to 2019, and it seems that bots are no longer the new apps. If anything, to judge from Slack’s latest product announcements, apps are the new bots.

“Nobody should have to be a specialist in the dozens of apps they interact with on a daily or weekly basis.”

At its annual developer conference on Tuesday, Slack announced a series of new features designed to integrate third-party apps into its platform in deeper and richer ways. The idea is that people will no longer have to remember the specific combination of words necessary to summon a bot in order to do things like order lunch or a ride, check the news or weather, or get work done. They can now find all those things simply by navigating through a menu of apps, which bring up windows and icons that they can tap or click on. Sound familiar?

It’s about ease of use, said Andy Pflaum, Slack’s head of platform, in a briefing with OneZero ahead of the announcement. “Nobody should have to be a specialist in the dozens of apps they interact with on a daily or weekly basis,” he said.

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