The War Years Blog

Welcome to The War Years blog. Incredibly, horrifically, World War Two resulted in the deaths of 85 million people. Civilian deaths including those subject to war-related disease and famine totalled 55 million. Tens of millions more people were displaced. However, amid all the carnage people demonstrated remarkable courage, fortitude, compassion, mercy and sacrifice. We would like to honour and celebrate all of those people.  

Bringing The War Years Bot to Life

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A bot is an automated software programme that is designed to execute a specific task without any human intervention. A smart bot can learn from previous experience and so improve its ability to perform its required task.

Bots will replace millions of jobs

The obvious benefit of bots is that they can automate many small, mundane, but often time-consuming tasks previously performed by humans. However, not everyone considers this a good thing. According to Damien Gayle, writing for The Guardian in February 2017, 250,000 public sector workers could be replaced by artificial intelligence (AI) by 2030, saving the UK taxpayer £4bn annually.

Today, friendly bots can help you do your tax returns, provide online legal advice, and keep you informed about how your favourite sports teams are doing. Automation and artificial intelligence is being integrated into everything from car safety systems to smart household devices. It’s been estimated that 25 million US jobs will be lost to AI in just a couple of years.

Marketing bots

There is already an army of marketing bots running around performing various tasks from collecting prospect data, monitoring competitors, promoting products and providing after service care. It’s estimated that there are over 100,000 bots on Facebook Messenger, many created by big named brands such as Disney, Whole Foods, CNN and the NFL. Messenger enjoys an average audience size of 1.2 billion active users monthly, so you can see the attraction and possibilities.

Malicious bots

Unfortunately, cyber criminals, hackers and even terrorist groups have been quick to exploit bots for their own dark purposes. Bots generate a large proportion of the spam we all receive. Malicious file-sharing bots return search queries with malware infected music and image files. Chatbots capable of mimicking human interactions lurk on dating sites, where they try to extract personal information and credit card details from the unwary. Clickbots are central to an online advertising fraud worth billions every year. More than half the world’s website traffic is artificial.

The War Years bot

Of course, automation is nothing new. Developed in the 1930s, the infamous Ju-87 Stuka dive-bomber of World War Two featured a clever automated system that ensured the aircraft recovered from a vertical dive even if high G-forces caused the pilot to blackout. Using military history as my inspiration, I decided to build The War Years bot. The War Years is a little online project of mine to bring World War Two history to life.

Building your first bot

First, as a marketing professional, it’s important to keep your knowledge and skills up to date. So, I headed over to Udemy and found a course on how to build your first chatbot. Having successfully completed the course, I decided to use Motion AI as my platform of choice.  Motion AI enables you to build chatbots without coding. It integrates with SMS, Facebook Messenger, Slack and Smooch. It’s free of charge to get you started. You can also build bots for email and your website. However, when I tried to deploy the code with Squarespace it crashed my site, and I had to remove it. Nevertheless, it’s been pretty handy.

Start with a flowchart

Before you build, you plan. I used PowerPoint to draw a simple flowchart of the various modules and interactions for my bot. Having sketched the whole thing out, I got to work. Motion AI has a library of templates that can make building a bot super-fast, however, I started from scratch. The individual modules are easy to use, creating interactions and responses. The difficulty comes trying to anticipate the multitude of query terms real people might use.

The build

Something that I found very useful during the build stage was the Motion AI emulator, that lets you see how your bot will look and respond in a live environment. Having completed the initial build, Motion AI makes it very easy to deploy your bot. I launched The War Years bot on Facebook Messenger. The Motion AI community on Slack was very responsive and helpful when I had a little technical difficulty getting images to render.

Getting your bot noticed

Once your bot is live, the next challenge is getting it noticed. Initially, I made a series of promotional posts on Twitter and did some very ineffective Facebook advertising. Next, I registered my bot with a series of bot directories, such as Botlist and Topbots. The bot directories produced an immediate response. I got a whole series of people take my bot for a spin. I also got some positive feedback on Twitter. I even got some likes from BBC TV presenter and historian Dan Snow.

Facebook ads and Messenger Discovery

Although my first attempt at advertising the bot on Facebook got me nowhere, I decided to change tack. Instead, I spent a little money promoting The War Years Facebook page. This significantly increased my page’s exposure, generated an additional 176 likes in a week, and got a few more people to try my bot. Once you launch a bot on Facebook Messenger, you need to submit a short form that you will find in settings to make it discoverable. Apparently, Discovery is a new section within Facebook Messenger.

 
 

A good start

One of The War Years strengths is its popularity on YouTube. We currently have 60+ military history videos available, 2.5 million views and over 1,300 subscribers. So, I decided to create a short chatbot promotional video and messaged my audience. Certainly, it’s early days for The War Years bot. Nevertheless, it’s received 118 messages from a 112 unique users in the past 7 days, which is a good start.