Slack Is Releasing Botkit To Make Bots Easier To Build

Slack Is Releasing Botkit To Make Bots Easier To Build

Slack, the increasingly popular team-messaging software, wants more developers to build apps that hook into its work-chat software.

So it’s announcing new software, Botkit, to simplify the building of such apps; a directory to make it easier to find them; and an investment fund to back developers, particularly ones building apps solely for Slack. (Slack executives are expected to make the announcements at an event in San Francisco Tuesday evening.)

The Botkit And Kaboodle

Slack “worked closely” on Botkit with Howdy, a startup focused on building chat-based Slack apps, according to April Underwood, Slack’s head of platform. Slack and Howdy are releasing Botkit under an open-source license.

“I want every [business-to-business] and enterprise developer to have a bot, and I want that bot to be in Slack,” said Underwood in an interview Tuesday morning.

Bots aren’t the only way Slack works with other apps, but they’re perhaps the most intriguing new interface Slack presents. Messaging apps in Asia have shown that users are willing to get updates and even chat with business accounts run by software. With Slack, the notion is that a user who’s chatting with colleagues can easily switch to chatting with a bot without the mental overhead of context switching.

Building a bot may sound easy—we’ve been building chat bots since the 1960s, if you remember Eliza, as I do, from the days when you would type in Basic programs from printed computer books.

Howdy CEO Ben Brown says it’s harder than it sounds. Coding a bot to send a user a direct message in Slack, for example, requires accessing three different APIs. And simply listening to users requires a bot to constantly monitor Slack channels and parse messages for relevance. Botkit lets developers skip that work and get down to more interesting features—what Brown calls the “functionality and personality” of bots.

Brown is also hoping to set standards or “design patterns” for bots. Think of Botkit as baking in some basic etiquette for bots built on top of it. Among other idea, Brown thinks all bots should be able to exchange pleasantries like saying hello, and identify who created them and where their software is running.

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