As the CEO of a startup, I’ve always tried to set aside time to get to know each new team member as they come onboard. As such, when I asked my Partner Eddie Arrieta when would be good for a team meeting and he told me to ask Amy, I was momentarily taken aback. Who was Amy? Was there a new intern who had slipped through the net?
It turns out that my memory still serves me. He was referring to Amy.ai, the new chatbot we were trialing to schedule staff and client meetings. Over the last year we have trialled and brought onboard a number of bot applications — AI powered software programs that utilize messaging to carry out a range of ‘personal assistant’ tasks.
Bots are hot right now. When investors such as Y Combinator, Greylock Partners and SV Angel start pumping funding into an emerging technology, it tells you that it is a space that you should consider moving. Over the last few years bots have been created to do everything from tell you the weather, manage your personal finances, to help your team communicate more efficiently.
Fortunately I spend much of the year in Medellin, Colombia, the ‘City of Eternal Spring’, so I don’t need help with weather forecasts, however our team has rolled out a number of bots to offer us a helping hand in various aspects of our day to day jobs.
Scheduling meetings and appointments
The illusive Amy Ingram is a chatbot created by x.ai, a startup based in New York. According to a recent study by Atlassian, the average employee can be expected to attend as many as 62 meetings each month, and playing email ping pong trying to organize meetings can become a real headache.
Our team tries to limit the amount of time spent in team meetings to one to two hours per week, but add client phone calls, and back and forth conversations into the mix, and setting up meetings quickly becomes a drain on productivity.
Now, whenever we need to schedule a meeting or call, we can simply CC [email protected] into the email chain. The bot then does all the legwork between all parties with different potential time slots based on their availabilities. When ‘she’ has found a time which is convenient for everyone, she sends us a calendar invite with a time, date and location or dial in number.
We have found this tool especially useful because our company has clients in different time zones all over the world, teams based in three different cities, and a flexible remote working policy. Using Amy has really cut the amount of time spent calculating time differences and trying to find times that work for everyone involved. Amy is here to stay, and I didn’t even need to take her for lunch to welcome her to the team.
Keeping up to date with media coverage on the move
As a marketing startup, our team needs to be up to date with breaking news, and be able to check media results for our clients in real time, even when on the move. I recently downloaded the Whatsapp bot Qeubot and have encouraged our account managers and editorial team to do the same too. Qeubot is new Whatsapp bot which is legal, free, and doesn’t require root permissions or have any complicated setup processes. But to get access to its news function — the part which we find most useful — costs a mere $1.69 on the Google Play store.
Now, if I want to check out what is happening in the tech world, or check whether any of our clients have had any mentions in the press, I simply need to type COMPANY NAME @ news into a Whatsapp message, and Qeubot will provide me with media links directly in the messenger app. You can set the amount of results you want to be shown in the settings, so as not to get overwhelmed with too many articles.
Considering the amount of bots available for integration with other popular messaging apps like Slack, Kik, Telegram and Facebook messenger, many have been wondering why Whatsapp have been so slow to join the party. This was intentional from the popular messaging app, who quickly banned Whatsbot back in 2015, on the grounds that opening up its API to bots was against the service’s terms and conditions. However, since being acquired by Facebook in February of 2016 — which has actively encouraged the creation of bots for Facebook Messenger — things have changed.
Keeping track of expenses and finances
As with a lot of growing startups, our team manages many of our small day to day administrative tasks in-house. While it would be great to have a full time accountant, generally we outsource our important financials to a trusted professional only for big contracts or when extra help is required, allowing us to invest more on bringing on full time staff which can directly help our clients in more outward facing roles.
As such, it lands on myself as CEO, and a few other key team members to deal with managing our books and keeping track of expenditures for day to day operations, on top of our main roles. While this has never become a problem, it can be tough to remember to note down every small expenditure when meeting clients, or organizing events, and keep track of different accounts and payments, especially when you have a million other things going on.
Last year, a friend recommended a finance bot to me called Pegg from Sage, which is designed to help SMBs keep track of their accounts, expenditures, and incomings via popular messaging tools like Slack, Facebook Messenger or Skype. The bot’s capabilities are really impressive, it can give you a nudge when payments are overdue, and chase up customers or suppliers to remind them that they need to make their payment, or even pay our employees, amongst many other functions.
Said Kriti Sharma, the VP of bots and AI at Sage, the company behind Pegg, “We want people’s work life, running their business to be as easy as talking to a friend.”
Another chat bot we’ve been exploring is Boltfare, which can help people find flights up to 80% off the cost. Says The Next Web’s Matt Hughes, “Boltare is a pretty nifty Facebook Chatbot that can find you ultra-cheap fares without you having to do anything. Just tell it where your home airport is, and where you want to go.”
Particularly as our team increasingly attends conferences both in the US and abroad, this is a bot that will become increasingly useful.
Communicating on our social channels
We’re fortunate to work to have customers from all corners of the globe, and one of our most visited sources is our company’s Facebook page.
Early stage startups are often unsure as to whether they are ready to begin a PR campaign, their chances of getting media coverage, or are simply have doubts for a company of their size. As such, we need to be prepared to deal with floods or questions from potential customers, or we risk missing out on opportunities.
As hardworking as our customer service team is, they would be unable to man the channels all day every day. As such, we’ve begun experimenting with messenger bots on our Facebook pages.
To make the most out of a bot for your Facebook page, you need to choose a bot which can share and respond to basic queries in a seemingly natural manner, connect to third-party services like calendars, direct visitors to interesting and engaging content which they will find relevant, and most importantly, pass the necessary information and contacts onto your human customer service teams so they can follow up any enquiries which the bot can’t deal with itself.
We believe there’s a great future here, however we also are taking our time to adopt these bots for our social platforms. The reason is there’s still room for improvement. Said The Next Web’s Nate Swanner in regards to Facebook’s bots, “The future looks bright, sure, but bots today are not very bright at all.”
While it might be a while before our COO stops making fun of me for worrying that Amy was a new employee who I had ignored, less than a year after beginning our own personal bot adventure we’ve had a positive experience and will continue to keep our eyes open for new bots to bring into the fold. Using bots offers us a little breathing space for our team by picking up the slack with small helpful tasks, and allows us to stay connected with visitors and clients regardless of the time or day.
This article was Co-Written by Craig Corbett
This post is part of our contributor series. The views expressed are the author’s own and not necessarily shared by TNW.
Facebook, Google, and Twitter to appear before Congress in election tampering investigation
Representatives for Facebook, Google, and Twitter will appear in front of congress on November 1st to provide testimony on Russian election interference.
The congressional hearing is one of many government probes into Russian election interference, this one turns its focus on social media’s involvement.
All three tech companies found evidence of ad tampering over the course of internal investigations this year, and subsequently reported those findings to congress.
Facebook reported hundreds of Pages and advertisers tied to a Russian troll farm, which had purchased over 3000 advertisements totaling over $100,000.
Twitter uncovered at least 200 accounts tied to similar ones flagged by Facebook, and hundreds of bots spamming propaganda.
Google, for its part, found thousands of dollars in ads were purchased by Russian agents, and continues to investigate over $50,000 in questionable ad purchases from accounts that haven’t been confirmed to be bad actors yet.
And, to make matter worse, there’s more to worry about than just ad sales or bots. The same meddlers are using malware to hijack our browsers and use our Facebook accounts to like ads and fake-news stories — with us none the wiser.
McAfee labs recently reported “Faceliker” binaries comprised approximately nine percent of malware it detected. That’s nine percent of 52 million – meaning nearly 4.7 million instances of Faceliker were detected.
Vincent Weafer, VP of McAfee Labs, told TNW:
This is unusual because this one isn’t like most other malware. Faceliker is manipulating likes, which is a very specific kind of browser hijacking.
While some government officials – and members of the media – have called on Facebook, Twitter, and Google to do something about Russian interference, there’s an argument to be made that fighting propaganda is, well, everyone’s job.
We asked Weafer how an average Joe or Jane can protect themselves from unwittingly becoming a pawn in the real-life version of “Game of Thrones” that is Russian politics; his answer was terrifying:
Make sure you’re keeping up with patches. Research any tools or anti-virus you’re considering using. Don’t download the first “free tool” you find in the search engine just because its free.
Basically, the same novice IT security tips we’ve been hearing for the last 20 or so years. The reason that’s scary is because it shows we Americans can be counted on to download enough malware to potentially influence an election.
The real problem here is the Russian propaganda plays both sides of the fence. Meddling agents play issues like Black Lives Matter and The 2nd Amendment to anger both liberals and conservatives — just to stoke the divide. As long as American citizens are pissed off at each other the bad actors are accomplishing their mission.
Former State Representative Raj Goyle, CEO of Bodhala, told TNW that the problem wasn’t an easy fix, saying lawmakers have been “asleep at the switch for 20 years.” Goyle also said:
You’ve got this election overseas and there’s evidence that Russians have interfered in that one as well. Facebook and Google are having to explain why they allowed this to happen, but why the hell is a private company in charge of ensuring the integrity of a national election?
The solution to the problem won’t become apparent until we understand the depth of it. It’s not so infuriating that Facebook, Twitter, and Google allowed this to happen – but we need to speed up the investigation and get the cards on the table.
It’s time for the government to get educated on technology and start working with the companies behind it. The current status quo is a system of lobbyists preaching the future and a squad of politicians litigating from the past — and that’s not helping the problem at all today.
Netflix: Nielsen ratings for streaming shows mean nothing
Nielsen, the company which has been monitoring television show views and providing ratings for over ninety years, today announced it was creating a new service casting light on “Subscription-based Streaming Content Consumption” — in other words, Netflix, Hulu, and the like.
Nielsen says it’s providing a service for a number of studios who have no idea what kind of streaming numbers Netflix has. As Megan Clarksen, president of Watch at Nielsen, said:
The significant growth of SVOD services in entertainment markets across the world has created demand from rights owners to understand the size and composition of audiences relative to other programs and platforms. The syndication of SVOD measurement as part of Nielsen’s Total Audience offerings represents a big step forward in terms of moving closer to transparency within the SVOD marketplace.
One way the company is going to track ratings is via Nielsen meters — specifically, via audio recognition software. According to the New York Times, the company listens via its set meters, devices connected to TVs in several thousand homes across the country. The meters record data and send it back to Nielsen nightly. So if you watch Netflix on your TV and you have a Nielsen device in your home, the company will listen and note it.
That’s more than a little creepy, not to mention an ineffective way of monitoring Netflix. Nielsen might be able to measure who’s streaming stuff on their set top box, but it has no way of measuring Netflix views on devices, such as laptops or tablets — which is the only way I watch Netflix these days. Not to mention that Nielsen only has meters in a small number of houses, compared with Netflix’s 104 million subscribers.
It might be for that reason Netflix is so dismissive of Nielsen’s attempts. As one spokesperson told Variety, “The data that Nielsen is reporting is not accurate, not even close, and does not reflect the viewing of these shows on Netflix.”
Nielsen has never been able to gain a foothold on a Netflix audience, and this isn’t the first time the company has attempted to ally with newer media to study modern viewing habits. Last year, it announced it was partnering with Facebook and Twitter to track mentions and shares of shows on the social media sites, using the data to provide “Social Content Ratings.”
According to the Times and other sources, Nielsen is not releasing the numbers to the public or press, so apparently the company is taking a leaf from Netflix’s book by veiling its numbers in mystery.
Netflix will occasionally release its own material on ratings and views, but always on its own terms. For example, yesterday the company put out a list of the most “binge-raced” series — meaning watched an entire season within 24 hours of its release. According to Netflix, 8.4 million of their subscribers binge race.
But other than these small offerings, Netflix doesn’t really release numbers very often. That might be why eight networks and studios have, according to Nielsen, turned to an older, well-tested method of measuring viewership.
We’ve contacted Netflix for further comment.
Frank Grillo Plays Down Crossbones’ Possible MCU Return
Recent remarks from Crossbones actor Frank Grillo led fans to wonder if the character could return to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but now Grillo is saying that he’s “not waiting for the phone to ring” which suggests that the character’s return isn’t currently in the works.
Crossbones made his MCU debut in Captain America: Winter Soldier as S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Brock Rumlow, the leader of Captain America’s S.T.R.I.K.E. team. Rumlow was eventually revealed to be a HYDRA plant, along with his entire team. In the final battle, a crashing helicarrier caused Rumlow’s face to be badly scarred, though he returned in Captain America: Civil War to finally assume the role of his comic book counterpart, Crossbones. After rigging his body with explosives, he tried to kill Captain America but his plans were thwarted by the Scarlet Witch. Innocent lives were lost in the explosion that killed Crossbones. The incident is what sparked the signing of the Sokovia Accords.
In an interview with Metro about his new Netflix film Wheelman, Grillo was asked about comments he had made about the character’s potential return. According to Grillo, the actor is unaware of any plans to revive the villain.
“Look, Marvel’s awesome. I have a long-term contract with them and it’s a superhero movie, you never know.
I don’t have any idea. I said that once before about two weeks ago and people jumped on that and thought I said Crossbones is back. No. That’s ridiculous. But we’ll see what happens. I’m not waiting for the phone to ring.”
Though clarification that a character who was blown up in an explosion isn’t coming back may seem unnecessary, it was past remarks from Grillo that started the rumors of his return. After telling Collider there was “nowhere for it to go” in January, he told Forbes in September that he was excited about “news that nobody knows yet” about Crossbones. Now that Grillo has downplayed the possibility of Crossbones of somehow appearing in a future Marvel movie, it’s hard to say to what news the actor could have been referring.
As Grillo points out, characters can be easily brought back in superhero movies, but Crossbones is one character that Marvel will most likely leave dead, unless the studio can find a good reason as well as the right story to bring him back.
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