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What’s the status on Line Bots?

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Line is yet another option in the pool of chat platforms – but it’s what they’re doing with Bots that might pique your interest. In a world dominated by text based communication, using the platform most suited to you is vital for optimising your daily user experience. Sometimes it’s simply about using the platform that most of your friends and contacts are using – what is the point of having Telegram if all your friends are on Kik? Even if you like Whatsapp more than Facebook Messenger, it’s possible that quite simply, you need to choose the latter. It really does come down to more than just personal preference. That being said, the great Bot revolution we’re currently amid is a little bit of a game changer in this sense. We no longer have to depend solely on which platform our contacts are using to choose, as interactions can now also take place with Bots, who might well be hanging out and ready to chat on another platform. Sure, the most convenient scenario is to have all of your contacts and all of your favourite Bots together on one platform and in one list (a move Facebook is making strides toward in its quest for Chat domination) but at this stage it’s not necessarily realistic.

LINE_icon01We’ve already mentioned Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger, Kik and Telegram – but today we’re actually focusing on another one of the major players, which you may or may not already be familiar with; Line. Available on smartphones and desktops, users can exchange text messages, images, video, audio and have free voice conversations and even video conferences, which is a pretty big draw-card in some contexts. The program, initially released in 2011, was designed by 15 members of a company called NHN, which is a part of Korean search engine Naver. The team was made up of engineers from Korea, Japan, China and the US and the Line logo maintains its roots by sharing the green colour with its parent company Naver. The program was first launched in Japan and ranked up 100 million users within only a year and a half, then 200 million in just six additional months. By October of 2014 the program had attracted more than 560 million users worldwide and cemented itself as the largest social network in Japan. By the end of 2015, 700 million users were secured, positioning itself as a global leader in Chat technology.

Originally developed and released as a mobile app for Android and iOS, it has since expanded to BlackBerry, Nokia, Windows Phone and like Telegram has created desktop options for the Chrome Browser, Microsoft Windows and Mac OS X. While the major markets remain Japan and Korea, the global influence and accessibility continues to grow significantly, and what we’re most interested in is their newly launched Bot initiative. Announcing its plans in March at the Line Conference Tokyo 2016, alongside a series of other new features for the service, developers were officially able to start working on Bots for Line in May, but with a few restrictions. Capping it at 10,000 trial Bots, in an “early bird gets the worm” approach, Bots are currently limited to 50 friends each, demonstrating that this is a test and that a wider launch of a functioning Bot store will full access will come later in the year. Line stated that their vision for Bots on the platform is that they’ll help with tasks like customer service, media sharing, managing products and food ordering – so nothing too different to what other platforms are already doing. They said they want to make access to a wide range of services via Line “more convenient, easier and more fun to use for users.”

What this means is that this stage, there’s no full capacity or direct way to use Bots on the service, but there are already ways to interact with Bot-like friends, which are fairly easy to find and us; they just don’t have the same abilities as Bots on other platforms have, for the most part. The Bot-like users are official accounts from brands that pay to use the service, so it’s not quite like the free market that is Telegram, it’s certainly under quality control at this early stage.

2016_en_04If you are interested in taking a look at what is currently on offer, they are reasonably easy to find but not immediately obvious. First you’ll need to download Line on your device/platform of choice. Once you have line open, find the add friend button; on iOS and Android you’ll find this at the top right hand corner of the “Friends” page. At the bottom of this page, there’s a section called “Recommendations for official accounts” with a small button to the right which reads “see all”. Here you’ll find the catalogue, including big names like The Economist, CNN, musicians like Taylor Swift and Paul McCartney, football teams and language translators scattered among the categories. To begin an interaction with one, you can click on its icon, then the “add friend” button. From this point, toggle back to your contacts list, tap the icon again, then tap “chat”. The translator Bots work really quickly, befriend the language you want, type a word and receive a translation instantly. A few others will tell you things like “The bad news is that we might not be able to reply to your message right away,” which really sets them apart from the Bots of other platforms. What we do know, is that exciting things are coming on Line, and we can’t wait to see.

Summary: Line announced at their Tokyo conference in March that they would allow 10,000 trial Bots to be developed for the platform from May onward on a first in first served basis. During the trial period (which is still underway) each Bot is only allowed to add 50 friends/accounts, so it doesn’t impact the average user at this stage, though a full roll-out is expected by the end of the year. What is currently available are Bot-like official accounts from companies that pay to use Line. They’re worth checking out if you’re already a user, but no reason to switch to the service yet.

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Tiahn Wetzler

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