Chat apps are one of the hottest things on the Internet these days – in 2016 more than 1.4 billion people used a chat app, making them the most popular type of mobile application. What many people don’t realize is that some of the “people” they’re chatting with online are actually automated programs, also known as bots. The popular chat app Kik created and deployed a Kik bot that people can chat with, but you can make your own bot too!
Why make a Kik bot? Well, the process isn’t difficult, it’s interesting, and creating a bot can teach you a little (or a lot) about how automation works. Kik has its own Bot Store so if you create a quality bot, you could get it placed in the store. Most bots are pretty low in quality, so if you have a good idea and implement it well, you could get a lot of attention for your bot. In addition, bots have a legitimate function providing some forms of online customer service, so developing a bot could be a useful resume item that could get you a programming job one day!
There are a couple of different approaches to building a bot on Kik. The Kik process requires you to know how to code (at least a bit) in either Python or Node.js. There are also standalone bot software platforms out there that let you configure a bot without knowing how to code.
Planning your Kik bot
Before jumping right into to developing your bot, you should spend some time planning. What do you want your bot to do? What do you want it to achieve? What is going to make it different from all the other bots out there? Consider all these questions before moving on to the build stage as having a clear goal in mind will help you maintain focus as you develop your bot. If you’re planning to build a bot just for fun, then these questions are less important – you can just start developing it and see what happens. It doesn’t matter if it has been done before because you’re doing it for yourself. If you’re planning to build a bot for others to use, then these questions are more important. If your bot does nothing new, why would anyone use it?
Some of the items you should plan ahead of time include:
- Thinking of a short, snappy name for your Kik bot.
- Picking a personality. Will it be sarcastic? Friendly? Aloof?
- Deciding on your target audience and subject matter. Is this a bot that talks sports with grownups? A bot that tells jokes to kids?
- Thinking about the kinds of conversations you want to have. Does the bot really analyze what the other person tells it, or is it very shallow?
- Considering how to redirect conversations that go off topic.
Initializing the bot
In order to start building a bot you will need the Kik app and you will need to sign up at the Kik developer site.
- Get the app from the app store (Apple or Google Play).
- You will then need to visit the Kik Dev website and register.
- Open the Kik app on your device and scan the Kik Code from the dev page.
- Wait for the Kik bot @Botsworth to send you a message and follow the wizard that’s linked in that message. You will need to enter a user ID, display name and profile image.
The bare bones of your bot have now been created, and it’s ready to be given some intelligence.
Option 1 – Build a bot using a programming language
Once you’ve completed the steps above, visit the Kik Getting Started page.
- Install your API library as directed, using either Python or Node.js depending on whether you want to code in Python or Java. The Kik manual is pretty helpful here, and shows you example bots to help you configure yours.
- Kik has their own Github page too if you need a little help.
- Program your bot using your language of choice.
- Test, test and test again. You should also invite friends to help you test it, since they will come up with ways to break your bot you wouldn’t have thought up on your own.
- When you’re happy, release the bot into the wild through the Kik bot store.
You may have noticed I glossed over the actual programming of the bot. Kik has created a great set of tutorials on how to do that.
Option 2 – Build a bot using ChatFlow
ChatFlow is just one of many API tools that makes bot creation simple by letting you use a graphical interface to build your bot, rather than using code.
- Follow the steps above under Initializing the bot to download the app and log into kik.com.
- Follow the instructions to create and name your bot using Botsworth.
- Select Configuration within the Kik.dev website and copy the bot name and API key.
- Create a ChatFlow application and create a flow beginning with kik-in and kik-out.
- Right click the kik-in node, select ‘Add new kikbot-controller’ and edit. Paste the bot name and API key and select Add.
- Right click kik-out, select the bot name and click OK.
- Select Deploy.
This creates a basic Kik bot. This bot will just echo back any message that you send it, but the bare bones of your bot have been created. From here you can develop more advanced messages and interactions for your bot until you are completely happy. The instructions within ChatFlow are very clear and logical so almost anyone can create a chat bot!
Building a bot in Kik can be done either by programming or by using one of the bot starter platforms like ChatFlow. You can build a bot either way, but if you do it via programming you will learn more. Kik isn’t the only chat service that encourages the use of bots in their ecosystem, and bots are a growing Internet trend. Learning to code intelligent bots is a job with real potential.