When Microsoft announced last week that it was acquiring chat bot maker Colloquis to create Windows Live Agents and Service Agents, it seemed to come out of the blue, but a reader informs me that Microsoft has a history with the company under it’s former name of Conversagent which had just been changed in July.
In particular, Conversagent provided a little known IM answer bot for Microsoft’s Encarta encyclopedia called Encarta Instant Answers:
Microsoft has released a brand new MSN Messenger bot called ‘Encarta® Instant Answers’!
This MSN chat bot, as the name suggests, provides answers to your questions from Microsoft’s Encarta encyclopedia through MSN Messenger. This can be extremely useful for quick fact finding or some ‘Instant’ homework help!
Simply add the bot to your MSN Messenger contact list, say ‘hello’ to it and follow the prompts from the conversation.
The email address to add in MSN Messenger for this bot is firstname.lastname@example.org.
It was a minor fad at the end of last year with various weblogs reproducing bot conversations (e.g. here) and it currently works in Windows Live Messenger as well.
Beyond the amusement factor, Encarta Instant Answers was also an example of the kind of features available for MSN Messenger bots developed with the Buddyscript SDK that Colloquis/Conversagent was offering for free in conjunction with Microsoft:
In partnership with Microsoft, Colloquis is making available a free license to the Colloquis SDK for the development of integrated BOT and Activity applications on the MSN Messenger platform.
Looking to the future, another aspect in the deal was undoubtedly that Colloquis holds a patent 20060136298 titled Methods and apparatus for contextual advertisements in an online conversation thread. Not only snappy patter, but ads too!
Microsoft Corp. today announced it has acquired privately owned Colloquis Inc., a provider of conversational online business solutions that feature natural language-processing technology. Microsoft will offer services based on Colloquis technology to businesses with online operations, as well as incorporating the technology into its own products.
No financial terms were disclosed.
Initially, Microsoft will offer a managed service called Windows Live™ Service Agents based on the existing Colloquis Automated Service Agent offering, which has been implemented by companies such as Cingular Wireless, Comcast Corp., Cox Communications Inc., Panasonic Corp. of North America, Time Warner Cable Inc. and Vonage Holdings Corp. Windows Live Service Agents provides businesses with a hosted Web-based customer service application that interacts with end users in conversational language, combining the ease of traditional online support with the valuable insight of natural language logic. Windows Live Service Agents will augment Microsoft’s existing contact center solution, Microsoft Customer Care Framework (CCF).
Xbox will be the first group within Microsoft to use Windows Live Service Agents. Colloquis technology will be a strong contributor in enabling Xbox customers to rapidly find helpful information related to their support needs. The conversational tone and ease of use of the product will offer customers another approach with which to address commonly asked questions, providing quick resolution to customer issues. The product’s technical flexibility makes it an excellent fit with other self-service options that Xbox plans to release in the fall.
In addition, Microsoft plans to take advantage of Colloquis Internet bot technology in an application called Windows Live Agents, a conversational application that users can interact with via Windows Live Messenger. These “agents” are used to entertain, encourage engagement with products or services, provide a new advertising opportunity for brand advertisers, and drive search and information retrieval.
Messenger bots aren’t new, but until now they seemed to be the province of 3rd parties.