Yesterday I installed the new Google Allo and gave it a first try. My team at Outbrain is responsible building chatbot CMS for publishers. So I was interested to learn about some of the decision made in Allo, and compare them with what we've learned over the last 6 month powering the CNN bots on Facebook Messenger and Kik.
I downloaded the app, installed it, but then deleted it in the middle of the on-boarding. Why? because Google are being overly transparent. Why do they make such a point that they are going to send my contact list to their cloud now and then? there must be some evil reason for that...
So, I deleted the app. But then I thought to myself, "wait, you're using Google Contacts, and your contacts are already syncing with google. Not periodically, but all the time, in real-time..." I felt stupid, downloaded the app again and completed the on-boarding. And I won't say I felt better when the first few prompts from Allo kept pushing on that sharing thing, as if trying to tell me that I'll be better not use it, if I want keeping private anything...
To sum things up, the on-boarding experience could have done more to instill trust and make me more comfortable. Right now I'm not, and although he is a bit more of a privacy snob than I am, Snowden already made a point about the lack of privacy in Allo.
- Typed "top stories" - I got relatively fresh stories, but definitely not important ones.
- They put the publish time. Seeing that a story published 37 minutes ago give confidence that they deliver news as they happen.
- The stories carousel is clean and simple, but I would have liked to be able to take action on a specific story. This is possible in Facebook Messenger using the 'Structured Message' template. Articles' recommendations in Allo feel temporary, since you can't do much to engage with them other than read when you see them. Adding an option to see a summary of an article, save it for later or get more similar stories might give users a better sense of control over the experience and the stories they are seeing.
- Google seems to think of Allo as a new interface for search, which makes sense for Google, but make Allo feels like a browser. When searching for something, the first quick reply is "Google results", which once tapped opens the browser and search for your input. I didn't like that it takes me out of the app.
- The content in Allo doesn't feel native. Rather, it feels like a patch, a cut and paste from the browser. Again, makes me feel that Allo is just another browser.
Chat-flow and experience
- There are no dead ends. Even when chatting with friends, you always have quick replies available. That's great.
- There are 'like' and 'dislike' emoji's at the last two positions of every set of quick replies. It didn't make sense to me. As a user, I don't know what they mean, hence probably won't use them.
- That's the part that surprised me the most. Allo tries to be smart. It tries as much as it can to be non scriptive. Say "hi" and every time it will answer with something different. The first time I typed "hi", I got the entry point experience, namely the option that I have to interact with the bot. Later, when I wanted to get to the same entry point, I typed "hi" again. This time, though, Allo tried to get into conversation with me. After few more greeting inputs that got me no where, I gave up and typed what I was looking for.
- At that early stage, when users aren't educated enough on the conversational design, and are accustomed to more deterministic experiences, trying to be smart is wrong. It's like the early days of the iPhone - the skeuomorphism design helped users get accustomed to use it, through the icons that imitated physical objects. Once they got educated, more than 8 years latter, the flat design was introduced.
To sum things up, my overall impression is ahh. Yeah, it's cool to play with Allo and see how well it handles natural language, but it's no different than Google search. In fact, it feels too much like google search, which is bit outdated. But than again, I'm writing this post with Emacs...