In 2016 I joined the Facebook Messenger team as design manager for their nascent chatbot platform. I was excited about two interrelated challenges: that of creating a new interaction paradigm, something neither fully chat nor fully app but with aspects of both; and fostering an ecosystem of high-quality experiences on that platform via the developer experience. I approached the project with two philosophies in mind, mirroring those two challenges:
Conversation is More than Chat
An entire platform rooted in conversational paradigms is exciting, and need not be limiting: why throw out decades of GUI advancement when we can have the best of both worlds?
I championed the idea of a seamless integration of chat and GUI approaches—internally via paper prototypes, sketches, mockups, and discussions with the team; externally via blog posts. During my tenure we launched an integrated webview and menu component to provide tools to bot developers that would allow them to make this a reality.
Guide and Constrain Developers
When building a developer platform, developers are your users. Success is rooted in how well you guide your developers to make your vision for end users a reality. To achieve that:
I led ideation and co-design sessions with companies developing on the platform.
I wrote new Best Practices content for our developer website, and drove creation of a Platform Design Kit.
I engaged an agency to design sample experiences demonstrating platform features and design patterns.
We built working, open-source bots based on those designs and documented them to serve as guidance for platform developers. I served as de facto PM and helped with the code.
One of these sample experiences was presented by our engineering lead at Facebook's F8 conference in 2018.
- I believed in the promise of chatbots and still do. But, as an industry we approached it too categorically, in a manner too constrained by the preexisting chat paradigm.
- As such, I believe chatbots will be back, though perhaps in a more subtle manner. My postmortem on the chatbot craze has 30,000 views.
On the Project
I'm proud of what I did to evangelize and develop my approach, particularly in terms of treating developers and vendors as users.
But, I tackled the technical component of a leadership challenge without understanding or addressing the underlying adaptive one, which ultimately led to limited success from an organizational standpoint.