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How a chatbot can actually change people’s habits

(EDITORIAL) So many brands are creating chatbot functions and say they’re “building” a chatbot, but think of your users as you expand into this universe – define what you’re doing first.

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It’s no secret there are a lot of chatbots these days. The latest trend: chatbots wanting to change people’s habits, and not all are created equal. As these types of bots become more prevalent, it poses the question: do they actually work? Answer: sometimes, and it depends.

Do chatbots actually affect behavior?

As a founder of an AI chatbot financial assistant, I know the opportunities and challenges that come from influencing daily behavior. When it comes to habits, you face the difficulties of say, marketing a vitamin versus a painkiller. I want to build software that will enact actual change, but let’s be real – people aren’t as motivated in the mundane, everyday decisions, because they don’t think it matters.

I’ve seen my fair share of chatbots — both impressive and crappy — come and go, and I can confidently say that chatbots/AI assistants will only work if behavioral science is implemented. This must be intentionally created throughout the software — from UX to UI to copywriting.

When there’s not an actual person on the other side of the conversation, the bot needs to use other motivating factors — otherwise, users won’t take it seriously. (Remember SmarterChild on AIM? Case in point.)

Real-life example: Open Habits

Let’s explore this further and look at new startup, Open Habits.

First off, the origin of Open Habits is pretty interesting. Twitter and Product Hunt user Aiden Buis tweeted a fun concept – a self-imposed hackathon where he would build and ship a SaaS product within 100 hours, and document every step.

It’s built as a bot within the app Telegram, so others can track your progress. But with the Open Habits bot, it isn’t geared towards a specific habit or interest. A user can track any habit they want to change. It seems like a good idea for flexibility, but in reality, this typically sets someone up for failure.

Motivations for different habits aren’t one size fits all, but specific tactics need to be used depending on the desired habit to change.

Overall, I’d give it an 7/10. For a quickly shipped software, it’s not all that bad.

But to actually create change, here are some guidelines to keep in mind:

1. Go easy on the notifications.

Let’s look at a software that fails at this, MyFitnessPal. I kind of shiver just thinking about the notifications I used to receive. An everyday notification typically means someone will turn off your notifications or flat-out ignore them. Make the notifications actually helpful, not constant or annoying, and for the love of God, please space out the timing.

2. Show the long-term picture for daily habits.

Show your users what they’re doing does matter and does lead to big change.

For example: If you’re talking about weight loss, show how swapping one dessert for fruit once a week can equate to X or Y calories or pounds lost a year. If it’s financial habits, show how saving even $1 a day can grow your financial future into $X. (Acorns does an excellent job of this.)

3. Do your research on favorable or unfavorable language.

If you’re trying to change someone’s habits, prepare to get to know as many experts as possible in your field. Read all the books, meet all the professors, and get to know all the researchers that study far beyond what you’re doing. Prime example: financial app users hate the term “budgeting” because it’s associated with negative feelings, and we only knew this because of This is why it’s crucial to become best friends with the leaders in your industry.

As always, this is simply a starting point for guidelines to keep in mind whether you’re building or just using a chatbot. Look at the competitors, see what works best for you and what motivates you, then go from there.

Elise Graham Kennedy is a staff writer at The American Genius and Austin-based digital strategist. She's a seasoned entrepreneur, started and sold two companies, and was on a TV show for her app. You can usually find her watching The Office on her couch with her dog and husband.

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Students say free coding school wildly fails to deliver

(TECH NEWS) There’s a serious barrier to entry into web development so a free coding school launches, but students say it isn’t delivering on their promises.

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Coding bootcamps

Technology changes quickly and so does the skillset requirement by companies. Many people are finding themselves in the stage of their career path where they may want to try something new – and not surprisingly, make a nice salary doing it. The launch of coding bootcamps (starting with Code Academy and 2011) has been touted as the solution to educate those on a missing skillset and setting them up for well-paying J-O-Bs.

Coding bootcamps, now up to 95 full-time coding academies in the United States, offer job seekers training in an area where they can move in to a new career and also meet to provide much needed talent to employers who need people who can code. This doesn’t usually come for free though. Average coding bootcamps (6 months) can cost up to $21K with the promise you will land a high paying salary at the end of it. There are also many universities providing coding boot camp classes.

What does it mean when a free coding school launches (with the intent to provide an educational opportunity to those who maybe don’t have the funding for a large investment and/or the ability to take out more student loans) and simply asks for a portion of your starting salary once you land that incredible new Developer gig?

Sounds like a great idea. This meets the market demand for interested people to learn a new skill set and be ready for a new career in software development. Shouldn’t we be asking how easy it is for these folks to get hired after the program? The challenge with the Lambda School is that their curriculum and UX for online learning is in development.

While they intended to meet people where they were with an online platform (offering flexibility to the students and teachers), it has left a little bit to desire by its participants. The learning opportunities are constantly changing. The teachers are also not always available and most likely have other full-time obligations or employment.

Many students were left disappointed that they didn’t feel the education matched expectations and didn’t see how they were going to be able to be hired in to roles that would allow them to pay back the tuition. So much so they sent requests to get out of their signed contracts and halt the program.
It goes without saying that anything new has its challenges and businesses can only move so fast.

No matter how fast technology changes, we are humans and have certain human behaviors. Employers want to see real-world experience so even if you’ve taken classes, the candidate must be willing to do things above and beyond the class (volunteer projects and networking for sure). While we root for Lambda School to be a legitimate solution for those how may not have the budget for a full-time coding school, it might be worth the time to let them sort out their curriculum challenges and consider building up your skill set in this area in other ways.

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Defense startups are getting beaucoup bucks from the DoD

(TECH NEWS) Some tech companies are getting large venture capital because the Department of Defense is looking for new defense startups.

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While private investors remain wary of funding defense startups, they are still keeping an eye on the possible venture opportunities. Meanwhile, the Pentagon is hoping domestic investors will increase spending into these startups in order to compete with China’s strategy of creating private equity firms to invest into foreign technologies.

A major reason for the growing interest by venture capitalists is the shift in focus from traditional weapons to tools for information warfare, meaning software and tech systems. Defense startups are creating products that may have multiple benefits outside the DoD.

Changes in the defense venture landscape are slow with all three parties learning how to benefit from one another. Startups realize working with the DoD is a “mission-driven objective” as stated by Ryan Tseng, founder of Shield AI. “We went into this eyes wide open, knowing full well that to the venture community, the math doesn’t make sense.”

However, there are several big investor players already in the game. Andreessen Horowitz, a top-tier venture fund is banking on the economic sustainability of defense startups in the future. They’ve already invested in Shield AI and defense tech company Anduril Industries. Additionally, the Founders Fund, another big name venture firm led by Silicon investors Peter Thiel, Brian Singerman, and Ken Howery is investing in Anduril and goTenna after successfully backing SpaceX and Palantir Technologies.

Defense companies’ emphasis on tech could be the answer to challenges usually associated with DoD investments like competing against dominate manufacturers with steady government contracts and long procurement cycles. U.S. Code 2377 stipulates that commercially available items be considered first in procurement efforts. If defense startups can enter the market, they will also stand a chance of winning government contracts over bigger, traditional companies, thus diversifying the playing field.

But until there is a greater guarantee of a payoff, investors are likely to remain skeptical. The possibilities for this new generation of defense companies is going to needs some more wins to prove the future is in their corner.

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Tech News

Goal-based project management tool simplifies your work life

(TECH NEWS) If you are struggling to keep tasks straight then this new tool Qoals allows for a simpler and more straightforward way to accomplish goals as a team.

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Qoals pitch

We all have goals – whether they be personal, professional, financial, etc. Anyone can set a goal, all it takes is having a thought and assigning it a certain level of importance. However, not everyone completes their goals due to the oft difficulties and confusions associated with execution.

Like anything else, if there’s a will, there’s a way. A new way has been found in the form of Qoals – a simple and straightforward tool that helps you to get aligned around business goals instead of an endless wall of tasks.

The ability to complete goals is done through: setting goals, adding tasks, collecting things, and tracking progress. With this, everyone on your team has access to this information to keep tabs on what’s happening.

With setting goals, you create and prioritize your goals, letting your team members know which ones are most important at that time. Goals can be prioritized with tabs such as: long term, short term, and urgent. By adding tasks, you can add and assign tasks to set a clear path in order to complete set goals.

In collecting things, you collect resources related to your goal and keep them in one safe place (again, this is accessible to your whole team). This doesn’t require uploading files, but simply including links to resources to keep everything easily accessible. Finally, by tracking progress, everyone on the team can see where you’re at with your goals – which saves time with the follow ups of “how’s Goal X going?”

Why did Qoals develop this goal-oriented approach? “It’s about time we simplify things,” according to the official website. “Get aligned around goals and let everyone know what’s important for the business. Add goals under various projects and start adding tasks and resources to make that goal happen.”

Additionally, Qoals boasts that this provides users with a birds-eye view of what’s happening with their team, allowing them to be more human-centric. You can create unlimited projects, set and track your goals, collected everything related to said goal, keep the discussion relevant, access your tasks with one click, stay connected to your team, and see what’s going on at a glance.
Qoals is currently in beta.

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