Board taxi got discount? Ask TaxiBot!
Need to get to somewhere in a hurry? You could call an Uber. Or Grab a taxi.
Or maybe check out the regular taxis, which might be cheaper.
Oh wait, what about those promo codes your friend shared with you the other day?
We’ve all been there.
If you’re a kiasu Singaporean worth your salt, you’ll likely spend a fair amount of time switching between different apps and comparing prices and promo codes before booking your ride.
If that’s the case, you’ll be glad there’s TaxiBot, a Facebook chatbot that collates all active Uber, Grab and taxi company promo codes for the benefit of bargain hunters out there.
It’s easy to use — simply tell it over Facebook Messenger which codes you’re interested in, and it pings them back to you immediately.
Developed by National University of Singapore (NUS) undergraduates Mr Amos Goh and Ms Natasha Koh, TaxiBot has garnered close to 6,000 ‘likes’ since it first went live in January 2017.
Mr Goh, a business student, built the first version of the chatbot, and later roped in Ms Koh, who studies computer science, to beef up its functionality.
They shared their Chatbot creation experience with TechNews.
Q: Amos, you started TaxiBot despite not having much of a programming background. What was that experience like?
That’s right, I started by learning about the basics of chatbots and trying as many bot-builder platforms as I could.
I learned about how they work, as well as their pros and cons. If you can’t code, it’s important to understand these platforms to better understand bots, and to avoid getting into the situation of having to uproot your bot in the middle of development.
After weeks of playing around and testing, I built my chatbot on Chatfuel, and launched it right away.
Q: And what’s your advice for someone who might feel inspired to do the same?
Building a bot is not that hard; building a useful bot is.
That’s why the pre-development phase is more important.
My advice is to find an actual problem faced by people around you, fully understand it, assess whether a bot is really the best solution, and then build the bot only if it is.
Also, after you build it, launch it as soon as possible so that you can test it and reiterate.
It’s OK even if it’s scrappy, because it’s likely to be just a few people using it at the start.
Q: What is the appeal of chatbots? Why not write an app, for example?
Well, we believe that apps and chatbots are each good in their own right.
Choosing between apps and chatbots, ultimately depends on what problem or use case you are trying to solve.
Generally, chatbots are very user-friendly, because new users don’t have to jump through too many hoops to use the product.
With apps, on the other hand, you have to install, register and learn how to use them.
Chatbots are an efficient way for users to gain value in the shortest time and the least number of steps.
Also, due to their conversational nature, chatbots are intuitive and can potentially be a lot of fun, especially when they have quirky personalities, like Bus Uncle for example.
(Editor: It’s a universal coincidence that we have a Bus Uncle story to share too!)
Q: What are the tools one needs to create a chatbot?
It depends on the complexity and functions of the chatbot.
If it’s relatively simple, there are many bot-builder platforms that you can use to create bots without having to code.
For more complex bots, you’ll need some coding experience to access application programming interfaces (APIs) and to understand how to implement the bot’s logic.
You could start by searching on places like YouTube and Udemy for in-depth tutorials on building bots, and by looking up Facebook’s APIs.
We recommend starting with a small and simple bot before adding more features.
Q: How did you pull together the information needed (i.e. the promos from various companies) into the bot?
Right at the start, we did things manually, curating and collating information online.
However, we’re now gradually automating the process using RSS subscriptions and a mini database on our backend.
Q: What’s in store for TaxiBot?
In the very near future, we want to listen more closely to feedback from our users and improve the conversational experience with TaxiBot.
Moving forward, it’ll be interesting to explore how we can add value in other ways for our users, apart from just collating taxi promos.
Q: If TaxiBot had a persona, what would it be?
We think TaxiBot should be like your best friend or kaki who has all the ‘lobangs’ (colloquially understood as opportunities) out there.
TaxiBot is likely to be someone young, who’s not afraid to joke, laugh and play with you!