From UI to AI: Slack and TextExpander Hint at the Future of App Interaction

I’ve noticed something in two products I use that has excited me more than just about any tech development really since I first laid eyes on Twitter.

Specifically, there’s something very interesting going on with – for lack of a better term (and undoubtedly, there is a better term) – Artificial Intelligence. In short, our User Interfaces (UI) are starting to get smarter; to the point that, with some products at least, they’re resembling Artificial Intelligence (AI).

I’m not talking about Siri, Echo, et al., which I deem more just variations on a search engine UI. Rather, I’m talking about the way at least two products are using AI to both instruct and delight me in my work flow.

Slack
Anyone paying attention can probably guess that the first product that I’m referring to is Slack. Enough has been written about its general greatness already1, but certainly one of the more compelling features of Slack is the way in which the Slackbot AI is employed.

At first, it sort of onboards you in a pleasant and engaging way, and helps you create a profile/learn the basic Slack protocol. But after that – and I think they could/should do more with this – it becomes a (somewhat) interactive participant amongst the others on your Slack team.

For instance, I send private messages to Slackbot and use it as my to-do list keeper, etc.

As I say, I imagine somewhere on Slack’s roadmap is the idea of continuing to bring in further interactive features for Slackbot that are inline with how it’s employed to help you create your Slack profile.

I hope they do, because it’s a fantastic implementation, and consistent with their overall theme of pleasant productivity.

TextExpander
The second product that does this, and, which is – surprisingly to me – ahead of Slack on developing the AI engagement is TextExpander.

I’ve used this product forever, and it’s always one of the first apps I install on any new mac. Their newest version, however, represents something of a seismic change.

Now, beyond increasing your productivity by allowing you to use snippets for oft-repeated words, and even beyond keeping track of your typing patters, the new version offers you tips – via Notifications – when you, for instance, are typing the same word with regularity – so that you consider creating a snippet.

I really like getting these notifications, in the same way I like the Slackbot interactions. It’s not just that their helpful, it’s more that there’s a vague AI component that makes my – often solitary – work experience a little less interactive.

For those who find the above a depressingly sad statement, it’s not a leap to see how this could become not only far more engaging, but also far more social, generally.

Imagine, for instance, a writing app that’s sort of like Waze. One where when you log on not only do you get helpful tips from the AI (“You’ve used the word ‘nonplussed’ three times, George, in the last five pages…”), but also allows you to see which of your friends are also online writing/working, and you could shoot them little gestures of encouragement, etc.

Who knows precisely where this goes, but I feel strongly that it’s coming/here.

UIs will gradually evolve more into AIs. Our user interfaces will guide us with a combination of personalization and instruction that will soon not just be indistinguishable from magic, but also indistinguishable from “real” people.


  1. And I refer to it quite a bit in the book I’m working on now, Social, Fun, and Competitive: A Framework for Product Development and Marketing

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