Mobility

How to build your own bot with Dexter

If you're looking to deploy a chat bot, Dexter is a user-friendly service that requires minimal coding skills.

There's no denying that bots have become huge. If you're not sure what a bot is, they are software applications that run automated tasks over the Internet. The typical tasks bots perform are simple and repetitive. There are a number of reasons why bots have become popular, but the two most obvious are that bots can handle these repetitive tasks exponentially faster than a human and they are cost-effective solutions.

Companies are making use of bots to meet low-level support and information needs. These bots can be deployed as chat tools and more. But where do you begin? Does the creation of a bot require serious coding skills? Not if you know about Dexter.

Dexter is a new tool that allows you to create a bot, that can be deployed, and the only skill you need is the ability to write. You read that correctly, Dexter is like writing a script of dialog. If you can do that, you can create a bot. Dexter will allow you to create a single bot for free; but once you get beyond the need for one bot, it will cost. Here are the details:

  • Free - 1 active bot with 100 unique users
  • Startup - ($20/month) 5 active bots with 1k unique users ($15 for each additional 1k users) and 24-hour email support
  • Business - ($149/month) 5 active bots with 10k unique users ($10 for each additional 1k users) and 24-hour email support
  • Premium - ($599/month) 5 active bots with 100k unique users ($5 for each addition 1k users) and 12-hour email support

Let's walk through the process of creating an initial bot with Dexter, so you can see just how easy it is.

Creating your first bot

The first thing you must do is sign up for an account. Sign up and then login. Once logged in, you will see the "New Bot" button (Figure A).

Figure A

Figure A

Creating your first Dexter bot starts here.

When prompted, give your bot a name and click "Next." In the next window ( Figure B), you must chose a template. The available options clearly indicate the kinds of bots you can easily create with Dexter (FAQ Bot, Character Bot, Quiz Bot, and Blank Project). Your best bet is to start off easy by selecting one of the pre-fabs. We'll go with FAQ Bot for our example.

Figure B

Figure B

Selecting a template for your bot.

Select the FAQ Bot and click "Create Bot." After clicking "Create Bot," the screen will change to the composing window ( Figure C). Here you can edit the questions and answers to suit your needs, all the while getting a clear understanding of how Dexter works.

Figure C

Figure C

The Dexter composing window.

In the composition window, you will notice Topics in the left navigation. You can alter any topic that doesn't have a lock icon (in other words, you cannot edit the Default topic). You can either edit any existing topics (minus the Default), or create a new topic. To create your bot, click "New Topic" and give the topic a name. Once you've done that, you will have a blank topic, that you can now use to compose your bot.

The gist of composing a bot is simple: You type a user line that begins with the + character (which means a user might say something that follows). For example, your user might begin with a simple "hello"; for that you would enter

+ hello

The above is called a trigger. When your user enters a trigger, it means your bot should respond in a certain way. Say your first trigger is the + hello; you could have your bot respond with:

- hello, my name is Jack

So that first line would look like:

+ hello
- hello, my name is Jack

Triggers should always be lowercase, but Dexter is smart enough to recognize the trigger if the user types either Hello or hello. But what if a user begins with yo. You can use the * trigger (catchall trigger) like so:

+ *
- I'm sorry, I don't understand
+ hello
- Hello, my name is Jack

You can also combine common phrases to stand as one. For instance, your user might greet you with hey, hello, howdy, or hi. For this you could encase all three like so:

+ (hey|hello|howdy|hi)
- Hello, my name is Jack

So let's amend our opening interaction to look like:

+ *
- I'm sorry, I don't understand
+ (hey|hello|howdy|hi)
- Hello, my name is Jack

Now, let's dive into your user asking for help. Since you have no idea how they may ask for help, you can go back to the catchall trigger like so:

+ [*] help [*]

The above will match any phrase with the word help in it. You could have your bot reply with:

- I'll be happy to help you. What is the nature of your problem?

You can also use conditions with your responses. Say you want to make the user feel like this bot is not a bot, but a person. Let's use a conditional to retrieve a user's name.

+ hello
* <get name> == undefined => Hello! I don't believe we've met before, what's your name?
- Hi <get name>, nice to meet you!

Conditionals can test for equality (with ==), inequality (with !=), less than (with <), less than or equal to (with <=), greater than (with >), and greater than or equal to (with >=).

You can find out more advanced concepts with dialog creation on the following topics:

Finish composing your bot and you're ready to move on to the deployment stage.

Deploying

Click on the "Platforms" tab and select which platform you want to use to deploy your bot on and Dexter will instruct you on how to go about accomplishing this tax (the steps for each platform vary). Say, for example, you want publish your bot to Facebook Messenger. To do that you must create a new Facebook page for your bot. After the page is created you will then use the page's ID in the Facebook Messenger platform page ( Figure D).

Figure D

Figure D

Deploying your bot to Facebook Messenger.

Once deployed, your bot is ready to use.

Bots as easy as they come

Clearly you will spend a good deal of time writing out the script for your bot; but once you get the hang of it, the writing becomes quite easy, although time-consuming. The good news is that the deploying of your bit is as easy as they come. In fact, you'd be hard-pressed to find an easier bot to deploy.

Also see

dexterhero.jpg
Image: Jack Wallen

About Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.

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