Although an increasing number of developers have come across the concept of an MSN "bot" (robot), I still find that many people aren't aware of them.
So for the uninitiated, a bot is an application that is exposed via MSN Messenger, and chats to you in the same way as one of your MSN Messenger contacts. With the obvious difference that it's a machine, not a person, that you're talking to.
Now at first glance you might not think this is particularly interesting, perhaps as a gimmick but not much else. But actually, this could become something pretty exciting. Let me give you an example: Imagine there is a bot that knows all about train timetables. A conversation with that bot might go like this:
TrainBot: Hi Ian, are you looking for some train information?
Ian: Yes, could you tell me the next train from Twyford station to London. I need to arrive by 4.45pm and would prefer a direct service if possible.
TrainBot: Sure, well your best option is the 4.10pm train which gets you into Paddington station at 4.40pm. It's a direct train so you won't have to change. Given it's now 3.45pm you need to get your skates on
Ian: How much would that cost?
TrainBot: Standard fare is £12.60
Now while this is a fictional bot (I believe there is a train timetable bot but this isn't it) you can probably see the attraction. And when you start thinking about it there must be plenty of other services that would really benefit from this kind of pseudo-English language front end.
So how do you create these bots, and what's available today? I'm glad you asked.....
We're currently running a global bot development competition called "Robot Invaders", see www.robotinvaders.com for details. We also have a UK competition running at the same time, which heaps further prizes on UK entries, which means you could win twice (once in the UK, and once for the global contest) with the same entry. See www.britbot.co.uk for the UK compo.
There are currently 3 SDKs from 3rd parties that allow you to develop bots. I've had a go at creating one using the Akonix SDK and will be putting it live shortly. It's great fun to play around with these and your bot doesn't have to be as serious as the trainbot.
For some examples, take a look at the gallery at http://www.robotinvaders.com/main/Gallery.aspx. You just add the bot's email address to your MSN Messenger list and start talking to it. It can be great fun.
PS for the train geeks amongst you, the train times and fares in the trainbot example are complete works of fiction.