Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A better way to answer our #1 question

You probably know that Emma's most frequently asked question is some variation of "What are your hours?" Until recently, she would respond by reading a summary of our hours. This is a rather long answer and it's not always correct, especially around the Holidays. When a user recently asked, "Are you open tomorrow?" on the day before a holiday, I began trying to program Emma to respond with the hours for a specific day. I contacted Dr. Wallace with some ideas and he put me on the right track. This is possible by using the formatted date tag. If you're unfamiliar with this formatting, or are interested in the technical details of the AIML code, follow this link.

Emma now knows what day it is and will respond with the hours for that day. She can also tell you if we're open tomorrow, or if we were open yesterday. I'm working on a separate AIML file containing holidays, so she'll know when we're closed or are closing early.

The #2 question is "Do you have eBooks?"

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Happy Birthday, Emma!

Emma first appeared on our website two years ago on November 19, 2009. As we're constantly trying to improve her, it's easy to lose perspective on just how far she's come. Two years ago, Emma answered a dozen, canned questions from a drop down menu. Now she not only answers questions about the library, but she can also pass queries to our catalog, to the OhioLINK catalog, to the Ohio Web Library, to Wolfram|Alpha, and even get you a local weather forecast. She knows what day it is and can tell you the library's hours for that day. And believe it or not, these are just the first small steps.

Emma wasn't the first chatbot to be used by a library (there have been a handful of German bots since 2006) but she was the first one to go live to the public in the U.S. She's blazed a trail that others are now following - University of Nebraska at Lincoln, Akron-Summit County Public Library, and most recently the Wadsworth Public Library. As more libraries get involved, this technology will only improve, becoming more powerful and smarter.

So, what's in store for our humble Catbot? We already see her clones, "kittenbots," spreading to other libraries. Pandorabots is working to make her available to smart phones and other mobile devices, and to enable her to access information far beyond library catalogs and databases. Emma (and Siri) really are just the beginning!

My thanks to all of you who help Emma develop by chatting with her, and also to those of you who have believed in and supported this project. I've done my utmost to prove that your confidence has not been misplaced. I think the coming year will show that it has not.