On the 7-year-old freelance website Fiverr, companies can hire workers for more than 10 million services ranging from the professional—graphic design, programming, digital marketing—to the absurd (“I will do a forbidden voodoo ritual to bring back your lover”). And starting July 13, they can also find bots to do work.
Chatbots are computer programs designed to simulate text-based conversation, and companies often use them to automate business processes. You may have run into them on platforms such as Facebook, Slack, or your phone’s SMS system when you were scheduling a doctor’s appointment, inquiring about your bank account, or trying to change a flight.
Fiverr isn’t selling bots for hire directly, but it has created a database of people who can whip one up quickly. Freelancers on the site offer to build simple bots for between $5 and $100 and “genius bots” for $250 and up.
Why so cheap?
In a fun meta twist, what makes it possible for a freelance marketplace like Fiverr to offer building a chatbot as a simple, inexpensive, one-off service is that the process of building a chatbot, which is a tool for automation, has itself been highly automated.
Fiverr partnered with Motion AI, a chatbot-building software company that automates much of the process.
“Traditionally speaking, it would require a lot of resources from a team to build everything from scratch,” says David Nelson, Motion AI’s chief executive. “We’ve focused on the processes in bot creation that are universally applicable that will apply if you’re a small business or a Fortune 500 company.” Motion AI helped populate Fiverr’s marketplace by referring its customers, and Motion AI’s software is one reason some of them have offered to build basic bots for as little as $5.
In theory, it’s a cycle of efficiency: the more technology automates the repetitive tasks involved in building a chatbot, the more accessible chatbots will be, and the more they’ll automate other processes. In practice, chatbots still have some strides to make before they get good enough to keep you from trying to figure out which button to push for “human” after calling customer service.