“Open Source” is one of those transcendental phrases that would’ve never been possible without the internet.
Kind of like the statement, “Nyan Cat is a cultural revolution”.
Open source software has given us some real jewels over the years.
Mozilla Firefox, Linux, WordPress, VLC, Apache, Latex and Ubuntu are just some of the few standouts.
And as the movement spreads outward, more industries seem the open-source reconstruction encompass them.
As we’ve mentioned earlier, Chatbots have been one of the most prominent technological revolutions in recent past.
And indeed, Chatbots have seen an influx of open source frameworks.
Providers of the solutions range from giant companies like Microsoft to lonesome GitHub heroes.
So in this article, we’re going to talk about
A. What are open source chatbots,
B. What are some of the best open source chatbot platforms in 2019, and
C. What makes them different from non-open-source options on the market.
What are open source chatbots
Chatbots are defined as “a computer program designed to simulate a conversation with human users, especially over the Internet.”
You’ve undoubtedly seen or interacted with many of these computer programs in your life.
Maybe you’ve ordered pizza using a Chatbot. Or used one to help you buy makeup.
Maybe you’ve even had a therapy session with one.
There’s a Chatbot for almost every use case imaginable, and most are built one of two ways.
- By using state-of-the-art platforms or
- Independently built by the companies that use them.
So Nykaa, one of the largest e-commerce companies in India uses a platform to build their customer support bot.
There is however a third way that flies under the radar, and that is open-source chatbots.
Open source bots are a lot like modern web applications. They live on the interweb, use databases and API’s to send and receive messages, read and write files, and perform regular tasks.
Open source bots usually consist of a few core components:
- A web server, in most cases one that is available on the public internet
- The Bot Builder SDK and Tool that provides an interface for developing bots
- An intelligent algorithm Service
- Storage Service
What are some of the best open source chatbot platforms in 2019
Possibly one of the most used tools in the business, Microsoft’s Bot Framework has everything you need.
In fact, over 41% of businesses in Mindbowser’s study preferred MBF to industry alternatives.
SMS, Skype, Slack, Email, Office 365, Twitter, Telegram are just some of the many platforms MBF covers.
The framework consists of two major components, their Bot Builder SDK (that is open-source access on Github), and their NLU system called ‘LUIS’.
The Bot Builder SDK supports .NET and Node.js. While with an automatic translation feature, LUIS provides support for over 30 languages.
Because of Microsoft’s vast array of resources, you can automate almost any type of conversation.
You can use LUIS for natural language understanding, Cortana for voice, and the Bing APIs for search.
MBF is a popular tool for a reason. It has various samples and templates that help devs build better bots, more quickly. It’s also ideal for an omnichannel approach for businesses.
Rasa Stack is a platform that has seen some incredible growth.
Only 2 years old, Rasa has over 300,000+ downloads. That’s almost a download every minute.
The Rasa Stack is a set of open source machine learning tools. Developers can use these tools to create chatbots and assistants.
Rasa Stack has two major components that are independent of each other; a ‘core’ and ‘NLU’.
It’s fairly simple.
The NLU understands a users message based on predefined intent. The ML powered core decides what happens next.
Rasa is an independent service i.e. all the data fed or received doesn’t need to run through a third-party API. You can deploy it on-prem or in a private cloud.
It’s one of the only production-ready platforms delivering flexible and natural conversations that scale.
Check Rasa Stack out here.
Botpress sells itself as the WordPress of Chatbots i.e. an open-source bot building platform.
Botpress is build using a modular blueprint. You can snap pieces off and add new bits on an existing code frame.
Botpress runs a three-stage installation process.
Developers start building the bot, then deploy it to their preferred platform and hand-off access so that it can be managed.
Botpress built using a developer-friendly environment, has an intuitive dashboard, and is powered by flexible technology.
It also comes with several pre-installed components.
- An NLU Engine
- An administration dashboard
- A visual flow editor
- A chat emulator/debugger
- Support for multiple messaging channels
As is with Rasa, BotPress runs on-prem, so you have full control over the data that comes in and out.
Check out BotPress here.
Ana prides itself on being the World’s First Open-Source ChatBot Framework.
Free for personal and commercial use, Ana can knock precious days off your chatbot development.
Ana comes with a suite of inbuilt services, like; the Ana Studio, Server, Simulator and SDK.
You can use the studio to create and edit text, buttons and input fields visually.
The simulator allows you to control you bot experience with features like memory display.
Servers allow you to distribute your bot to platforms without having to worry about scalability.
Ana’s SDK’s ensure that you can integrate Ana into your app in a matter of minutes.
What makes them different from non-open-source options on the market
One of the big downsides of any open-source technology is the steep learning curve.
For the average user, Ubuntu simply isn’t as easy, intuitive or user-friendly as Windows.
This isn’t surprising. Open-source communities tend to be developer-heavy, without a focus on design.
This means non-dev users often struggle with open-source tech.
Open-source tech also doesn’t come with too much support. So if you have a problem, chances are you’ll have to fend for yourself with only some documentation.
Open source software is also rarely free. While you may not have to pay for the standalone service, there are various costs that you’ll have to take on.
Servers, training, hardware and implementation costs all add up if you don’t account for them.
However, don’t this deter you.
A lot of legitimate solutions from established companies also suffer from varying degrees of the same problems.
If you would like easier/cheaper/more helpful tools to help you build Chatbots, there are a lot of options available.
Companies often allow you to build chatbots for free. You can get started on building a chatbot just like the one below here.