After watching James Mann’s talk on the bot framework at DDD I decided to look at whether the Bot framework can offer an alternative to web pages for filling in forms. The Microsoft Bot Framework is a framework that helps you build bots that can run in a variety of messaging apps such as Skype, Skype For Business, Facebook and Slack. There are a number of ways to help you build the bot and you can interface with the Cognitive Services to add intelligence to your bot using services such as LUIS.
The simplest mechanism for retrieving data from a user is to use FormFlow within the BotBuilder SDK. This streamlines the creation of a bot to collect data from a user. In order to start building Bots you will need Visual Studio 2017 installed along with the Bot Builder extensions. This quick start will help you get the prerequisites sorted. The FormFlow example creates a Bot that will walk you through ordering a sandwich and along with the advanced example you can add optional ingredients along with some simple terms you can add to make it easier to pick multiple items from a list.
In order to debug and test your Bot there is a local emulator that allows you to run your Bots in a local test messaging app. You will need to download and install this emulator prior to testing.
I followed the examples through and found that there is a compilation error with the sample code in the FormBuilder section:
This conversation on stackoverflow seems to resolve the issue.
When you run the Bot in the Visual Studio debugger, it creates a web service and you need to use the url of this service in the Bot emulator which is run separately.
I need to take the URL http://localhost:3979/, add /api/messages and use it to configure the Bot emulator
Now click connect. Your Bot is now ready to test. To start the Bot you need to type a message. It doesn’t matter what you type, but “Hello” is probably a polite way to start
To interact with the Bot you can either enter the number of the sandwich you want or type something and the Bot will try and make sense of what you type. If you type some text that does not appear in the list like “chickn” then the Bot wont understand, but typing “chicken” will give you all the matching answers to reduce your options. you also need to type whole words. so Chick wont match whereas Chicken will.
The FormBuilder example allows you to add validation and also custom code. The custom code allows you to ask for specific toppings and also say “everything except olives pickles”
There is also validation included in the FormBuilder example and it allows you to check to make sure that the address starts with a number
Optional stages can be added. For example if you pick Foot Long then you get a free cookie or drink
FormFlow is a good way to start with your Bot if you want to capture user input. The next stage for me is to work out how this can be applied to a more complex form filling scenario where there are dynamic lists which change based upon the input answers from previous questions.