Students Meme BobChat — and BobChat Memes Back

BobChat, a chatbot intended to answer questions about NYU, initially led to concerns and memes, but NYU has since ironed some of those kinks out.

Akiva Thalheim

NYU’s launch of new chatting service, “BobChat,” has resulted in a wave of memes made by students interacting with the surprisingly witty bot.

A reply from the NYU BobChat system. (via NYU BobChat)

Available through Facebook Messenger, BobChat is a digital chatbot students can use to ask NYU-related questions, such as a building’s address or a registration deadline. One of the goals behind its creation was to reduce the amount of time students spend on the phone with various departments at NYU to find answers to simple questions.

While the bot’s purpose was to quickly offer information about NYU, students have used it for entertainment instead. Some made memes poking fun at the bot and, in doing so, pointed out some legitimate issues with it such as its initial inability to provide information about mental health resources. Students shared their creations in the Facebook group NYU Memes for Slightly Bankrupt Teens.

Admin of the group and Tisch junior John Stanley thinks the creators of BobChat may have predicted the meme-making tendencies of students.

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“[I]t did have responses ready when you called it a sugar daddy, so you know they anticipated some of what happened,” Stanley said.

Memes from the NYU BobChat. (via NYU ChatBot)

Tisch first-year Leah Plante-Wiener found the memes entertaining but was concerned when the bot did not adequately answer a request for “mental health assistance.”

“The memes are cute, sure, but you’d think that whoever programmed this would’ve prioritized access to mental health resources — especially considering that students are often dissatisfied with them,” Plante-Wiener wrote.

BobChat’s response to “mental health assistance” on Tuesday night was about the NY Tuition Assistance Program. (via NYU BobChat)

Students have long complained about the lack of appropriate mental health resources at NYU, and some took this opportunity to criticize a bot that offers memes but initially didn’t understand the phrase “mental health help.”

Since then, however, NYU has updated the BobChat to direct students to the Wellness Exchange when they use keywords “mental health.”

Some students questioned the need for BobChat in the first place, like Global Liberal Studies sophomore Sebastian Paine.

“NYU should spend less money trying to be cool on social media and more money getting enough counselors for the student body to have access to mental health services without multi-week wait times and per-semester counseling limits,” Paine wrote.

BobChat has since been updated to offer appropriate mental health resources on campus. (via NYU BobChat)

Students can currently use the chatbot in three ways: a freeform approach, where users can write anything; tapping buttons to navigate menus of information; and typing “human” to speak with a person on the BobChat team during business hours.

BobChat was developed by the Office of Student UX, Technology, and Engagement, which is a division responsible for connecting students to each other and to the university through emerging technologies.

There are also privacy concerns to be aware of when using BobChat: all conversations conducted through BobChat can be read by the BobChat team, which consists of both NYU employees and student interns.

BobChat’s website says that it may share anonymous conversations with other offices at NYU, such as when “a user indicates that they may be a danger to themselves or others, or begins a chat about a personal wellness issue.” In these cases, the BobChat team may intervene and share information with the Wellness Exchange.

While some students shared concerns on the shortcomings in the bot, others, including Gallatin junior Devin Lewtan, see its potential.

“I think that for those who are truly trying to discover what NYU has to offer, this new technology is an interesting approach to interact with the university in an entirely new way,” Lewtan said.

Email Akiva Thalheim at [email protected]

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