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June 24, 2010

Is It Possible to Build a Better FAQ?

In this post, Bee suggests how you can create a smarter and efficient FAQ sytem…

Most people who have been on the Internet know what a FAQ is. You have seen them on websites and you have probably looked through one hoping to find answers. You may have been satisfied or completely frustrated with what you found. For those that do not know what a FAQ is, it is a frequently asked questions list, basically a collection of questions that the site owner assumes their visitors want to know and the questions associated with them. The advantage of a FAQ is that your visitors do not have to scour through your website to find the answer. However, there are a number of flaws to the traditional FAQ:

  1. The questions you have on your FAQ depend on the number of questions you think is necessary to convey information to your visitors, which may or may not be adequate.
  2. Even after you think you have anticipated all the questions that your visitors are seeking, you aren’t positive if all their questions have been answered.
  3. The more questions you decide to feature, the longer your page will be and the harder it is to find the correct answer.
  4. You can begin to organize your content by putting your questions in categories, but your FAQ will still be burdened by long pages and unforseen questions.

So how does one build a better FAQ?

Using chatbot concepts, you can build a FAQ system that will eliminate most of the aforementioned flaws. Chatbots are interactive Web features that mimic a real person in that they respond back to users. Most chatbots function as pattern matchers that take the input, find the relevant rule and output the pre-canned response. Chatbots allow you to build a system that is interactive, concise and manageable:

  1. Visitors to your site can ask questions via a text input instead of searching through a list of questions.
  2. Your system will reply back with accurate information that is relevant to the question instead of just presenting a long list of questions and answers.
  3. The questions list is stored in a back-end data structure that can be easily maintained.
  4. Logging of chat sessions allow you to improve and edit your system to cater to your audience.Using these simple concepts, you can begin to see how powerful this FAQ system can be. Chatbots can also be tied to a relational database, so that it can perform searches across records and tables using more complex search match techniques like regular expression or Boolean logic.

A FAQ/chatbot hybrid can use a simple, but effective data structure, as can be seen in one the most popular type of chatbot, AIML. AIML (artificial intelligence markup language) is a language based on XML. AIML is rule-based, matching a word or sequence of words to respond with a completely canned answer. In AIML, each response pair is called a category. An AIML category is a series of tags with data that describe how to react to a specific input string. The minimal tags are Pattern and Template, which describe the input stimulus and the output response.

[category]
[pattern] LOCATED [/pattern]
[template] Our office is located on the corner of Main and New York Ave.[/template]
[/category]

In this simple illustration, the system is looking for the keyword ‘located,’ and if found, will reply back with the response inside the tags.

This is just the basics to get your advanced FAQ system started. Once you have the basics in place, you may want to integrate other components or technologies, such as a spell checker or dictionary database, to make your system more intelligent.

I hope this post provides a general idea regarding how you can build a better FAQ system. If you know of a website that is currently using chatbox technology, I would love to know about it and your experience with it.