In case you aren't familiar with it already, Inf.net is a website where you can create virtual characters that can chat with anyone who visits them. These clever little "chatbots" take time and patience to design well, but are a lot of fun to create and interact with. Infs are a fun new social networking tool with a wide variety of potential applications, and should be of particular interest to anyone interested in programming, computer intelligence, and creative writing.
The process of creating an inf is a little complex, though, and might at first seem a bit overwhelming. This guide will help you get started with your first inf, and prepare you with the knowledge you'll need to start designing creative and cool chatbot personalities.
Before you can create an inf you'll have to sign up for an account on Inf.net, which is free and very simple to do. All you'll need are an email address and a password (don't worry about giving them your email-I've been signed up on Inf.net for a year and I've never once received spam of any kind from them).
When you've created your account, you'll immediately be able to create your first virtual person. There are a decent number of options to help you customize your inf's appearance, and you can always go back and change that appearance if necessary. You will also need to choose a name for your chatbot, so give some thought to what kind of personality/character you want to design. You could model your inf after yourself or someone you know, copy a fictional character or a celebrity, or create something entirely new.
The Teaching Process
Then you are ready to start teaching your inf. Teaching means programming into the system what responses your inf will give when people type in certain words and/or questions. The best place to start teaching is with the sections "About your inf" and "Inf's Site," which allow you to enter basic information about your character's personality and interests. Then you can move on to the "Suggested Topics," a handy section with a comprehensive list of subjects and questions that appear often in typical conversations. You don't have to fill out all of these topics, but the more input you give the smarter your inf will be.
When you've gotten the basics down and feel comfortable with your developing inf, you can move on to the more advanced "My templates" section. This is where you can enter any other inputs you feel your inf should be able to respond to, and the responses themselves. If your inf is based on a Harry Potter character, for example, you might create a template with the input "Hogwarts" and the output "That's the school I go to!" So any time a user mentions the word Hogwarts to your inf, it has a prepared response.
This can feel a little overwhelming when you start to think about the thousands of things people could type into that little input box. But you don't have to account for everything anyone could say. Many basic topics have a response pre-programmed in by the creators of Inf.net, and others are covered by the "Suggested Topics" section. And no inf will have a response to everything.
Focus on those subjects that define your inf's personality, such as the interests and dislikes you mentioned in the "About your inf" and "Inf's Site" sections. Your Harry Potter character should be able to say plenty about magic and the other characters in the novels, but wouldn't be expected to know much about sports or celebrities. Use your imagination, and enter as much or as little information as you would like. Enter a few new templates every day, and soon your inf will be sounding smart and able to carry on pretty impressive conversations.
Creating chatbots is all about having fun, and it's the most fun when you put some effort into the process. The more infs you create the better your design skills will become. Advanced users can move on to techniques like creating conversation trees, where an inf asks a question and gives a different response based on the user's answer. The possibilities are vast, and the designers of Inf.net are clearly active and constantly adding new content and features.
So if you're tired of playing Farmville and writing tweets, give Inf.net a try. With a little patience, you'll be creating awesome chatbots in no time.