AI is going to be huge for small businesses and has the potential to help with almost every aspect of running a business. But if we’re going to turn that potential into reality, we have to stay focused on the things our customers care about. Technically, it’s easy to create cool stuff with AI but our mission is to democratise technology and creating cool stuff for the sake of it won’t further that mission.
When we listen to business owners talk about the joy and pain of running a business, we often hear that enthusiasm can give way to a feeling of being overwhelmed by the effort of managing that business.
This is especially true when a business owner starts growing their business. As the number of customers increases, the effort required to serve all of those customers can put the business owner under a lot of pressure. When we ask what they need most, a common answer is ‘someone to help with the admin’. The exact nature of that admin will depend on the business but it always includes all of the repetitive tasks a business owner doesn’t find rewarding. Not least amongst those tasks is generating content for their website and social media. This is something that gets increasingly difficult over time because of the need to keep finding new things to say.
Generative AI has a lot to offer here but needs to be used with some consideration for the larger goal of helping a small business find success. AI is great at taking some text and re-writing it or changing the tone of it but if this means the voice of the business owner is lost, that may ultimately have a negative impact on site visitors. We know that when people buy from a small business website, they value authentic content and it’s important not to let an AI impose an inappropriate text style.
Keeping the customer in control
In future iterations of BaseKit, we will be adding text generative AI across all of our products but we will always keep the site owner fully in control. Each business is unique and we want to be sure AI helps to amplify the distinctive voice of the business owner.
Used with images, generative AI gets lots of attention for generating new images but is most valuable for our customers as a way to modify existing images. A common pain point is taking really good product shots and AI is great for removing backgrounds and other enhancements that would otherwise be time-consuming to do.
Another great use case for generative AI is adapting the aspect ratio of an image to fit a layout on a web page. For page headers, wide aspect images work best and AI can ‘uncrop’ an image that would otherwise be too narrow to fill the page.
There are lots of use cases like these where we can use AI to reduce the number of steps in common tasks. Each individual improvement may be small but the overall improvement in customer experience can be significant.
With AI, as with everything else we do, we will be driven by the needs of our customers.
Privacy, transparency and compliance
Our partners and their customers place high value on data privacy and we will always be fully transparent about what data is being shared, where it’s going and what the risks are. We’ve learned that people have very different perceptions of risk and we need to be certain all of our customers feel secure and fully in control of their data at all times.
It’s well understood that AI systems can produce ‘hallucinations’ where the content generated is false or misleading. For this reason, we believe it’s important our customers know they can switch off the AI features in our products if they want to. We won’t make any core part of our product wholly dependent on AI so our customers can still have a great experience even if AI is unavailable or disabled.
Our partners are very aware of the need for compliance with local regulatory frameworks. AI is evolving more rapidly than the regulations so it may be a while before we get clarity but we’re already thinking about how to manage compliance. Regulations will change over time and, as with GDPR, will be open to interpretation so compliance will be something that evolves in response to events.
Google, SEO and page-spam
We know that our customers care about getting their sites indexed on search engines, so we will be designing our AI tools to work within the guidelines provided by Google and others. This might seem obvious, but we have observed that some other ‘AI Sitebuilders’ deliver content that falls short of such good practice. It might seem superficially attractive to use AI to generate an entire site from a few words of input, but this can never result in a genuinely valuable site.
Google is clear that site owners need to produce “helpful, reliable, people-first content” if they want to achieve the best possible results. Using AI tools for content generation is perfectly acceptable as long as the content meets these criteria. Our AI features will always be designed to prevent or discourage use that could result in spammy content or poor rankings.
We will also be looking at ways we can help our partners better educate our customers so they can make informed decisions about using AI content from any source to promote their business.
A platform for others to build on
Another exciting AI development for us is where other software developers use their AI features with our API to create great new experiences for small business customers.
We have been extending our public API for some time and we are seeing rapidly growing interest from developers around the world. Recent AI developments have greatly reduced the cost of developing some kinds of software but the cost of creating a scalable, robust, secure sitebuilder remains high. We have a huge depth of knowledge about the technical and commercial aspects of small business focused products. Some exciting projects are already underway and as these start to launch in early 2024 we expect to see continued growth from external developers.
AI is riding the ‘hype-cycle’
Whenever a new technology comes along, it follows a predictable ‘hype-cycle’ as initial hype gives way to the ‘trough of disappointment’. Often the real value of a new technology becomes apparent later in the cycle when we reach the ‘slope of enlightenment’ and understand what a technology is really good for. Ultimately we reach the ‘plateau of productivity’, where a technology is fully adopted and often invisible within the larger workflows it supports
Over time, many of the benefits of AI for small business customers will become almost invisible. Most of us don’t really notice all the ‘smart’ things our smart phones do for us each time we take a picture, and this will happen across most other software too. AI will ultimately be contributing to nearly all of our products across the entire customer lifecycle. Our goal will always be to use AI in our products so that all our customers need to think about is building their businesses.