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A photo of the Microsoft Bot Framework website, with a picture of Bit the Raccoon standing on the right.

A photo of Theo van Kraay.By Theo van Kraay, Data and AI Solution Architect at Microsoft

Chat bots are an increasingly popular way for businesses to allow customers or internal staff to interact with information in a more conversational way. People want the information they need as quickly as possible, and while email inboxes have become more and more cluttered, consumers are moving to social media and other channels to find the information they need. Bots help consumers find solutions without using forms, cluttered inboxes, or wasted minutes spent searching and scrolling through content.

QnA Maker is a free, easy-to-use, web-based service that trains AI to respond to questions in a natural, conversational way. It is compatible across development platforms, hosting services and channels, and is the only question and answer service with a graphical user interface. You don’t need to be a developer to build and deploy a question and answer bot based on FAQ URLs, structured documents, or editorial content in minutes!

The below instructions show you how to build the bot in QnA Maker, and make it visible as a “web chat” channel that anyone can interact with online. If you want to watch this being done in under 3 minutes, click here!

(please note that the video demo was done using the preview service – see below for a “quick start” guide to building a bot in minutes using the now Generally Available QnA Maker service)

 

Build a bot in minutes

First, go to the Azure Portal (you will need a subscription, click here to sign up for free if you don’t already have one). Create a resource -> AI + Machine Learning -> Web App Bot:

 

A screenshot of the Create a Resource menu in Microsoft Azure, with arrows pointing to the Web App Bot option.

 

In the Web App Bot Blade, create a unique name for your bot (all other mandatory values will be pre-populated but you can edit as you see fit) then click on “Bot template” (another blade will appear to the right). Be sure to select the “Question and Answer” as the template, and then hit “select”:

 

A screenshot showing the Web App Bot

 

When selected, hit create:

 

A screenshot showing where the Create button in the Web App Bot dialogue is.

 

This will start deploying a web app bot, which won’t take long. While that is happening, open a new window and log in to QnA Maker (you will need a valid Microsoft account). Click “Create a knowledge base”:

 

A screenshot of the QnA Maker website, with the

 

First you need to create a QnA Cognitive Service. Click “Create QnA service”:

 

A screenshot showing where the

 

This will take you to the Azure portal to set up the service. Fill in the mandatory fields and hit “create”:

 

A screenshot of the creation dialogue that appears in the Azure Portal.

 

Wait for the service to deploy:

 

A notification in the Azure Portal that confirms the deployment has succeeded.

 

When Deployed, go back to your other still open browser window (from which you logged into QnA Maker). Hit “refresh this page”, after which you should then be able to select the appropriate Active Directory ID, subscription, and the QnA service you just setup, as below:

 

A screenshot showing the process for connecting a QnA service to a Knowledge Base.

 

When selected, scroll to steps 3, 4 and 5 to give your QnA Service a name, and add the url of an FAQ site you want to crawl for question and answer pairs. You will also see an option to use a file (if you didn’t have an FAQ url) supporting various file formats. When you have selected an FAQ site or file to use for Q&A pair generation, hit “create your KB”:

 

A screenshot illustrating the final steps in creating a Knowledge Base.

 

Warning: be sure that your site (or file if you use one) actually has text that can be identified as question and answer pairs. If the operation fails, it is likely that your site or document doesn’t qualify.

After a period of time, the knowledge base will be created:

 

 

Essentially, you now have the conversational logic for your Q&A bot. For more detail on how to edit Question & Answer pairs, see here. For now though, we are in a rush to publish a bot quickly, so let’s do that! Hit publish:

 

A screenshot highlighting the location of the Publish option for the Knowledge Base.

 

On the review screen, hit publish again:

 

A screenshot displaying the final confirmation for publishing the knowledge base.

 

You will then have a published knowledge base, but that is all you have. We need to make your bot visible as a channel. For this, there are three values you need: QnAKnowledgebaseId, QnAEndpointHostName, and QnAAuthKey, which will be available in the screen presented to you after the service is deployed (these are highlighted below). Leave this window open.

 

The success screen that appears after publishing a Knowledge Base.

 

Meanwhile, your web app bot has probably deployed. From notifications, hit “Go to resource” for the web app bot we created at the first step (in this case called “TVKQnABotTest”),

 

A screenshot highlighting the ability to move to the web app bot from the successful deployment notification.

 

In the resource, hit application settings. Scroll to the bottom of application settings, where you will see fields for QnAKnowledgebaseId, QnAEndpointHostName, and QnAAuthKey. Enter the corresponding keys from the other (QnA Maker) window that you have left open, then hit save.

 

The application settings for the newly set-up web app bot.

 

When deploying a web app bot, it is deployed as a “Web Chat” channel automatically (for deploying to other channels, e.g. Skype, Cortana, Slack and many others, see here). Go to channels and hit “get bot embed codes”:

 

The channels tab found in the web app bot

 

In the popup that appears, hit “Click here to open the Web Chat configuration page”:

 

A screenshot of the bot embed code notification that appears.

 

In the configuration page, click on “show” to reveal one of the secret keys (either will do). Copy the contents of the “embed code” text box to somewhere else, and replace “YOUR_SECRET_HERE” with the secret key:

 

A screenshot of the dialogue window that shows the chat bot

 

You should end up with something like this:

<iframe src='https://webchat.botframework.com/embed/TVKQnABotTest?s=KPpdajqTxa4.cwA.unE.RBVjzlFalMNWFm3mUU6TLy0gfYc16gbpWKb1_us6F44'></iframe>

You can embed this in a web page, or you can simply take the url part to interact with your bot online:

 

An example of a user interacting with the chat bot.

 

You’ve now set up your chatbot!

Resources

  • Note: in production, the secret key should really be hidden. For more detail on this, see here.
  • For adding encryption/authentication, see here.
  • For more detail on QnA Maker, see here.
  • For more detail on the Bot Framework and how to get started with building all kinds of bots, see here.