Microsoft may have had problems with their chatty Santa getting into x-rated conversations and have had to cut off his Internet access, but there are plenty of other Santa chat-bots online, for kids who would rather IM Santa their wish lists rather than wait in that endless line at the mall.
I tested three. Santabot has nice wintry graphics and a simple interface. But Santabot''s kept asking me questions about music; I had a hard time getting him to get to the issue at hand, that is, what I want for Christmas. Finally, we got there. I asked for an iPod, Santabot gave me a hard time. ''Why would you want an iPod?'' ''But why do you want one?'' And then he redirected the conversation back to talking about what kinds of music I like. You'd think, with such an interest in music, that Santabot would know why I wanted an iPod. But I was willing to move on, and tried asking for a bicycle. Santabot thought it was odd that I wanted only one bicycle; he suggested they might be cheaper in quantity. I''m not sending my kids to this Santa.
Next, I visited the Santabot offered by the Artificial Intelligence Foundation. This Santa got right to the point, that is, what did I want for Christmas? I asked for an iPod, and he said he''d add it to my list, which is what Santa is supposed to say. He also remembered me from visit to visit; when I went back later to show him to my kids and asked for something else, he pointed out that my list was getting a bit long. However, this site had an animated Santa head and text-to-speech conversion, both were horrid, the AI Foundation should have stuck to plain text chat.
The Santabot at CD Newswire is a bit of a smart alec. I asked for an iPod, Santa said ''Oh my goodness!'' I tried for a bicycle, and this Santa replied, ''As if!'' And then he wanted to know if I left the cookies for him or the cockroaches. When I mentioned that I always leave him a glass of brandy along with the cookies, he asked if I''ve ever considered a career as an elf.
I''m thinking that line at the mall suddenly doesn''t look so long.