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Digital Workplace, Intranets

Thinking of building with Adaptive Cards? Here's what you should consider

Adaptive Cards is a Card-based UI framework from Microsoft that aims to standardize the layouting of Cards independent of platform. The goal is to define a Card just once, make it portable and leave it to the different platforms to skin the Card according to its own requirements.

Related: Integrate your legacy data with Digital Assistant and Microsoft Teams

Windows Developer Day March 2018 - Full Keynote

If your business is considering to build chatbot experiences with the Microsoft Bot Framework then you will build the experience using Adaptive Cards.

But as with every technological decisions there are some pros and cons. And you should consider the hidden implications of this move, so we have compared how a platform like Digital Assistant (with it's Cards) is different from Adaptive Cards:

Pros of using Adaptive Cards

Apart from a wider perspective on Card-based UX more generally, Adaptive Cards is Microsoft's attempt to be part of the development. And there are many solid aspects to it:

  1. Written in JSON: Adaptive Cards is a 'description' or a 'recipe' for how a Card should be structured, the styling or skinning of the Card is then subsequently customized by the service into which the Adaptive Card is deployed.
  2. Write once, deploy everywhere: This attains the much sought after holy grail of developing a Card just once to use it anywhere.
  3. Adaptive Cards is also widely used across a whole range of Microsoft products. It is soon shipping to Skype, Microsoft Teams, Windows 10 system notifications and Cortana skills and will come to be the dominating standard for any Card-like UI in any of Microsoft's products. Initially, it was dreamt up to be platform agnostic with potential use cases for Slack, Line, Telegram, Facebook Messenger etc., but most of those have been deprioritized for the time being (despite the Bot Framework adding support for more and more channels).
  4. Functionality: Microsoft has considered a wide range of functions for Cards and they offer a wide range of inputs like dropdowns, text boxes and button and individual sections can be dynamically shown or hidden. This much exceeds the range of functions, say, Slack or Alexa support.

Cons of using Adaptive Cards

When comparing Adaptive Cards to Digital Assistant Cards it's important to qualify that both have a slightly different mission: It's similar to comparing HTML with a CMS. One is simply a technology (HTML), the other is a fully fledged product (CMS platform) that handles and manages a plethora of tasks.

With that in mind here are just a few things that are missing from Adaptive Cards:

Comparison between Digital Assistant's Cards and Adaptive Cards
  1. It doesn’t offer integration of identity management, including no identity mapping and authorization across platforms, e.g. by using OAuth 2 or Okta.
  2. Adaptive Cards aren’t fully multi-channel. You cannot bring them to, say, Slack, or even to hardware platforms like Alexa or Google Assistant, thus limiting yourself to just Microsoft products. This means passing on the opportunity to use an Alexa in a meeting room in the future, or whatever other technology may come.
  3. Digital Assistant not just displays Cards, it also “makes” them, i.e. checks in with APIs and integrations to scan for new items for each user individually and then produces a Card.
  4. Digital Assistant has search that uses AI to understand the user and make suggestions as they type, respects permission in its results and is multi-lingual which may be crucial to organizations with international operations. And all that is integrated into the solution out-of-the-box, meaning this would all need to coded to get a similar feature in Adaptive Cards.
  5. Digital Assistant is and will always be vendor neutral which means we don’t limit what data you should integrate or where you should embed our Cards – whereas you may never see an Adaptive Card on anything that Microsoft didn’t make.
  6. We’re built on modern technology like RESTful APIs, HTML5 and Google Polymer which means Digital Assistant’s Cards are actually fully self-contained micro apps. They have logic, interactivity and can reload data constantly – even if you embed them on another website like your intranet. Whereas Adaptive Cards is merely a “description” of what layout a Card should have… but to make it come alive and fill it with data you’ll have to do a lot of custom development.

Further, Digital Assistant is an award-winning product that has the backing of the likes of Cisco which uses Digital Assistant as the driving force for their people-centric approach to technology. This helped to improve Cisco’s employee engagement and workplace satisfaction by 17% and save $60m in lowered attrition rates. More on benefits here.

It should probably be qualified that none of this is meant critically: Adaptive Cards has got a different mission altogether. It’s a unifying Card standard across all Microsoft products – not more, not less.

Article by: Henry Amm

I’m the Senior Director for the Digital Assistant Platform. Prevously gained 6 years of experience as an Intranet consultant. Fluent in German.

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