How to use Microsoft’s Active Card in your chat apps

Chat-based user interfaces are everywhere. Built into both consumer and business tools, they’re an effective way of delivering quick snippets of information, especially with a growing ecosystem of personal assistants like Cortana and Siri and chat platforms like Teams, Messenger, and Slack. New tools in the next release of Windows 10 will also let applications add information into the Windows Timeline, helping you quickly pick up the context of previous interactions.

With a chat platform, you ask a question, a natural language tool parses the question, and a response is delivered. That response might be direct if you’re using a personal assistant, or it might be from a bot in chat platform. While there’s a tendency to use these platforms to deliver only text, it’s often not the best way of displaying information. That’s where information cards come in, stepping outside the traditional chat format, to display formatted text and images, and even add interactions.

Microsoft’s Adaptive Card frees developers to focus on chat content

Originally designed to work with its Bot Framework, and extended to provide interaction in tools like Teams, Microsoft is working to make its Adaptive Card an open platform for delivering information to any chat-based application platform. The underlying design principles make a lot of sense: Ensure that the application that hosts the card content has control over how the card content is displayed. As a card author, you’ll own what’s in the card, but you don’t get pixel-level control. The result is a format that’s focused on content, and that should handle the different ways users work with chat-based systems.

That last point is critical: Everyone uses a chat application differently. Some view them full screen on phones, some use standard PC windows, others display them as narrow columns. As a developer, you have no control over the layout of a chat, and no way of getting that information from the client. That makes delivering a good UI hard, so having a framework to support content delivery reduces risks and allows a richer response format than pure text.

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