Tuesday, June 18, 2024

HomeTechnology6 Practical Tips for Using Anthropic's Claude Chatbot

6 Practical Tips for Using Anthropic’s Claude Chatbot

Joel Lewenstein, a head of product design at Anthropic, was recently crawling beneath his new house to adjust the irrigation system when he ran into a conundrum: The device’s knobs made no sense. Instead of scouring the internet for a product manual, he opened up the app for Anthropic’s Claude chatbot on his phone and snapped a photo. Its algorithms analyzed the image and provided more context for what each knob might do.

When I tested OpenAI’s image features for ChatGPT last year, I found it similarly useful—at least for low-stakes tasks. I’d recommend you turn to AI image analysis for identifying those random cords around your house, but not to guess the identity of a loose prescription pill.

Anthropic released the iOS app that helped out Lewenstein for all to download earlier this month. I decided to try out the Claude app, in line with a goal I’d set to experiment with a wider variety of chatbots this year. And I chatted over video with Lewenstein to see what advice he had for getting started with Claude and how to ask questions in a way that elicit the most useful answers.

Get Chatty

Decades of Google Search dominating the web has trained us to type blunt and concise queries when we want something. To get the most out of chatbots like Claude, you need to break free from that approach. “It’s not Google Search,” Lewenstein says. “So you’re not putting in three keywords—you’re really having a conversation with it.” He encourages users to avoid an overly utilitarian communication style and to get a little more verbose with their prompts. Instead of a short phrase, try writing prompts that are a few sentences long or even a couple of paragraphs.

Share Photos

AI image analysis is still fairly new for Anthropic’s chatbot—it was released in March—but it can provide a powerful way to quickly pose questions to the chatbot. Lewenstein recommends using images as a launching point for conversations with Claude, like he did under his house. Although the feature may not always be accurate, it’s useful—and fun—if you keep the limitations in mind and look for opportunities where an image can address your query.

Be Direct

Still not getting the outputs you’d like? A solid troubleshooting technique is to be overly prescriptive in your prompts. “Just talking to Claude like a person actually leads you a little bit astray,” Lewenstein says. Instead, try giving Claude an almost awkward amount of context about how you’d like the answer formatted—for example, by saying they should be in bullet points or short paragraphs, and give it clear direction on the tone it should use. Do you want lyrical answers or something that sounds more technical? Also, consider telling Claude who the intended audience is and what their level of knowledge about the topic may be.

Try, Try Again

If your initial query to Claude doesn’t produce a good result, keep in mind that your first ask is just the starting point. Follow-up prompts and clarifying questions are critical to steering a chatbot in the right direction.

When interacting with any chatbot, I’m quick to start a new conversation thread if the output goes awry, so I can try a different opening prompt. This isn’t the best approach, Lewenstein says.

He suggests staying in that same chat window and providing direct feedback to the bot about what you’d like done differently, from tone to structure. “I literally just type, ‘No, too complicated. I don’t understand what these words mean. Can you try again, but simplify it one level more,” say Lewenstein, referencing a time when Claude’s summary of a document was confusing.

Upload Big Docs

Speaking of documents, Claude’s ability to analyze uploaded data is one of its strengths. The applications for this are more apparent for workplace use cases, where the chatbot can help with Excel spreadsheets and overflowing email inboxes, but it can be a useful feature outside the office too. If you upload batches of text, Claude can spot trends you might not have otherwise noticed. Ask the chatbot to look for patterns in language use or the topics covered. Got a PDF that you need to read but is so long that your eyes glaze over? Claude can help focus your attention on the most important aspect of the document first.

I uploaded the text transcript of my conversation with Lewenstein to Claude and asked what quotes it would highlight as important. The chatbot did an impeccable job of capturing the conversation’s key themes, and it flagged many of the quotes that I ultimately decided to pull for this newsletter. (Anthropic’s policies mean that, unless you opt in, your input data is unlikely to be used to train its AI models.)

Text Like You’re Friends

Yes, you should play around with writing longer and more specific prompts to Claude, but it’s also smart to approach conversations with chatbots as a back-and-forth volley of messages. “I actually find the mobile app to be a really natural form factor for it, because you chat with people all the time on your phone,” says Lewenstein.

When I uploaded a photo of a robot mural I saw in a cool San Francisco bar to the Claude app, the chatbot provided a poetic description of the art. It wasn’t able to guess which city the bar was located in, an almost impossible task, but the conversation’s cadence did feel like messaging an eager friend. Claude thanked me when I finally revealed the bar’s location: “My assumptions were delightfully upended.”

I need to use it more to really get the hang of Claude, but I already feel like the chatbot’s outputs have a friendly flair. Although ChatGPT is still my go-to chatbot, I could see myself adding Claude to the mix when I’m wanting to message with an AI tool that prioritizes engaging, human-sounding outputs over a more dry, efficient style of communication. It’s important to remain open to using AI tools that you haven’t tried before. Chatbots continue to improve and change rapidly, so it’s far too early to get locked into a single tool.

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