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Why news organisations should experiment with chat bots

If you’re not sure whether having a news bot on Messenger or other chat apps adds value to your newsroom, here is one clear advantage to experimenting with bots

Working on chat bots can help media outlets better understand how to interact with their audience in an automated but conversational manner, explained Martin Belam, social and new formats editor at the Guardian, speaking on a panel at the International Journalism Festival in Italy (6 April).

“I don’t really see a future where people are desperate to use chat bots as a way of getting news,” he said, adding that “with Google Home, Alexa, voice control in your PlayStation, we are not that far off from just being able to shout at stuff.”

“The question for an organisation like the Guardian is what does your news look like in that context.”

The Guardian’s work with chat bots and Alexa is an attempt to understand how a conversational automated experience would work.

The Guardian has been working on three bots so far: one that recommends recipes to users, a morning briefing bot, and a third which Belam is currently still testing, that aims to answer people’s questions about Brexit.

“People do chat to them as if they are living sentient beings, but the technology is nowhere near ready for that,” he said.

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