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Outbrain is betting big on chatbots as messaging apps grow in popularity


By Minda Smiley, Reporter

July 22, 2016 | 4 min read

Outbrain is working with publishers including CNN to help them launch chatbots on popular messaging apps like Facebook Messenger and Kik in an effort to bring its personalization and content discovery chops to a space that is growing at a fast clip.



While historically known for helping publishers and brands increase traffic to their websites through its ‘We Recommend’ and ‘From Around the Web’ links, the company is now betting big on messaging apps as many of them continue to grow their user bases: just this week, Facebook announced that more than one billion people now use its Messenger app every month, while Kik boasts that 40 per cent of all teens in the US use its app.

Outbrain launched its chatbot offering for publishers earlier this year, a service that it says provides “personalized recommendations and editorial controls within chat applications for a smart, natural, and seamless communication flow.” At Facebook’s F8 developer conference in April, CNN launched its Outbrain-powered chatbot when the social network announced that it would be opening up its Messenger app to bot developers. This week, CNN released a bot on Kik, one of the first news organizations to do so.

Those who interact with CNN’s chatbot can type in key words – like “beauty,” “international” or “Donald Trump” - into their messaging app to find stories that they might be interested in. Story recommendations will become more personalized over time based upon a user’s interest.

As more and more people spend time on messaging apps, Outbrain’s head of product Matt Crenshaw said that breaking into the chatbot space was a natural next step for the company since it aligns with its mission of “providing great content recommendations for users no matter where they spend their time.”

While many publishers are currently spending a good chunk of their time thinking about social platforms and strategies, Crenshaw noted that he doesn’t think that they’re doing enough with messaging apps, something that he said could be attributed to their private nature.

“Typically, messaging apps have been about one-to-one, peer-to-peer communication,” he said. “But if you think about it, that’s where things like email started, and obviously email has since become a massive service beyond just emailing your close friends. We think messaging apps are going in the same direction.”

Yet Crenshaw that Outbrain is in no rush to make a chatbot for every publisher it works with, as it’s still early days.

“We look at this entire chatbot world as something that is going to be around for a while and so, as funny as it sounds, we’re not trying to get every publisher under the sun signed up,” he said. “We’re working with a select handful of publishers to really look at the data closely and understand what this means so that we can build something long-term that works for publishers but also works for users, because if it doesn’t work for the user, then it’s just going to go away.”

While Outbrain would not release which other publishers it is building chatbots for besides CNN, it will likely be announcing other publisher partnerships over the coming weeks.

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