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The Drum tests The Guardian's Facebook Messenger news chatbot


By John McCarthy, Opinion Editor

September 7, 2016 | 3 min read

The Guardian has rolled out a Facebook Messenger chatbot capable of engaging in informal chat with social media users to deliver daily news snapshots.

The Guardian chatbot

The Guardian

Looking to engage with the site’s massive daily userbase beyond the Newsfeed - which is clamping down on publisher content - the company is offering to send daily briefings into the inboxes of users upon request.

Brands have been experimenting with chatbots for the last year, touting them as an automated way of striking up the social media discourse that can catalyse click through rates and dodge the newsfeed purge. There has been much debate about whether the benefits of this technology outweigh the cons but more and more media outlets look to be embracing it.

CNN was one of the first to jump into Messenger chatbots back in August, with the Washington Post and more hot on its heels – and it’s not just Facebook Messenger hosting these systems, Forbes conducted an experiment with a much more versatile automated newsbot through messaging service Telegram earlier this year.

Additionally, Facebook last month updated its chatbot policies to give publishers and brands more control of their bots, loosening its restrictions on promotional material.

The Guardian's new chatbot is subscription-based meaning it is incapable of soliciting users without them first initialising the conversation, and it is easily unsubscribed from with a brief automated conversation.

To use it, go to the Guardian's Facebook page and hit 'Message'. This will activate the bot providing limited, but entirely functional options.

Guardian chatbot

The Guardian has branded the bot a prototype. It serves as a unique and useful system aiding news consumption, especially as weary work-bound eyes are likely perusing Facebook updates each morning anyway.

At the moment, it is limited in what it can do, only offering most popular or headline stories or courting subscription queries. For instance, when asked for ‘tech’ stories it was incapable of delivering any content from that category.

Guardian 2

The Guardian's social and new media editor Martin Belam told the Press Gazette that the previously created Guardian Sous Chef bot meant much of the "heavy lifting" had already been worked out in the coding of the system, in addition to giving the publisher an idea how social media users interact with the bots, He concluded: "People really do chat to them very naturally.”

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