Chatbots & AI : Which emerging messaging platforms are newsrooms tapping into? - Reuters News Agency

Chatbots & AI : Which emerging messaging platforms are newsrooms tapping into?

Messaging apps offer publishers the opportunity to tap into more intimate consumer environments.

Oct 23, 2017

There is a growing appetite for messaging apps. Reuters Institute research found that around a quarter (23%) of those surveyed now find, share, or discuss news using one or more messaging applications. In recent years messaging apps have become platforms in their own right with the help of chatbots. Unsurprisingly, publishers are already innovating within these spaces.

Researchers found that over half of publishers surveyed (56%) say Facebook Messenger will be an important or very important part of their offsite initiatives this year. A further 53% say the same for WhatsApp and 49% for Snapchat.


With this in mind, let’s take a look at the various types of journalistic bots and the three emerging messaging environments publishers are experimenting with…


3 types of bots

Paul Bradshaw who runs the MA in Multiplatform and Mobile Journalism at Birmingham City University highlighted the three types of journalistic bot that have emerged in the last few years:

• A bot which automatically publishes updates on a particular social media account when it receives new information from a feed

• A bot which can supply article suggestions in response to a query from a user

• A bot which attempts to provide answers to questions given by users.


3 emerging messaging platforms

Facebook has arguably paved the way for chatbots. Since launching last April, over 30,000 bots have been created on the Facebook Messenger platform. The bots are programmed to have conversations around news, sport, or weather and facilitate payments. But where are the emerging chatbots that publishers are experimenting with?

  • Line

Publishers including The Economist, BBC, Mashable and The Wall Street Journal have been experimenting with Line, one of Japan’s most popular messaging apps. Since its launch, the Journal claim to have accrued over 2 million followers.

  • Kik

CNN have been a huge player on the platform focusing efforts to attract younger readers. CNN found that 1m people used emojis on the platform and they saw a 56% increase in their community over the three week presidential election campaign.

  • Viber

Though Viber has been around since 2010, publishers have only just started acknowledging its potential for engaging younger audiences. The Huffington Post launched in January a series of app stickers as well as a chatbot called Huffington Entertainment which has accrued over 837k users.

To bot or not to bot?

To build a chatbot, there are several questions to answer:

  • First, is a bot really the appropriate tool and does it provide the desired user experience? As noted earlier, chatbots have their limitations.
  • Next, where will this bot connect with users? The answer should be, where your users are. If you are using the bot inside your website’s chat tool, you need to use the right technology. If you want to connect with Facebook or Slack users, you need to develop for those platforms.
  • Messaging platform providers are each offering tools to help you develop bots, and there are several vendors that enable you to write once, deploy anywhere. The market is still young and there are few standards to guide you.
  • How smart does your bot need to be? It’s easy to build a simple bot that can recognize keywords and return static answers (like an FAQ). In general, chatbot technology has not advanced tremendously and often depends on hand-crafted rules.