Artificial intelligence is so 2018. We’re over it now. Here’s living proof: UK interest in the subject has plateaued according to Google search trends, as you’ll see from the chart below.
The publishing industry has different things to focus on right now: Subscriptions. Pivots to data… areas that generate revenue and not just headlines. Amongst the conversations I have with publishers today, the sigh of relief is almost palpable. Green shoots are appearing from the efforts of new and practical revenue-based strategies.
So what happened to the automated newsroom and the race to replace people and their keyboards with robots? Is anyone still losing any sleep?
I hope not. As with most hype curves, the reality is more prosaic. As Benedict Evans of VC firm Andreessen Horowitz mentioned in a blog post last week: “AI isn’t rocket science that only Google can do. It’s just software.”
Thanks to the efforts of the big players like Google and Amazon Web Services, AI has been offered up as a service to developers of every stripe, commoditised, and moved from the ‘futuristic application’ category into the shadows. All the clever innovation (image recognition, machine learning, translation, speech and the like) is being consumed, rapidly, into the infrastructure of the web, and popping up as a key feature of a new breed of apps.
Just as importantly, there is a ton of great Ai-infused stuff out there that can help publishers right now, today. The first value-creating things we ought to focus on are not lurking in a data centre, and they don’t cost a million dollars either. I call them Ai-Lite, because they are subtle and helpful, seemingly obvious, and at the forefront of the process that I care most about in publishing: the creative editorial process.
Ask most editors what their biggest bugbear is right now, and they’ll probably tell you that they’re overwhelmed by technology. Too many gizmos are lurking in the CMS. Too many bell-and-whistle ad formats on the page. Too much data and analytics to deal with every day. It’s a real issue – especially when we are asking newsrooms to deliver more (good) content, with less time and less money. This is a fantastic use case for Ai. One of the core benefits of good machine learning and great algorithms is that they eliminate grunt work – helping us to focus on more productive aspects of our work.
From an editorial perspective, I break this into three distinct categories – the separate flows in the creative process, as follows: i) research; ii) creating and iii) audience engagement.
Here are my top five Ai-Lite tools that help busy editorial teams do more with less, according to those categories:
There’s a mountain of analytics tools out there to help editors monitor the competition, research keywords and influencers, and plan their content. You could use a suite of them, but I recommend using Buzzsumo instead. It automates the collation of material, breaks it down by category and makes it easy to slice and dice the results into a clear picture of the hottest stories on the web – plus the people who are doing most to influence our audience’s views of the world. It also goes to a granular keyword level, so you can stop hopping back and forth between Google’s keyword planners and your other research palettes. Content reports are also generated via email each day, meaning you don’t have to live within the app if you don’t want to. Pricing is brilliant when spread across teams.
Ai Writer is a must-use …not just for help in generating content (getting you through the gears from blank page to your first 25 words in a minute or so), but also in fleshing out ideas and taking you to places that you’d never think of visiting. It’s an incredibly simple tool. Just plug in a keyword, then Ai Writer will scour the web for excellent source material on that topic and report back with a decent first draft and also a comprehensive list of reference sources. The quality of the drafts it compiles is great, and that’s what makes it a winner and a brilliantly executed piece of Ai-ness.
Then when you’re into production mode and writing your content, there’s Grammarly – the mind-blowing personal assistant that keeps your writing correct, concise and colourful. Thanks to a wealth of in-line, instant editing suggestions and alterations – and the ability to compare machine-generated versions of your copy with your initial drafts – this app always makes your content more polished.
Like Buzzsumo, both tools are low cost, and both help you to streamline your work. They handle many of the time-consuming and troublesome parts of the creative workflow so that you can focus on the element that they could never do… the ideas part.
Larger organisations may benefit from the support of other teams that handle the task of audience acquisition – but the majority of editors don’t. Once they’re finished with the creative deliverable, they need to go again and figure out ways to get it in front of people.
A well-honed SEO strategy helps, of course; but the job of social media engagement is all-pervasive. What’s the best way to share that content? What’s the best time to do it? What are the best, most creative assets to use so we ensure we don’t sink to the bottom of the newsfeed?
All these things are work, and most of them feel like drudgery once the perfect 400-word news piece has been crafted.
Thankfully tools like Buffer and Felix are around to do a lot of the heavy lifting. Buffer works across all key social channels – Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and Facebook – as a one-stop tool for creating, scheduling and automating the social publishing process, as well as engaging with all of your target audiences in those places. It also has an integrated analytics component that provides recommendations on how to generate better results, as well as the usual metrics-based reports and chartware.
Felix is a content automation tool which takes an entire newsfeed and transforms it into a suite of cool, new content formats – such as video teasers, Instagram-style stories, audio snippets and content discovery ‘collections.’ All these formats can be shared on social media to help drive traffic, and embedded into your source articles to keep that traffic more engaged and clicking on more content after it arrives on your site.
There are more tools like this appearing every day. Next time you see one, try it out – especially if it helps you generate more time for the creative process. This kind of Ai-Lite is the newsroom’s friend. Doing more with less is definitely a 2019 thing.
Thomas Eddington, AI and publishing consultant