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BBC pioneering in-article chatbots for publishers

BBC News Labs and the BBC Visual Journalism team are pioneering a custom bot-builder application designed to make it as easy as possible for reporters to build chatbots and insert them into stories.

In just a few minutes, a BBC reporter can input the text of an article, define the questions users can click, and publish the bot, which can then be reused and added to any other relevant article. BBC reporters can even repurpose existing Q&A explainers into bot-based conversations.

For the BBC, bots represent a new way to reach and inform readers who are not deeply engaged in complicated news stories. For example, one recent bot set out to help users understand how the sharp rise in personal lending might affect them.

“These topics, like Brexit, are complicated ones that people often struggle with, and the bots are designed to help demystify them,” BBC Developer Grant Heinrich told NiemanLab. “Readers can be a bit younger, or come into the story midway. They may not know who the important people are, or what the story is. Journalists are much more involved in these stories day-to-day and your average 16 year old won’t be as familiar.”

One important learning from the BBC’s New Lab team is that chatbots deeply engage small segments of readers who spend ‘a lot of time’ on the chatbot modules. With engagement and traction a particular issue for online publishers, this one fact alone should pique interest.

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