The Guardian launches Facebook Messenger chatbot

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The Guardian launches Facebook Messenger chatbot

The Guardian is continuing its experimentation with virtual reality technology by launching a news chatbot on Facebook Messenger. When a social media user interacts with the virtual assistant it will inquire if they would like a daily news briefing. If the answer is yes, the prototype chatbot will ask what time the user wants it delivered and if they would like to see the headlines of the current most popular stories of the moment. This will then launch a selection of news items inside the Messenger app taken from the Guardian’s website. Currently this is the only task the chatbot can perform but other functionality is expected. The bot is subscription-based, meaning it cannot solicit users without them initiating contact.

It follows on from the success of Sous Chef, the publisher’s cooking chatbot which launched in June and acts as an interactive search tool for recipe articles. Guardian social and new media editor Martin Belam revealed they used a real person pretending to be the bot when first testing the Sous Chef. He explained: ‘It was so we could get a sense of what people would say to a chatbot. People really do chat to them very naturally.’ While the number of subscribers to the Guardian’s news virtual assistant is believed to be less than a thousand, Belam revealed the number of unsubscribes was ‘very low’. He also stressed the importance of this ‘learning process’ for news organisations.

The social and new media editor does not think the virtual assistant will be the ‘biggest thing in journalism’ but emphasised: ‘I just love experimenting with stuff and finding new ways of trying to tell stories and get them across to people.’ He added: 'I'm always fascinated by how we can use technology to get the best of our journalism in front of the widest possible relevant audience. This [chatbot] seemed like a way of doing it.'

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Vogue becomes Snapchat Discover partner

Vogue magazine has become an official partner of Snapchat Discover in the US, launching its feed on the platform ahead of New York Fashion week. The title’s exclusive debut feature offered the social network’s users a chance to peek inside the Malibu home of Australian model Miranda Kerr, with the publisher also telling Snapchatters they can look forward to celebrity features, style advice and more as a result of the tie-up. The Conde-Nast owned publication joins the likes of CNN, ESPN and BuzzFeed on the Discover channel for media outlets, which was revamped earlier this year. New content is set to be unveiled twice a week on Tuesdays and Fridays and is part of a wider digital push by the magazine.

The news of the partnership comes as a report suggested around 43% of Snapchat’s advertising revenue in the US is generated from campaigns positioned between articles within Discover. However, the research predicted this will change next year as part of the app’s advertising overhaul.  As it starts to monetise users in other countries, especially the UK, Snapchat is also expected to derive a quarter of its ad revenue from outside the US by 2018.

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Facebook tests Twitter-like feature to increase conversations

Facebook is trialling a new feature that provides recapped versions of posts from a user’s friends near the top of their News Feed. The tool aims to promote more conversations on the social network and will group the posts into one box named ‘What friends are talking about’. The number of comments per post will be clearly visible, so friends can tell if the message is a popular one. While similar to Twitter, the new feature limits the number of recommended posts it displays to make sure they do not swamp the News Feed, as is the case with Twitter, where users of the microblogging platform have to scroll for a considerable time before accessing the chronological timeline.

The pilot comes as Facebook’s News Feed celebrates its 10th anniversary. When first launched in 2006, users hated the algorithmic social timeline. ‘About one million people joined a protest group threatening to quit if we didn’t change Facebook back’, the social network’s founder Mark Zuckerberg reminisced in a post on his page. He claimed that a decade later, ‘every major social app has its own equivalent of News Feed’.

Prince Charles praises Royal Mail

Prince Charles, a notorious epistolographer who is thought to have sent around 1,000 letters a year at peak periods in his life, has said that texting and social media are killing off the art of letter writing. Speaking at an event to mark 500 years of Britain’s postal service, the Prince decried the ‘140 characters or less culture,’ leaving letter-writing facing an existential threat. Addressing long-serving Royal Mail workers and executives, he said: ‘Ladies and gentlemen, perhaps your greatest service is the way that Royal Mail, by its very existence, defends the written word.’

Clarence House also released a letter from the Prince congratulating the Royal Mail on half a millennium of national service, and for ‘reminding us that well-constructed and properly thought-through prose will always endure, whatever the vagaries of fashion.

Snapchat Bluetooth move adds to hardware speculation

Snapchat’s move to join the Bluetooth Special Interest Group, coupled with recent recruitment and acquisitions from the world of consumer electronics, has boosted expectations that the business is developing wearable augmented reality (AR) hardware. Apple, Google, Microsoft and Facebook have all recently expressed interest in augmented reality, and Snapchat already employs a form of the technology in its app’s filters or ‘lenses’. Membership of the Bluetooth consortium is seen as a clear signal of intent, as only companies planning to launch a wireless device would need to join the body. Augmented reality overlays the real world with computer graphics and information, with the Pokémon Go app currently the best known example of it. Overshadowed by virtual reality devices like the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive, the market for augmented reality devices has developed more slowly. However, sales of about 200,000 units of AR technology in 2016 are forecast, increasing to 7 million unit sales in 2020, for a market value of $3.8 billion.

Snapchat has declined to comment on joining the Bluetooth group, or other aspects of its future plans.

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