Fusion readers have plenty of options when it comes to reading or watching the publication’s stories. They can go to its website, check them out on Instant Articles and catch them on TV. Now, they can get them on Facebook Messenger, too.
The millennial-focused digital publication this week started its first chatbot for Facebook Messenger. Called “Emoji News,” it does exactly what you think: Once followed, users receive capsule summaries of Fusion’s top stories, with select keywords and phrases replaced by emojis.
Users can subscribe to the Emoji News bot by searching for it on Facebook. Then they have the option to receive a daily emoji-filled news briefing from Fusion, or choose to search individual stories by sending an emoji to the bot, which will send back a story that features that emoji — as well as an article to the full story on Fusion.net.
It’s not the first chatbot from Fusion, which has used the technology both internally on Slack to automate parts of the reporting process as well as externally using platforms like Twitter, Google Chrome and WhatsApp. For instance, on Chrome, it created a browser extension that inserted Donald Trump quotes into any page that featured his name. It also developed a Twitterbot that corrected anyone who used the phrase “illegal immigrants” by recommending they use “undocumented worker” instead.
“That got people angry and yelling at the bot,” said Kevin Roose, news director at Fusion. “Some of them have been entertaining because we like to infuse humor into a lot of what we do, but we’ve also created some that are more serious and send important messages.”
With Emoji News, the focus was on creating a bot that could deliver headlines in a way that people communicate naturally with each other on text and other messaging apps. “A lot of the news bots out there are basically RSS feeds — just pushing headlines on an automated basis with no real voice behind it,” said Roose. “But when ‘Lemonade’ comes out, you don’t text ‘Beyoncé just released an album called Lemonade,’ you send an emoji of a bee and an emoji of a lemon.”
Emoji News was built by Patrick Hogan, Fusion’s resident “bot reporter” who works inside the company’s 12-person News Lab. This division is focused on covering breaking news and other trending topics, sometimes through traditional online articles, but often using new platforms and technologies including virtual reality, Vine, browser extensions and chatbots.
With chatbots, while Fusion includes links to the full stories, it’s not looking at them primarily as a referral source. “If we get tons of traffic, I won’t complain, but that’s not the point,” said Roose. “This is a way to reach the audience where they are and experiment with a new form of distribution.”