From today, an innovative new way for audiences to interact with BBC News is available to try with the African-designed pilot: “BBC Newschatta“.
BBC Newschatta is a chatbot developed by Nigerian technology company Codulab. This chatbot is a service for mobile phones which generates news stories based on the users’ input, using keywords and topics to send relevant news stories to them via the WeChat Messenger app.
This pilot was developed following an open submission process by BBC Connected Studio and the BBC World Service at an event in Lagos in February 2016. Similar events have previously taken place in Kenya and South Africa, from which ideas have been developed into live products.
A second pilot idea from the Lagos brief was also selected to go into development – named “Timerail”. The idea is to curate big news stories using multiple sources, which can then be presented to users with a compelling mix of content navigable by time and relevance. Nigerian company, Isoventurian, designed the user experience for this pilot, and user research has led to more targeted clustering of tagged content. A working prototype is expected later this year.
Dmitry Shishkin, BBC Digital Editor, World Service Languages, says: “BBC World Service continues to harnesses local tech expertise in Africa that allows us to keep innovating with new formats, platforms and content distribution models, specifically targeted at young audiences through mobile.
Before coming to Nigeria we successfully collaborated with tech hubs and start-ups in Kenya and South Africa, bringing live products from both locations, and I am thrilled that the trend continues in Lagos. Given the massive editorial investments that the BBC is making in Africa, it’s important that digital innovation is a crucial part in that process.”
Stanley Ojadovwa, Product Developer at Codulab, adds: “Newschatta is a chatbot that provides news content in a more personalised manner to young people across Africa. The aim is to deliver the latest news contents to users in a timely and interesting way that fits into the users’ current daily digital routines.
Newschatta is targeted at young people in Africa aged between 16 and 34, living in urban areas. This audience has a high mobile use, not just for calls and social networking purposes, but for other aspects of their life such as emailing, banking, playing games and reading news.”
These collaborations form part of the BBC’s objective of increasing its global audience to 500 million by 2020. Similar briefs have been launched across Africa and Asia, with new services and tools having been launched and others currently in development. Recent BBC chatbot activity included a Newsbot from Spanish-language service BBC Mundo, which allows users to find and share BBC news content in an easy to use and appealing way.
What does it look like?
Users select topics or keywords via the WeChat Messenger App and will then see curated news stories based on these choices for them to read and share.
What is the best thing about Newschatta?
This tailored content and app make for a cost-effective way for users to be served global news, sport and entertainment content. The target audience are young Africans, and the bot makes use of the existing platforms they are used to.
Newschatta can be accessed around the world. As well as being accessed through WeChat, the app collects news content from across the BBC. The aggregation and tagging is made possible using BBC Juicer – a tool created by BBC News Labs, which takes in news sources from across the globe and automatically tags specific topics.