The rise of the robot writers

Narrative Science is a startup that creates editorial content automatically from data. They say that their app ‘generates news stories, industry reports, headlines and more — at scale and without human authoring or editing’. Last week, they attracted $6 million in seed funding.

I’m sure they will never really replace journalistic content, but I’d love to see how they progress. News organisations today are under a lot of pressure to go digital and find better monetisation models – could this be one of them?

As this article says:

I suppose some people might get queasy about the idea of robot writers, but I think it makes perfect sense. There’s lots of content-making that machines can and should do much faster than humans, and at least as effectively.

Meanwhile, the push to produce more copy for less has been underway for a long time, even for publishers that don’t get labeled “content farms“–Reuters moved some of its financial-reporting resources to India years ago, and you never hear a peep about that.

Mired in the past, living the present

BusinessWeek reports that people in their twenties are throwing Depression parties in New York. Just a couple of days ago, I heard about this Prohibition party happening in London this weekend. Depression, Prohibition – one could be forgiven for being confused about whether we’re actually regressing or suddenly have an inexplicable nostalgia for the past. I’m still pondering. What’s your take on it?

Le Meridien: Wooing guests in style

Le Meridien has created Moodboard, which allows users to select an image from the site that reflects their mood, and then throws up destinations that reflect that ‘canvas’, as they call it. It then takes you to the site of a specific hotel in that destination and allows you to book your stay there, and provides details of its location, things to do there and special offers. Unsurprisingly, since by now almost everyone has wised up to the importance of reaching out to customers via social media, I noted that they also have a Facebook group.

But I like what they’re doing. They’ve started a programme called Unlock Art, which allows guests to collect special keys commissioned by contemporary artists that provide entry to cultural centres near some of their hotels. They also have the LM100, a group of artists and visionaries who help enhance the experience at Le Meridien hotels.

I don’t know how many international hotel chains are going all out to carve a niche for themselves and truly offer that extra something to their guests, but Le Meridien is certainly innovating in ways that I haven’t really heard other hotels doing. Good for them.

Weekend amusement

Two really interesting things I found on PSFK recently: one is a spoof on Facebook –

Facebook Gangsta from Facebook Gangsta on Vimeo.

And the other is the Cybertecture Egg, an office building by James Law Cybertecture International, commissioned by a Mumbai-based firm. Due to be completed by 2010, the ‘egg’ will incorporate solar power, wind power and water recycling. I’m from India, so I was interested to note that international, environment-friendly structures are making their way into the country. With over a billion people, this may be just a drop in the ocean as far as eco-conservation is concerned, but at least its a step in the right direction. My only concern is how integrated it will be with its surrounding environment.

The argument for digital strategy in a consumer-facing world

The New York Times has a piece about how the Obama campaign has been executing an intelligent, targeted social networking strategy to bring more voters into its fold, and succeeding remarkably. This may be a rather obvious fact but the truth is that today no person or entity that has its ultimate aim as getting more people to back them (if an individual, like Obama) or promote them (if a company/brand) can afford to ignore the importance of social networking and having a digital strategy of some sort.

If you are an artist, for example, it will be useful to start a blog and have a Facebook or MySpace page to speak about your work and interact with your fans. You can also send email newsletters to them to publicize new work and ensure that your name stays in their minds. People have a very short attention span these days because there are so many things when they step outside that clamour for their attention, so the mere power of recall will be a very useful tool to have as the world moves forward. Artists and musicians didn’t have such widespread options to get more business for themselves even five years ago – you can read about the experiences of my friend, fellow Tuttle Club member and musician Steve Lawson here – and if you feel that as an artist you don’t get enough recognition, then make sure it’s not because of your own shortcomings in the online sphere.

It is old news now that many companies are Web 2.0 savvy and have a Twitter account in addition to a blog and perhaps a Facebook or MySpace page, if they are that involved. Some, of course, aren’t. I recently spoke to some people who work with PR firms, who said that some of the companies that were approaching them as clients had no idea what social media was or how it could help them. Those are the people who are late to the party, and if they don’t buck up now, they will soon be too far behind to catch up. The traditional forms of advertising can only take a brand so far today. I can’t put it better than this piece from Wired (emphasis in bold mine):

“The future of media is the future of advertising; the future of advertising is the future of media. The fundamental difference, however, is that the design philosophies of digital media will exert a greater influence on traditional advertising than traditional advertising will hold over the design philosophies of the digerati. In other words, tomorrow’s soft-ads are going to reflect the values of the Net more than tomorrow’s Net will evolve into a digital regurgitation of today’s advertising.”

At the end of the day, however, a digital strategy will only be useful if you have a product that people want, and that works well. If the Mac was not a viable alternative to machines that run Microsoft and offered only its sleek good looks, then no amount of ads would have helped it sell. (The way it’s going, for example, it looks like the Macbook Air may not be as successful as its original Mac brother even though it has a nice ad to bolster it, because users are beginning to feel the lack of basics like a DVD drive). So if Obama wins in November, it will not be just because he is perceived as a viable alternative to Clinton and McCain, or even because of his brilliant online presence. It will be because he is a candidate that people truly believe will deliver the goods (and he better!).