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April 11, 2016, 9:30 a.m.
Reporting & Production

You can now get personalized Breaking News alerts on Slack

The NBC-owned company’s new Slack bot lets you follow more than 90,000 topics.

Personalization is one of the central features of the Breaking News app. Users can choose to follow and get push alerts on more than 90,000 topics — from the Panama Papers to the NBA, or anything in between.

NBC-owned Breaking News is now offering a new way for users to track stories. Starting Monday, users who have installed the Breaking News integration into Slack will be able to ask a Breaking News bot to follow specific storylines or subjects.

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Breaking News first launched a Slack integration last August, but its first version only sent major breaking news alerts and didn’t allow users to personalize it in any way.

The integration has been added to about 1,700 Slacks since it was introduced — and many of those are at news organizations, where staffers spend much of their day in Slack. “Most major news organizations” use the Breaking News Slack integration, Breaking News general manager Cory Bergman said, adding that security and financial firms are also among the most frequent users.

“As companies begin to use this as their real-time communication platform, it’s a natural fit for us to be there, especially when companies can personalize it to fit their needs,” he said.

BreakingNewsSlack2

The bot understands commands by topic, so to follow a topic users enter /breakingnews follow Donald Trump or /breakingnews follow Hillary Clinton into Slack, and Breaking News will recognize that you want to follow those candidates and will start sending you updates on them — even if they’re fairly mundane developments.

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You can also unfollow topics, so you’ll be able to turn off the election updates, for example, as soon as a winner is declared in November — or sooner, if you’d like.

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The company ultimately wants to turn it into a two-way relationship, Bergman said. He’d like to see news organizations eventually be able to use Slack to send stories back to Breaking News to use in their alerts.

Breaking News, of course, isn’t the only outlet sending news through Slack. The New York Times experimented early this year by covering some of the early presidential primaries on Slack and inviting readers to send questions to the newsroom via the chat platform. Digg also released a Slack bot that lets users ask for articles using keywords, domain names, and more.

The social news service Storyful introduced a Slack product last year, too. The Storyful bot was aimed at news organizations, much like Breaking News’ offering. At the time, Brian Ries, Mashable’s real time news editor, told me that Mashable, which last week laid off about 30 staffers as it shifted away from news coverage, pulled in breaking alerts from the Associated Press, Reuters, Breaking News, and Storyful into a dedicated Slack channel. (Update: After this story was published, a Mashable spokesman emailed me to say: “We are not moving away from ‘news coverage’ as you state…What we are doing is moving away from covering world news and politics as standalone channels.”)

“It’s wholly streamlined the discovery process and brought Storyful’s content much closer to our editorial work flow,” Ries said in an email.

Breaking News similarly wants to insert itself into users’ workflows so its products are more useful. The company is run on a custom CMS, called Velocity, that’s built on top of an API.

“Because we’re built entirely on an API, with fully structured data, that makes spinning up bots a relatively easy task for us,” Bergman said.

Facebook Messenger is the next messaging app where Breaking News plans to expand with a chat bot, but Bergman said he expected the integration there to be used differently because Messenger is a more personal, not work related, platform and because it’s predominantly mobile. Facebook is reportedly planning on announcing a chat bot API at its F8 developers’ conference this week.

Last month, Breaking News also introduced an integration into Microsoft Office 365, and Bergman said in the next few weeks, the company plans to announce distribution on some “pretty sizable places that’s not in a bot form, but in more of a stream form.”

Bots present new opportunities for Breaking News, and Bergman said he could envision one day users getting Breaking News alerts from their car if something is happening near them or being able to ask a personal assistant such as the Amazon Echo to provide news updates.

“We can not only tell you about what’s happening with a given topic, but we can use importance as a gauge, we can use location as a gauge, and we can use your interest, based on what you’re following, as a gauge,” Bergman said. “That creates a tremendous amount of utility in the world of bots. That’s exciting for us.”

Bergman said Breaking News is looking for ways to build bots that are applicable across different platforms: “This could get unwieldy in a hurry, building different bots in different ways for different things.”

Still, as the world of messaging bots continues to evolve, Bergman said he views them as “a long-term value play” for Breaking News to be able to “answer specific information questions and match specific information to people who uniquely need it” in ways that are more accessible to them.

“We’ve spent a lot of time on push notifications…and bots have in some use cases the ability to have much less friction than push notifications,” he said. “You don’t have to download an app and enable push notifications. You can just have a conversation.”

POSTED     April 11, 2016, 9:30 a.m.
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