For this news application challenge, I decided to design a news bot on WhatsApp. According to Digital Asia Hub, over 25% of users in cannot install applications from the Google Play Store. Additionally, over 93% of users already have WhatsApp installed. Consequently, a bot on WhatsApp would likely reach a larger audience than a mobile web or native application would.
A news bot on WhatsApp also allows for more streamlined functionality. The primary benefit of integrating news into WhatsApp is the ease with which news can be shared. Instead of having to exit a browser or news application to share an interesting article, a news bot allows users to pass interesting articles along to their friends in only a few clicks without needing to exit the application. Using WhatsApp as the primary application for distributing news also proves immediate access to an account for each user. This reduces the friction for a great experience because content can be personalized without prompting the user to create an account. The news bot also can send notifications to the user without needing the user to download a standalone application. Finally, rather than having to teach users a new behavior of opening a news website or application, a news bot can simply leverage existing habits around checking WhatsApp. Ultimately, a news bot on WhatsApp seems to be a more desirable mobile news experience.
A critical constraint of this news bot is being data conscious. However, we can generally assume that users will have access to data. According to Digital Asia Hub, over 77% of respondents do have some form of mobile data plan. To be data conscious, we allow users to delay downloading content until a convenient time. Additionally, rather than having full videos, each story will consist of a few low resolution images and audio. Android phones generally have text to speech software pre-installed for a variety of languages. Hence, instead of using data to transmit audio, text can be sent and converted to speech locally on the phone. At a minimum, data to transfer a story can be be <10kb.
Features around helping semi-literate readers digest news are critical for a news bot to succeed. Each chat message is accompanied with the speaker symbol that allows the user to hear each message. By highlighting words that have already been read in blue, the news bot offers opportunities for users to improve literacy.
Beyond personalized content, developments in natural language understanding and machine intelligence will help make this low-bandwidth news experience even better. Recent research has enabled bots to summarize and answer questions about articles. Integrating these types of features should further enhance the value proposition of the application.