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Credit: Screenshot of CNN's Facebook Messenger bot

Chat apps and bots are two hot trends in the publishing industry right now, so it was only a matter of time until someone put the two together.

And that is exactly what happened at Facebook's F8 developer conference in San Francisco yesterday (12 April), when Mark Zuckerberg delivered a keynote speech about the company's strategy for the next decade, highlighting a focus on news bots, saving and sharing tools, and live video.

CNN is one of the first news organisations to adopt Facebook Messenger's new bot platform.

The reason? "It's an opportunity to reach a global audience and connect in a way that's very personal but also at scale," said Alex Wellen, chief product officer at CNN.

More than 900 million people use Facebook Messenger every month and between Messenger and WhatsApp, 60 billion messages are processed daily.

This is CNN's "first tango" with chat bots, even thought the news outlet's experience with using chat apps for content distribution stretches across Snapchat Discover, Kik and Line.

Wellen told the aim in joining Facebook's bot platform is two-fold, a combination of publishing a more carefully curated selection of articles, and enabling readers to query these stories.

"We curate, you query, that's the idea. We look at the CNN stories from around the globe and publish those according to the time of day and the type of audience we're trying to reach," he said.

At the moment, since the product is new, the interaction options are quite limited. Readers can pick between three buttons: Top Stories, Stories for you, and Ask CNN.

Stories for you' is personalised for each user, providing a selection of articles based on popular CNN content and what the individual has consumed before. The stories can be read in their entirety in a separate mobile web window or summarised by the bot in a few paragraphs within Messenger.

'Ask CNN' requires users to type in a keyword, such as 'US election' to receive information about that particular topic, although again it is not highly customised to say, a user's location.

We tried out the bot in the office and typing in 'UK politics' or 'UK referendum' prompted us to search for alternative keywords – 'Brexit' seemed to work.

Adding CNN on Facebook Messenger also automatically signs up readers to receive alerts, which some people already seem to be annoyed with and want to unsubscribe from.

In the less than 24 hours I've been using the bot, CNN has only sent me a couple of alerts.

Part of CNN's chat bot is powered by recommendation service Outbrain and Wellen said in the long run, the idea is for "CNN to get you" and that includes factoring in a reader's location.

"The term 'personalised news' is not the same as a personal news experience," he added. "The latter has awareness of the time of day, a reader's location and a number of other factors.

"Chat bots need to feel more like a chat and less like a bot and get to a place where we understand you, where you are and what you're doing, without you having to share that information and return a response that makes more sense."

Wellen said CNN is not sure how people will use the chat bot and if that will complement when and how readers consume the organisation's content across other platforms and the website.

"There are definitely people who only use messaging apps. For them, this is the only place where they come in contact with CNN because it's where they're having private conversations, conducting their e-commerce or playing games.

"It will be interesting to see how people engage with this experience, but one key thing in the future will be that if this is truly a chat, we would want it to be more ongoing throughout the day," he added.

CNN wants to go beyond just text distribution with the chat bot, Wellen pointed out, so it's also exploring opportunities to take advantage of voice recognition technology such as Amazon's Alexa, Apple's Siri and OK Google.

"As time goes on, CNN will need to be able to contextualise people's lives. If you're sitting in a car or walking through a mall, you have an expectation that you'll be able to ask a question and receive a thoughtful response from an automated service.

"That relationship people have with CNN is a very important piece of the equation. But first we need to understand the content we have, the stories we want to tell and how to tell them in a way that's native to the platform," said Wellen.

Update 14/04: An earlier version of this article stated that the 'Stories for you' option with the CNN bot is not personalised to individuals. It has now been amended.

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