"Let's start with a game. If you want to know how people like you vote, answer the questions below."
This is how Politibot, a two-week-old Telegram bot, greets users who add it on the messaging app to keep up to date with Spain's upcoming general election on 26 June.
Politibot was launched on 9 June to coincide with the release of an important voter intention poll in the country, and it has since amassed some 6,089 users at the date of publication.
The team working on the bot included a few journalists, developers and a political scientist. They settled on using Telegram because WhatsApp, which is more popular with Spanish users, has yet to allow bot development on its platform.
"There is a very politically engaged audience on Telegram," Eduardo Suárez, co-founder of El Español and one of the journalists working on the bot, told Journalism.co.uk.
"All of the newer parties in Spain, such as Podemos and Ciudadanos, their voters, and the people who are really engaged with these parties are on Telegram."
Politibot works with two main components: a database of stories manually curated by the team from various Spanish news outlets, and its carefully crafted push notifications that aim to "recreate a conversation about the election issues happening every day".
"We didn't want to automatise the selection process.
"The idea is that the articles you were able to read on 9 June, you will also be able to read on 23 June and 26 June and they will still be relevant."
When you first start talking to Politibot, the first message you get is an explanation of what it does and some pointers for how to use the menu.
The bot also tells users any information they provide is kept anonymous and makes them aware they will receive an update once a day about something Politibot found interesting.
The last two push alerts the bot has sent before publication have also contained short soundbites from Spanish politicians, followed by Politibot asking users whether or not they agreed with the statements made.
When they first add Politibot, users are asked a few question about their gender, age and location, so that the bot can tell them which party their peers are likely to be voting for based on the same characteristics. They can then choose from the menu's several navigation options and ask the bot for shorter or longer text updates, graphs or survey results.
"We started doing one push alert a day, with the exception of a televised debate when we sent three push notifications.
"For the last couple of days, we have been experimenting with sending two daily updates, alternating between one in the morning and one at lunchtime, or one in the morning and one in the evening.
"We're noticing that what we send at lunch time does really well because of the longer break people take then."
Politibot has had some 35,000 sessions since its launch, and Suárez said 70 per cent of the 5,400 users who had installed it before 20 June were opening it every day, with 25 per cent of them spending more than five minutes per day with the bot.
"It's an interesting channel to interact with your audience, particularly useful for when you have a very committed group of people who are interested in a topic, so it could even work for another vertical."
Although the team has been promoting Politibot on individual Twitter and Facebook accounts, Suárez said they were surprised to see the bulk of the user growth came organically from Telegram rather than social media, as people are likely sharing the bot with each other on the messaging app.
The links and material the bot sends to people are not sourced only from El Español, but also from other Spanish news outlets, such as El Mundo, El Confidencial, El Diario or El País, all of which operate their own Telegram channels – El Diario's is the largest one, with 10,932 members.
Before Quartz launched their bot-like news app in February and Facebook opened up their Messenger platform to bots in April, not many news organisations had a bot as part of their suite of digital products.
But now, publishers seem keen to follow this new trend – CNN and the Wall Street Journal were among the first to develop Messenger bots, while Mic is sending young people updates about the news via two bots built on messaging app Kik.
As publishers have had more time to familiarise themselves with the platforms that support bots, some news organisations are now trying to personalise their bots more and to find tailored uses for them as opposed to simply broadcasting daily stories through the channel.
The Guardian recently built a bot for delivering recipes, while Fusion is delivering news summaries replacing keywords with emojis.
"What we value most is the time people spend with the bot to discover content, and then they can go and read it wherever they want," Suárez said.
"We are planning something to convey the results on election night in a more innovative way, and we will run the bot for a few days after the election, but we would like to try and do something else with it after that too."
Update: An earlier version of this article said Politibot was developed by El Español – it is in fact a project undertaken independently by Suárez and a team of developers and political scientists.
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