▸ With the initial project plan interesting enough to warrant funding from the Google Digital News Initiative, we set out to tackle the most important use cases first - in this case notifying users if a web page had changed.
Previously, journalists were required to manually monitor and search for interesting changes. We learned that oftentimes this involved browsing through checklists of various sorts, looking for notable updates. This was time spent not on writing or research, but on avoidable chores.
Like in all of our projects, the first working prototype was delivered in two weeks from the kick-off. If the potential of the robot was not yet clear at this point, the concreteness of the working alerts made it very much so. Throughout the next sprints, more features were added, in the order of their priority. Notable examples include the ability to track numbers and configure alerts based on thresholds, tracking specific areas of a web page and an admin interface to view and manage the various monitors created.
Soon, the robot was ready to be adopted by the newsroom for testing and real-world use. With early feedback from users, the direction of development was kept consistent with actual use cases and user needs.
Currently, with the help of Little Bird, journalists are kept up to speed with the sources in their respective areas of expertise. Pieces of news are regularly found in the alerts generated by the robot.
The value of the tool has been made apparent in production use at STT and various other publishers.■