Using Voice-Activated Technology to Deliver Industry News

To tap into voice technology and engage its readers on their smart speakers, the American Chemical Society has designed a daily news briefing specifically for Amazon Echo devices.

With the rising popularity of smart speakers, the American Chemical Society’s Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN) knew it wanted to develop something for members using this voice platform, but it didn’t know what.

“Voice is an emerging platform—this is where people are starting to go,” said Jessica Morrison, C&EN’s product manager. “There’s tremendous growth for voice going forward, so we wanted to know more about it.”

While the result—a daily news briefing called Chemistry Update by C&EN—was launched last week, the C&EN team initially turned to its user research group, C&EN Reader Lab, back in the spring to get their thoughts before developing anything.

Staff asked the group’s members some basic questions: How do you use your smart speaker now? How and where do you read C&EN? If we develop something for a smart speaker, what would you want it to be like, and how and when would you listen to it?

“We wanted to know how our readers are interacting with the platform already and what they want from us,” Morrison said.

With that feedback, the C&EN team created its first prototype: a longer news briefing about a single news item. But when staff took it to the user research group last August, it got a big thumbs-down. “They did not like it at all,” Morrison said. They said the content was too long, too detailed, monotonous, and hard to listen to.

So the team reworked it into its current format: a daily news briefing that includes three short news stories. “Really, this is intended for passive listening—while getting ready in the morning or taking a break in the lab. You shouldn’t have to focus to ‘get’ this,” Morrison said. Each story is about 20 to 30 seconds long, “so you can get caught up on news from C&EN in just a couple of minutes.”

The stories are summaries of longer news items, written specifically for voice. If listeners hear something they want to know more about, they can go to the website and read the whole story. For news that’s longer or more complicated, “it would not be engaging to hear Alexa fumble through citations or a chemical formula,” Morrison said.

Through this briefing, C&EN is offering its readers another way to get its chemistry news content. “We’re trying to meet people where they are,” Morrison said. “Some want long reads and want to sit down on Saturday and read whole print magazine front to back. Some people want to get caught up fairly quickly while doing other things.”

Chemistry Update was developed by C&EN’s newly formed product development team. The idea for Chemistry Update came from the newsroom, and the technical development didn’t take very long. “The time was really in product research, user research, and developing the content strategy,” Morrison said. “That’s a new approach for us—taking our ideas, checking our assumptions with user research, building prototypes, checking the assumptions again, and then developing a product.”

For now, Chemistry Update is available only for Amazon Echo devices, but ACS is talking about creating a version for Google Home as well.

With the news briefing, ACS is hoping to show readers that it’s interested in new technologies and new ways to tell stories. “Voice is an emerging platform, and we want to be there,” Morrison said.

(Karneg/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Allison Torres Burtka

By Allison Torres Burtka

Allison Torres Burtka, a longtime association journalist, is a freelance writer and editor in West Bloomfield, Michigan. MORE

Got an article tip for us? Contact us and let us know!