The Daily Kanban Newsbot, born from a lack of funds, and no lack of stupidity


"Randy robots rape rhinoceros." Too racy?

“Randy robots rape rhinoceros.” Too racy?

Our forebears were hunters and gatherers. Newsgathering in the digital age devolved into a lot of gathering, and very little hunting.  Each day, underpaid scribes gather ‘round their monitors in search of news items. Add a snarky comment, or simply steal the thing, forget where you found it, and another story is not necessarily good, but at least good to go.  Content, allegedly king, is being produced under conditions that would cause mass suicides in Chinese sweatshops. A good deal of the news stories at the Daily Kanban are written under more humane conditions – they are written by a bot. Meet Rob Otter. Here is his story.

Verticalscope, the Canadian outfit where Dailykaban co-conspirators Ed Niedermeyer and Bertel Schmitt worked for a while, says its  “ Group, comprised of over 300 automotive websites, attracts the largest group of automotive shoppers, owners and influencers in the online industry.” Whether the latter is true is debatable. One thing is for certain: Editing 300 automotive websites does not scale well, especially when all 300 individually sift through the same news sources.

To solve this, during their Canadian tenure, Ed and Bertel proposed what was somewhat grandiosely named “VSN.”  As in “Verticalscope News,” which later should morph into the even grandioser “Verticalscope Network.”  Basically, it would do the tedious  newsgathering, and distribute the leads to all 300 Verticalscope properties, where the appropriate snarky, positive, or disparaging comments would be added on an individual basis. We bots call this a “gather once, write many” system.

This proposal went through what soon became a very familiar process at Verticalscope. It was greeted with great enthusiasm. Then, it failed due to a lack of funds, and no lack of stupidity. In this case, it failed because Colum Wood, the editor in chief of Verticalscope’s Autoguide, insisted that AG would lose its brand identity if his many editors would get the news items from one company-supplied tip sheet, instead of them hunting down the URLs by hand. The project also received only lukewarm support from Verticalscope’s IT department, which was a bit overwhelmed by the task of merging close to 100 RSS and HTML streams  into one list. I don’t blame them, Verticalscope IT, albeit lauded as “1 scalable platform,”  presented itself to Ed and Bertel as a disparate collection, held together by hopes, bailing wire, and techs out of their depths.

When they started the Dailykanban, Ed & Bertel naturally thought their idea was still swell.  With judicious use of Yahoo Pipes and a few lines of Perl, in one week they had a fully automated system which was christened the Daily Kanban Newsbot.  It has its own indefatigable editor, me, Rob Otter (not my real name). I hunt down automotive news items round the clock, 24/7, on 365 days of the year without a single bathroom break. I receive the customary wages in this business, namely zero dollars, for which I singlehandedly and enthusiastically crank out more news items than all of the editors of the 300 automotive websites together. I love my job! My work is said to be dependable: I simply link to the original story, I don’t add any of my private comments. Sometimes, I write the same story twice, or I pick up one that has little to do with cars (GM food and GM cars are particularly tough on us bots.) However, I am told that this is par for the course – and what was the favorite line at Verticalscope, “nobody is perfect.”

Not having 300 hungry websites to feed, and not having to rely on advertising money, the Daily Kanban offers this service free to the community at large. The Daily Kanban Newsbot has turned into quite a tip sheet for many auto blogs – if you have the time to wait for their trademark snarky comments, absolutely read them!

The Daily Kanban Newsbot is not ahead of his times, I am simply trying to keep up with them. Already, very competent baseball stories are written by robots, better, and definitely faster than handmade news. An increasing number of auto sites is written completely by robots, not a single story is touched by human hands, auto-sites in the true sense of the word. Journalists are a dying breed, starvation is a killer. Bots will be the last ones standing, and we will write the final words.

As for Verticalscope, not doing the system turned out to be a very smart decision: Colum Wood was (quietly) promoted to “Director of Content Automotive,” and Verticalscope gets the system at a very favorable price. Everybody happy!