Quartz's Emily Withrow says bots should be important, interesting and useful

By Allison Inglebright

Emily Withrow, editor of Quartz Bot Studio, presented about the intersection of artificial intelligence and our everyday lives during the 2017 Mobile Me & You conference at the University of Illinois Urbana – Champaign.


A bot is something that automates a process for users and provides information. Google Home and Amazon’s Alexa are both two of the most well known examples of bots.

Withrow uses a variety of bots in her everyday life. She uses an assistant bot named Andrew Ingram that schedules all her meetings and has access to her schedule. The bot is able to learn from its interactions with Withrow to serve her better. It can pick up on the tone of her emails and gage the formality of the relationship she has with that individual. She also uses a bot that provides ideas for outfits through Facebook Messenger.

There are three different types of bots: bots that push, pull and both. A push bot sends information out to users, such as pushing inspirational quotes via Twitter or Facebook Messenger. The bot pulls the information from a database and sends it to users. A pull bot collects information and sends it to users. This type of bot searchers websites and collects information based on what the user is asking. A bot that pushes and pulls allows users to have an extended interaction with the bot.

Bots are helpful for companies because they allow brands to interact with their audience where they are. Typically, an organization will try to pull consumers from social media to their website. A bot, when integrated with Facebook or Twitter, enables companies to interact with their audience without pulling them away from the platform they are using.

Regardless of the type of bot, however, Withrow says it’s essential that the information they provide be interesting, important, and useful.

“Bots need to do something for your audience so they will interact with you,” Withrow said.

Bots also allow brands to tailor the content to the person they are interacting with, like the Midwife Bot, which provides information to women during pregnancy. Users can ask the bot, “Can I eat sushi?” and the bot will respond, “No.” This interaction feels more private to the user than searching Google.

Bots can even be programmed to have a voice and personality. Withrow spent a considerable amount of time interacting with bots and found that she preferred those with a persona rather than a brand logo.

“The first rule of bots is that people will mess with your bot,” Withrow said. “The more candy you give a bot, the more people will try to find it. The ones we make are muted in their personality when error handling or when something is going wrong. When things are going well we see the most personality in the bots.”