Hell, no, I say, and not just because I make my living writing white papers, newsletters, and the like for the IT market.
Here’s why. Yes, StatSheet of Durham, N.C. has developed software that writes (or, rather, assembles) stories based on statistics from college football and basketball, NASCAR and other sports. Algorithms pick out key facts (the top scorer, in which quarter did the winning team pull ahead, etc.) and stitches them together using a choice of pre-defined phrases.
If this sounds formulaic and bloodless, it is. Consider this story about a lopsided Ohio State win over North Carolina A&T: Ohio State has already started living up to monumental expectations with a good first game. On November 12th on their home court, the Buckeyes waxed the Aggies, 102-61. The game lacked a lot of drama, with Ohio State up 52-25 at halftime and never letting up.
There’s no mention of individual players (“Joe Jones powered Ohio State to a 102-61 drumming of North Carolina A&T.”) There are few adjectives (“Ohio State’s trademark physical style of play overwhelmed North Carolina’s more complex playbook.”) And there’s no mention of how a player’s off-the-court life affects their performance, as in “Shrugging off his DUI conviction last week, center Larry Lamar drove down court to…”
According to the New York Times, StatSheet Founder Robbie Allen “believes that what some readers regard as `stilted’ will be appreciated by others who say ‘I don’t like personality — I just want the straight facts.’” He also says that his original goal was that 80 percent of readers wouldn’t know the stories weren’t written by a human. “Now that we’ve launched,” he says, “I think the percentage is higher.”
And top it all off, he thinks the software could write stories in other fields, such as financial news, that rely on large amounts of data. That’s getting pretty close to my home turf of business/tech writing.
But am I worried? No. This software goes less than half-way-up the “value chain” of content creation I describe in my ebook “Content Marketing: Where to Place Your Quality Bets.” It captures facts, decides which to present, and polishes their presentation to a very limited extent. But it cannot check those facts for accuracy, put them in context, present them in an insightful or delightful way, or learn from them over time to deliver thought leadership.
I suspect that accuracy, context, delight and insight are qualifies you want and need in your marketing material. Or am I whistling past the graveyard and about to be automated by a really clever product positioning algorithm? You can also check out my ebook for details about when you should, and shouldn’t, take the “good enough” route (human or automated) to creating marketing content.