To Inform or Entertain?

There are currently over 70 thousand Alexa skills worldwide. Within this vast array of skills, there are skills for every need. Perhaps the phrase “there’s an app for that” needs a little updating.

Photo by Andres Urena on Unsplash

Some skills have the purpose to inform e.g. BBC News, whilst others have the purpose of entertainment (The Harry Potter Quiz being my personal favourite).

But when should a chatbot inform, and when should it entertain? And more importantly, when should it do both?

To Inform or Instruct

The main incentive to build a chatbot is to inform or instruct. Their purpose is to make our lives easier.

“Tell me what is next on my timetable.”
“What are today’s headlines?”
“Turn the kitchen lights on.”

Talking at a much faster pace than typing, chatbots allow information to be found much more quickly. And in most cases, an entertaining response to “turn the lights on” would be met with frustration, not entertainment, as it would be seen as a barrier to completion.

Photo by Jonas Jacobsson on Unsplash

To Entertain

Skills for pure entertainment value, seem at first glance to be around games for young people. But this could be argued to be true for most or all areas of adult life. For adults, entertainment is somewhat confined to media.

But, when information and entertainment collide, retention of information increases. ‘Humor in Pedagogy’ teaches us that students are much more likely to remember information and statistics when the teachers surround them with jokes.

The Subtle Art of Informing While Entertaining

Image from the BBC.

The best example of this, although perhaps not altogether subtle, is the BBC’s Horrible Histories. the aim of these books and the program was to educate the viewers and readers.

But they do this in an entertaining way so that young people didn’t ‘notice’ they were being taught about History.

Why is it important?

When building a chatbot, you are building a persona. And generally, people have personalities. By having an entertaining persona with your chatbot, the information will become more digestible and memorable.

But adding humour whilst not distracting from the key information is a difficult balance to strike.

When creating L.U., Lancaster University's chatbot, it was key to strike this balance. For any ‘academic’ related questions, we simply answered the question. However, for the information relating to life on campus, we made sure to inject humour and entertainment.

Although this may not be the best way of striking a balance between informing and entertaining, it’s the balance that seems to have worked for our chatbot. But each chatbot is likely to be unique. Therefore, there are no rules for this balance, but the advice I would give is…

To Inform or Entertain? Think about…

  1. Will entertainment be a barrier to the information?
  2. Will entertainment enhance the information? Will it make it more memorable?
  3. Could the entertainment/humour be misinterpreted?