StatSheet, a Durham-based company with only nine employees, is developing a network of sports blogs that run entirely on automated content. Their "robot army" is already producing content for all 345 men's college basketball teams. Be afraid, blogosphere.
As Randall Stross explains in Saturday's New York Times, the posts pull from about 5,000 "template sentences" and "a database of phrases." The relevant stats are dropped in by the little-but-effective robot arms (maybe I'm embellishing), and a story is automatically published to the web. The StatSheet network site has a link to every college team's beta page, which can also be accessed as very personal freestanding domain names. Tennessee Tech basketball fans, for example, can visit ttureview.com.
I pulled up two competing stories for Sunday's game between No. 2 Michigan State and Tennessee Tech. The Spartans won easily, 73-55, and their spartanball.com recap opens with the lede, "Nothing helps you stay confident like playing a couple of decent games." The Golden Eagles don't get much of a break from their robot's editorializing, though: "With a couple of recent losses," it beep-boops, "Tennessee Tech fan sentiment has deteriorated." There is some variation between the articles' sentence structures, but the content is obviously form-driven. It is also very focused on comparing things. Take a look at the stories' third paragraphs:
Michigan State crushed threes, hitting a total of 30 points from beyond the arc compared to 12 by Tennessee Tech. Michigan State spread the ball around and got 22 assists compared to 5 for Tennessee Tech.
Michigan State drained three pointers for 30 insurmountable points, compared to 12 for Tennessee Tech. Michigan State spread the ball around and got 22 assists compared to 5 for Tennessee Tech.
It's predictable, sure. Robotic, even! Robbie Allen, StatSheet's founder, hopes that the site will cater to fans who "don't like personality" in their game recaps and "just want the straight facts." This sure is a nice editorial niche for robot writers. But didn't we already learn that human sportswriters aren't so different after all?