StatSheet serves up automated reports of sporting events written, in standard journalistic prose, completely by computers. The sports statistics company in Durham, N.C., produces content pages for all 345 NCAA Division I men’s basketball teams and pumps game recaps and similar content composed by the site’s software which uses the box scores and raw data to fuel its stories.

Never mind that I was a sports journalist and publicity professional for 12 years and this software nearly commoditizes what I once called my profession. What this software does is gives us a peek into the possibilities of content based on data. Bear with me, here. This will make sense in a moment.

StatSheet - Sports StatisticsAt the end of each ballgame I worked in my modest journeys as a college sports information director and sports writer, I would compose a game recap that would either be distributed to our media outlets not in attendance, posted on our website or both. (Yes, we had websites then. Hush.) If I was approaching the typical 11 p.m. deadline for the local newspapers and television stations to receive information for use in tomorrows edition or the late night broadcast, I had to pound out a quick release that typically used the game box score or statistics as the factual basis for the article.

What StatSheet has done is create a software program that will do just that automatically. Here’s a sampling from Morehead State University’s (my undergraduate alma mater) recent loss to No. 4 Ohio State:

With a couple recent losses, there is definitely cause for concern. In Columbus on November 23rd the Eagles lost to the 4th ranked Buckeyes, 64-45. Ohio State got the win by taking control of shooting and also winning assists.

The Buckeyes didn’t need much in shooting accuracy, making 53% of their shots while their defense limited the Eagles to 37%. Ohio State shared the ball and registered 17 assists to 9 for Morehead State. A big problem for Morehead State was their 45 points, which was far below their 66.4 season average.

Kenneth Faried led the losing effort for the Eagles with 15 points on 71% shooting in 32 minutes. Faried also had a game-leading 12 rebounds.

Morehead State won’t take any comfort in a loss to Top 25 ranked Ohio State. The Eagles have fallen to 2-3. This adds yet another loss to our 3 game string.

Our next opponent is SIU Edwardsville on the road on November 28th.

Taking existing data and turning it into content opens up a couple of really interesting possibilities in the technology sector, particularly that of marketing and public relations. Think of your current frustrations with social media monitoring or social media measurement methods. Printing off pretty charts and graphs is one thing, but being able to generate some standard cover sheet insights or even straight pluses and minuses without having to pour through the data and write it manually sounds pretty appealing to me. Just tell the software what statistical data points are most meaningful to your organization and poof – three paragraphs of prose emailed to appropriate executives daily if they want.

Then think of whether or not your company or organization uses data as the basis for any type of content. Maybe it’s quarterly financial reporting. Perhaps you push out safety or health statistics from a government agency. Or maybe (notice tongue planted firmly in cheek for a moment) your market research firm can just push the survey results into the doomaflitchit and your $800 report comes out with a big, pretty bow wrapped around it.

Joking aside, what if you could not only automate that reporting, but also increase its frequency because the computers can be taught to pull the relevant insights and put them in some sort of literate order for you? What this does is offer at least one element of content automation that helps your content then become more scalable.

No, I’m not advocating that machines replace humans for quality content. But when the content is based on data and almost data alone, why not make it easier?

I have no idea if StatSheet has ever thought beyond the walls of sports data for its platform, but it sure could open some interesting possibilities if they are.

What are your thoughts? Do services like this undermine or improve content? Is this just another unfortunate technology that commoditizes journalists? Is it something you’d find useful in your business? How? The comments are yours.

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About Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for Elasticity, one of the world's most innovative digital marketing and public relations firms. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).

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Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • janetaronica

    I like your thinking about what this could mean for public relations. In some cases, there are employees who spend a ton of time digging through data and writing up reports for clients. It can get out of hand, crossing over from being productive and efficient analysis to “busy work.” It's always been my personal opinion that that time could maybe be better spent doing research (analyzing competitor's coverage, searching for new blogs, reporters to reach out to, etc) to help form the higher level strategy instead of well, busy work. I'm glad that there might a way to automate the daily reporting and free up time to get the other stuff done. :)

    • JasonFalls

      Thanks, Janet. I can see a lot of problems with automation, but if

      handled appropriately, can streamline and ease the process in many

      cases. I'm open to the potential. Just hope others are, too. Thanks

      for the comment.

  • Patrick Garmoe

    Hi Jason, I agree with you that content can scale using automation, as you show here. In a sense getting “the data” is the easy part. The bigger issue is always producing the quality content that drives the numbers, as you say.

    But if companies could rely on automated reports, which would free up staff time for stuff computers can't do, that's definitely a win. The question remains whether computers will ever truly be able to accurately dissect the meanings of comments, to the degree that dependable data can be pulled. It's one thing to produce box scores, and another to gauge sentiment correctly.

    • JasonFalls

      Great points, Patrick. There's something to be said for the

      limitations of computing here, but within appropriate use and context,

      I can see automated content becoming quite useful for folks. Whether

      it's taking form fields from a customer service survey and flipping

      them into a formulated post (allowing human entry/writing to factor

      into the equation) or pulling straight from data into a MadLibs type

      formula script for standardized “stories” … the possibilities are

      certainly interesting.

  • Jeff Larche

    I'm sure that automation can scale content in a way that will help a site with search engines — many businesses are doing it today. It's done to sell ads, and it effectively does so.

    For that it makes sense. But I agree with you that automation cannot truly synthesize data. Will automation ever bring to play the imagination and experience necessary to write things that people will enthusiastically share? I'm with you that it won't.

    I don't even think this is possible within the area you chose to showcase: sports journalism. Just this weekend I was talking to a friend about the piece he was reading in Sports Illustrated. He was surprised that the writer would use a word like “desultory.” I found that word as highfalutin as he did. But it was in the context of an outstanding analysis of a team's game strategy. I reminded my friend that some of the best journalism of all time, in terms of story telling and insightfulness, has been in the sports pages.

    Yes, in the service of delivering facts, automation makes a lot of sense. And many people just want to get the facts. But I wonder about the stickiness of sites primarily driven by that automation. Once we know the facts, don't we want to know their meaning?

  • Simon Salt

    I saw the guys from StatSheet present at Internet Summit in Raleigh a couple of weeks ago. They are looking at other areas outside of sports. They highlighted some interesting things that Statsheet is good for, as you have done. They also highlighted the things it isn't good for and said that “it isn't a replacement for good Journalism”. It has limits around things like qualitative information and it can't do an interview or cover breaking news (though this last was tempered with the caveat “yet”).
    What I found to be very cool about their model is that they have managed to achieve the Hyperlocal news model in an area that has typically only focused on cash cow marketplaces. E.g. It's easy to provide coverage of High School Football in a state like Texas where people, even in small towns live and breath the game, less so in a small town in Montana. Overall I think you are right, this type of tool has some amazing potential uses.

  • Eric Boggs

    Hi Jason. Statsheet is located in Durham and Founder/CEO Robbie Allen is a friend, so I know some of the inside story and their vision for the future. Robbie is a big-time hitter and Statsheet has the potential to be a sports media game-changer. (If it isn't already.)

    That said – automated content outside the context of a formulaic medium is a slippery slope. It works so well for college basketball – and (coming soon!) other sports – because the inputs (box scores, stats, etc.) are uniform and well-organized and the outputs (the post-game recap) are more or less always follow the same structure.

    Robots aren't very good at creating original thought…yet.

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  • Garious

    I think this is a great time-saver. You don't have to search the Web and filter the latest updates as this platform will automatically do it for you. I guess, here's another hammer on traditional news… and maybe we'll see the last print as more people get their buzz online these days for they're simply – current.

  • Brett Duncan

    I'm surprised the content is as well-written as it is (not to say it's well-written, but you get the gist).

    Hmmmm …. do I like it? I don't think so. But I also think that's the “when I was a kid” voice in my head, so maybe just ignore it. It is definitely fascinating, though.


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