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Challenge Project Profile: inChat and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society

Chatbot specialists inChat were selected respond to a Creative Informatics Challenge Project set by the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, which was looking for new ways to connect artists and audiences at the world’s largest arts festival.

We asked inChat founders Hector Fried and Rory Gianni to tell us more about their work the Fringe Society and their Challenge Project journey…

inChat fosters empathic understanding of customers and audiences.

We help creative organisations and entrepreneurs build empathy and understanding with their customers, and/or audiences. We do this by using conversational technologies, e.g. chatbots, to make simple conversation with users.

Our chatbots can be used to navigate, guide, and teach users while providing novel insights from their interactions. Conversations can include open-ended questions to encourage users to elaborate and describe their problems, thoughts, and suggestions.

The Challenge

Credit: David Monteith-Hodge

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe offers a spectacular volume and variety of performances. While this is one of the festival’s key attractions, it can be overwhelming for visitors to navigate listings and find the shows they’d most like to see.

The Fringe Society’s Challenge Project centred around finding a novel, unbiased way to suggest shows to audiences, in line with their own interests and tastes.

 

In our original proposal, we envisioned a conversational assistant that would chat through audience preferences and needs. Based on these, the assistant would then present shows for festival visitors to consider.

However, once the project began it became apparent the current listings data would need to be improved before supporting an audience assistant or any other novel recommendation system. We agreed with the Fringe Society that we should refocus the challenge and ask a slightly different question:

“How can we enable new ways for attendees to navigate the Fringe programme, enabling artists and audiences to find one another more easily?”

The Process

To solve this challenge, we modified the concept of our original proposal. Instead of developing an assistant to talk to audience members about performances, we developed a chatbot agent to converse with artists registering for the Fringe, giving them an opportunity to discuss their shows in a conversational manner.

The aim of ‘Dionysus’, our Fringe chatbot, was to gather a dataset that represented an alternative to the listings that are gathered via established forms. Once conversations were gathered, they were subject to text analysis that allowed us to label shows in new ways.

 

Fringe chatbot Dionysus, credit inChat

To do this, we used a combination of our own proprietary platform to store the data, and the open source RASA chatbot development framework. At the analysis stage, we used a combination of standard Natural Language Processing tools to reveal basic statistics and patterns in the text, such as top adjectives, entities, and reading levels.

Finally, we labelled the results using an open language model based on the GoEmotions dataset that provides scores across 27 emotion labels (e.g. ‘joy’, ‘realisation’, ‘curiosity’, ‘anger’, ‘sadness’, etc).

With 27 different scores, plus a score for ‘neutral’ we established an ‘emotion profile’ for each show.

Collaboration

We used a co-design process to develop the challenge solution with input from the Fringe Society team. The project began with a co-design workshop and follow-up sessions were held throughout, giving the team opportunities to shape the dialogue and key questions Dionysus would ask.

We also invited digital agency Bright Signals and artist wellbeing charity The Sick of the Fringe to participate in our co-design workshop.  At the 2019 Fringe, Bright Signals developed the ‘Inspiration Machine’ as a way to suggest shows to audiences, so they brought some valuable experience in the problem area. The Sick of the Fringe provided the voice of artists in the process, helping us to understand the perspective of artists and advising us to include support sign-posting for individuals interacting with Dionysus.

The first version of the dialogue was deemed too involved and concerns were raised that asking too many questions would lead to a poor completion rate. We remedied this by reducing the number of questions, and moving from an interview style to a more reflective conversation.

The Fringe Society’s artist support team helped us find the most useful questions for artists to ask themselves as they prepared for the festival.

Fringe chatbot Dionysus, credit inChat

This meant asking questions such as …

  • Why this show?
  • What do you want your audience to feel?
  • What do you want to communicate to them?
  • What’s your inspiration?

This approach helped us balance the value proposition for artists chatting to Dionysus and brought us closer to an interaction that was as useful as possible for artists, as well as for our data analysis.

Like many others, the timeline of our Challenge Project was disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic and as a result, we decided to delay the deployment of the chatbot until 2021.

Outcomes

We hope that the conversations artists had with Dionysus helped them to plan their performances and enhanced their experience of performing at the Fringe. As we have learned, goals and success markers for individual artists are quite personal. However, projects like Dionysus, the Inspiration Machine, and others demonstrate the Fringe Society’s commitment to making sure that all artists performing at the festival get as much out of their time at the Fringe as possible.

Image credit: David Monteith-Hodge

We also hope this project demonstrated to the Fringe Society (and creative industries in general) the benefit of conversational technologies. The open datasets and democratisation of conversational technologies mean we can provide new ways to gather and navigate rich resources like listings. Provided these are gathered in the right way, we can transcend the standard silos and categories we use to find and experience culture. Surveys and forms can now become conversations that provide more in depth data and feedback.

We believe our approach can continue to facilitate new connections between audiences and artists, enriching their experience of the Fringe from both a practical and cultural standpoint. If we can improve the festival experience and help audiences find shows they might not otherwise discover, we can grow the following and profile of artists right across the Fringe, enabling them to access new audiences and ultimately increase ticket sales.

If you have any questions about this Challenge Project, please contact us at creativeinformatics@ed.ac.uk.

 

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