How publishers curate the world of content
It's nothing new that many news websites augment their own content with repackaged content from around the Web, but the applications have evolved along with the technology. Content providers are experimenting with all sorts of ways for editors and technology to push outside content to readers, whether through aggregation or curation (for a lengthy discussion about the difference, check out the Nieman Journalism Lab).
Curation platforms, which have moved beyond the RSS feed, provide varying levels of automation, functions and technology to suit a media company's needs. News organizations are even investing in curation platforms; the New York Daily News holds a stake in LOUD3R and The Washington Post recently acquired the personalized news aggregator iCurrent.
While publishers choose to utilize aggregation and curation platforms in a variety of ways, the main point is clear: Many media companies see benefits in collecting content from around the Web. Publishers find curation can attract and retain readers by offering the best of all content, rather than the best of just their own content. Here are a few ways publishers are deploying these platforms to add to their site's content:
Topical pages have gone beyond story lists, pulling in interactive content both inside and outside of news organizations. Events such as the World Cup often inspire topic pages, as seen with the The Washington Post's interactive map powered by the curation platform Daylife.
Upendra Shardanand, CEO of Daylife, said publishers commonly use the platform to create microsites, sections and photo galleries, which can be both curated and auto-generated from sources the editor selects ― blending original authoring with real-time updates. “If you go to bed and something happens, it will be on the page,” he said.
On the continuum of editorial control versus automation, Daylife focuses more on editorial oversight to help the editor “discover and curate content to make a great page about anything,” Shardanand said. The platform also powers Forbes' Billionaires page.
SFGate.com, home of the San Francisco Chronicle, has extensive topic pages, powered by the curation platform OneSpot. Each story
offers links to related topic pages at the end. Soon the site will be adding hyperlinks to topic pages within stories.
OneSpot works by mining relevant sources for a topic. “Rather than just finding keyword-related content, we’re finding the most popular content,” said Matt Cohen, CEO and founder of OneSpot, which is also used by The Wall Street Journal.
If platforms such as Daylife fall on the “human” end of the spectrum, technology such as Evri falls on the automated end, enabling publishers to semantically index content from around the Web.
“At its core, semantics give you a higher degree of decisions, a higher degree of relevancy when you’re talking about the relationships between things and entities,” said Evri CEO Will Hunsinger.
Unlike some other platforms, Evri is a consumer-focused site that would compete with a Digg or Google News. While it doesn't provide a suite of tools specifically for publishers, publishers can implement the Evri API, explained Hunsinger.
Hearst, for example, uses Evri's technology to power its LMK service, which fuels topic pages for Seventeen's website. That comes in handy for teenage girls who need to know everything about Justin Bieber at any given time.
As readers increasingly demand the “whole picture” on a subject, topic pages are becoming more popular.
“The big elephant in the room with publishers, in my opinion, is how long do they hold onto their own content and their own audience, versus this consumer demand for, ‘I don’t really care where it came from as long as you can tell me where it came from and that it’s credible,’” Hunsinger said.
Content aggregation can also come in handy to beef up specific sections of a website. For instance, the New York Daily News uses the LOUD3R platform to integrate outside content into sections about pets and travel. The travel section pulls in relevant travel deals in addition to news content. “It provides them with a comprehensiveness that users might normally expect from a Google,” said Lowell Goss, CEO of LOUD3R.
Daily News editors are involved in the curation process, manually going into the platform several times a day. “The great thing is that the automation allows that editor to do it very quickly,” said Steve Lynas, senior vice president of Daily News Digital.
Although aggregation has helped meet the demand for more content, staff reporters often feel more pressure than ever before to produce more of their own content.
Some news organizations use curation platforms to help journalists stay on top of the endless stream of information in the beats they cover. “The wire” once described actual newswires like the Associated Press; now it describes many sources and types of information on the vast expanse of the Internet. “Editors [using curation platforms] are no longer sifting through the wire, sifting through Google Reader ... and they’re getting a better product in the end,” Goss said.
Reporters can peruse curation platforms to find news, perhaps to produce a piece early on or do a different take on something (or decide to summarize or link to it).
Content curation providers don't suggest that curation should take the place of staff journalists — but it can add to their efforts. “It’s about making editors really hyper-efficient so that their point of view and the value they provide is maintained, but they can really engage at scale,” Goss said.
The amount of curation versus staff content varies by publishers. Some news sites (e.g. Huffington Post) rely heavily on curated content. Among traditional publishers with whom curation is more of a new development, the idea seems to be more about enhancing content than being a full-blown portal.
Lynas said third-party content is useful and important "as a means to make a site deeper and more useful,” particularly when targeting a niche area. With that said, it shouldn't be the “frontline presentation;” the Daily News tries to delineate third-party content from the brand's own content, he said.
News summaries and links
Producing summaries and/or links still seems to be the most common application of curation software.
SFGate.com uses the OneSpot widget to power links to related content both inside and outside its site. “We’re curating content from the Chronicle as well as our collection of Web-only content, whether it's from the blogs or the community as well as outside sources,” said Kevin Skaggs, executive producer at SFGate.com.
Skaggs noted that newspapers have always curated content; this is just an extension of it on the Web. “Users come to us because we become the place that really packages it all together in the most interesting way,” he said.
Publishers such as The New York Times use curation tools to collect links for both widgets and blogs, using Publish2, which allows journalists to bookmark and publish links with a browser plugin.
Could full syndication be next?
Publish2 recently launched News Exchange, a system that facilitates content exchange among print publishers. Scott Karp, Publish2's CEO, anticipates the product will also facilitate syndication on the Web; he sees interest from online publishers to exchange full content.
In the past, newspapers and magazines were islands to themselves, Karp said. “The whole business model of publishing was based on ‘you control the package,'” he said. “We believe that one of the keys to how the business model evolves is that all of these editorially brands need to become more connected to each other in terms of their business.”
Karp noted that both humans and algorithms can be useful for aggregation/curation strategies. He said a product like News Exchange could be leveraged alongside semantic technology. “It would probably make sense if you do both ― we see them as highly complementary.”
But he emphasizes that real, live editors will continue to be an important differentiator, even as powerful algorithmically generated tools evolve. “Sometimes differentiation comes back to people and what they produce,” he said.