Flickr picture by Laffy4k

Jeet Heer writes about “curation” in last Saturday’s Globe & Mail. Here’s an excerpt from his article:

“Curated” used to be quite a reserved and genteel adjective, largely found only in the hushed confines of museums and art galleries, with an occasional flirty foray into the film-festival world.

But in recent years, curated has become a word gone wild. Cut loose from the high-culture crowd, it now keeps some strange company.

Techno guru Cory Doctorow has written a column in The Guardian on the limits of “curated computing,” which he describes as “computing experiences where software and wallpaper and attendant foofaraw for your device are hand-picked for your pleasure.”

Meanwhile, a newly hired newspaper editor tells me over drinks that his dream is to create “a carefully curated book-review section” in which each essay would move the literary conversation forward. Why did he say curated rather than edited? Because in the current cultural vernacular, curated is the term of praise everyone aspires to.

What it means: I wrote about curation in 2008. At the time, I said “Atomized content means we now live in a content aggregation and curation world. Use your trusted brand to filter good content from bad content for users.”

I actually see a difference between curated and edited (some people might say I’m nitpicking…). I believe curation (as opposed to “edition”)  is critical to the future of newspapers. For me, curation means finding the best content out there on the topic and that includes articles from your journalists (or from your freelancers) and pro-am (i.e. probably bloggers) and competitor’s content. It’s just a different way to see the world, more open, with exponentially more sources of content.

Do you agree with my definition of curation? Or am I nitpicking?

Update: TomWilliams wrote on Twitter:  “curation is a collaborative inclusive process whereas “edition” is an exclusive act by self-selected few”

Ken Doctor from the Newsonomics blog covers the acquisition of Associated Content by Yahoo! for a rumored $90 million. He writes an in-depth analysis and offers a sobering conclusion:

Overall, today’s deal is further evidence we’re into the age of cheap content and of content arbitrage. The stream’s being reversed all around the news business, with advertising driving content creation in ways that those of us who fought print advertorials couldn’t once imagine. Content arbitrage is a feature of the landscape as I recently wrote (“The Newsonomics of Content Arbitrage“) and one that modern media companies must learn. How they use its principles will make all the difference in what they and their brands stand for, but the need to understand the principles is reinforced by today’s deal.

What it means: I think these are two key trends to understand if you’re in the business of content production. Companies like DemandMedia or initiatives like Patch (at AOL) are creating scalable platforms to create low-cost content. Content arbitrage, creating specific content that can be easily monetized, is logical from a business point of view (i.e. go where the money is) but it begs the question from a democracy point of view. Who or what will fund important news reporting that doesn’t monetize well?

Another consequence is that it puts pressure on the price paid for articles.  I had the opportunity to hear Luke Beatty, Associated Content’s founder, at the last BIA/Kelsey conference. One of the things that struck me was the “what’s in it for me” for network writers. Beatty told attendees that you couldn’t really make a living with what they pay but writers were getting exposure, were becoming experts through their use of their platform. This has tremendous impact on journalism. At the same conference, Rick Blair, Examiner’s CEO, described the various contributor levels we find on the Web today: pro, pro-am, amateur, user-generated content (Blair mentioned that Examiner is at the pro-am level).

It’s also forcing news organization to think about content production segmentation. Am I in the business of producing all the content I offer to readers? Am I outsourcing a portion of the content production? Do I want to control the technology platform behind that content production?

In a related article about the Huffington Post’s 5-year anniversary, Henry Blodget talks about disruptive technologies. He says “Disruptive technologies, meanwhile, are emphatically NOT better than incumbent technologies–at least not at the beginning. Disruptive technologies are often worse than incumbent technologies.  Their advantage–the reason people begin to adopt them–is that they’re also simpler, cheaper, and more convenient.”

More questions than answers at this point for news organizations but these trends need to be taken into account when building the next strategic plan.

Megan Garber from the Nieman Journalism Lab explains in details how the Wall Street Journal uses Foursquare to offer geo-localized news:

[The Wall Street Journal] has also been making regular use of the Tips function of Foursquare, which allows users to send short, location based updates — including links — to their followers. The posts range from the food-recommendation stuff that’s a common component of Tips (“@Tournesol: The distinctively French brunches here feature croques madames and monsieurs and steak frites. After dining, check out the Manhattan skyline in Gantry State Park”) to more serious, newsy fare

via Location, location, etc: What does the WSJ’s Foursquare check-in say about the future of location in news? » Nieman Journalism Lab.

What it means: That’s a very nice implementation of geolocalized content within Foursquare. You can see more examples in the article. After reading it, something was bothering me (the same way the Facebook “Like” button bugged me) and I finally figured it out. I left the following comment in the Nieman blog: “what Foursquare is doing, newspapers could do themselves. It’s all about structured data. Most newspaper organizations have structured their content on topics/keywords/subjects but they forgot to structure it on geographical information (places, businesses, points-of-interest, neighborhoods, etc.). As soon as you have this 3D view of your content (vertical + local), you can syndicate it in a multitude of ways.”

We live in a fragmented/atomized Web now. We have atomized content, business models, functionalities, APIs. The smart internet companies are atomizing both content AND features/functionalities.  They become both media companies and technology providers. Their end goal is becoming a media. They use their technology to reach their end goal. That’s a very smart strategy. As a potential partner of these smart internet startups, you need to ask yourself if these functionalities are core business to you or not. If they are, DO NOT OUTSOURCE THEM to another media company! Do partner for content distribution though.

The Web is becoming more and more local. Newspapers should own the expertise of geo-localizing their content, displaying it that way within their mobile apps (or Web site) and then syndicating it to partners like Foursquare. It’s core business.

At the end of day one of Marketplaces 2010, we also heard from Mike Hodges, Vice President, Interactive at The San Diego Union-Tribune.  Hodges shared with us some interesting data points following a very simple web site redesign to incorporate more social media features.

Highlights:

  • He admitted that they had very limited social elements last year. On November 1st, they rolled out a new site
  • They made two key social media decisions:
    • They hired a full-time specialist
    • They integrated more social media features in the new redesign
  • What did they add (see example)
    • Social media sharing buttons above and below stories
    • “Follow us on social media” modules on every page
    • Login with Facebook/Twitter (using Disqus)
  • As a result, visits from social media sites (led by Facebook) increased by 1000%, They now generate between 1.2 and 1.5M monthly referrals and in February, visits from Facebook exceeded visits from Google. They now have 20,000 twitter followers
  • In the future, they want Facebook andTwitter to be intertwined in everything they do. They want journalists to use Facebook/Twitter as well. Finally, they’re thinking of introducing a Facebook/Twitter newsfeed on their home page.

What it means: even though SignOnSanDiego only made minor changes to their site, they got major impact on their business. I like their vision of leveraging journalists as brands within a brand, to allow them to share and have conversations with readers. I especially loved one of his quote: “the newsfeed is your friend”. If they continue in this direction, this could bring very positive results.

Jon Brod, executive VP, AOL Ventures, was keynote speaker today at the BIA/Kelsey Marketplaces 2010 conference. He gave us a good update on AOL’s local strategy centered around Patch, the hyperlocal/citizen journalism initiative at AOL.

Highlights from his keynote:

  • Local is the largest opportunity YET to be won online
  • AOL’s five pillars: content, advertising, communications, ventures, local
  • Patch’s mission: to improve communities and the lives of their residents through information.
  • Patch consists of i) a scalable technology platform, ii) structured data, iii) professional journalists in every community
  • Monetization: i) self-serve ads 2) Ad sales reps
  • Operating Patch is 4.1% of the cost of a like-size daily newspaper
  • AOL will soon to relaunch City’s Best brand (was dormant)
  • AOL will soon relaunch MapQuest as well

Additional notes from Local SEO Guide:

  • Patch has grown from 3 markets one year ago to 41 communities on four different states.
  • They have a LocalFund to invest in local startups.
  • AOL on the record as investing $50MM in Patch and City’s Best this year.

Brod mentioned they had this quote about local: “local is not a one-ton gorilla, It is 2,000 one-pound monkeys”.

Le Devoir, an independent French language newspaper from Montreal, recently celebrated its 100th anniversary. Jean Dion, one of their star columnists, wrote an article detailing what you could find in the first and second editions published in January 1910. Of note, the second issue saw the birth of the “Mondanités” column (society gossip). The column mentions the latest weddings and funerals happening in Montreal but I was specifically intrigued by a section called “déplacements” (movements).

Dion writes (loosely translated from French):

… the “movements” section is quite comical when you look at it with the eyes of a modern reader. “Mr. Ovila Perrault from Imperial Tobacco is back from a trip to New York.” “Mr. Omer Marchand, architect, is in Quebec City.” “Mr. Montarville B. de LaBruère jr. is back from a 10-day trip to Sorel”. Nothing more, nothing less.

Wow. And here we thought location-based status updates had been invented by Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare or Gowalla. People used to broadcast their trip information in the newspaper! This was certainly done for two reasons: information (i.e. don’t try to reach me, I’m in New York.) and status. The more things change…

In the most-awaited session of the afternoon of Day 1 at LeWeb, Michael Arrington (from TechCrunch) sat down with Marissa Mayer, Vice President, Search Products and User Experience at Google to discuss a series of hot topics like recent Google innovations, mobile and the newspaper industry.

Marissa Mayer Google Michael Arrington Techcrunch LeWeb Paris December 2009 - 1

On recent innovations:

  • Mayer says Google is focused on future of search and they expect different modality of search, not just through keywords. That’s why they launched Google Goggles this week which is basically image recognition (you take a picture and Google tells you what it is). See this example. They also expanded voice search to Japanese and added the “What’s nearby” mobile functionality. Mayer thinks that people will eventually talk to their phone or take a picture to make a search. They also added real-time results (from Twitter, blogs, Facebook, MySpace, etc.) to regular search results, which drastically increases the relevancy of Google search results.
  • On Google Chrome, she mentioned the release of Chrome Extensions which allows anyone to add functionalities via plugins in the Chrome browser (like Firefox). She said there are “tens of millions of Chrome users”.
  • On Google Wave, Arrington stated “there’s something there” but wondered if we needed more “training”. I think most people are unsure of the value of Wave today and that’s why the Techcrunch founder asked the question.

On mobile searches:

  • Mayer says they’ve grown tremendously on smart phones. Asked by Arrington if their total share of mobile searches over total searches was in the 1 to 5% range, she answered “slightly higher than that”.

Marissa Mayer Google Michael Arrington Techcrunch LeWeb Paris December 2009 - 2

On newspapers:

  • Arrington started by saying we all understand the dire situation of print media and mentioned Eric Schmidt recent vision piece in the Wall Street Journal. He then asked Mayer: “What’s your vision?”. The VP from Google answered with a question: “how do you get users more engaged with news online?” She continued by stating that if we could build a news site from scratch today, it would probably look very different than what we have today. She then mentioned The Living Stories experiment they’re doing with the New York Times and the Washington Post. “What if the story was alive? Not just the print version posted online.” She added that the Web “puts pressure on the atomic unit of consumption. The article is the atomic unit.” She then suggested we could aggregate all news story on the same topic on one page, like Wikipedia, to help with discovery in Google.
  • She closed that topic by suggesting “personalized stream of news”, probably on your mobile phone, would be interesting. The stream would be filtered according to your social circle, location, the news brands you like, the writers you like, and the important news you should know about (she called them “veggies”).
  • Asked if newspapers will move fast enough, she thought so and mentioned the New York Times and Washington Post are very progressive partners and very interested on how they can reinvent themselves.
  • On Murdoch, Mayer mentioned the partnership with MySpace. Asked if she thought News Corp would pull their content from Google, she answered “I hope not” as it would impact comprehensiveness of their results set. She added “we have to respect the content owners. We would respect his will.”
  • Finally, Arrington asked if Google would consider paying for content, Marissa Mayer proposed that they already have programs for content monetization through Google Adsense and their display ads network.

See more on Techcrunch.

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