Friday, 31 August 2012

Aggregation and curation of news - tools and thoughts


Today Publishers of Newspapers and Magazines face a real challenge, as reading habits have changed. Especially in the U.S. long-standing business models have been blown apart. There have been realignments and restructuring, many newspapers have been forced out of business. Overall, America’s daily newspapers have shed about ten thousand newsroom jobs in the last decade. (Ref. Ken Doctor, Newsonomics, 2011).

There are multiple studies of how people to an increasing extent use the Internet to browse news and consume media and now that is happening on mobile devices as well. Smartphones and tablets expand the clock for news consumption, i.e. commute time, early mornings, evenings and weekends are growth times for mobile. The mobile news consumption crossover point is forecast to come in the next two years. More people will consume the digital content of media companies via mobile than via the computer desktop by 2015 (Ref. Emerging Mobile Strategies for News Publishers). 



In the context of Publishing the terms 'curating the news' and 'aggregating content' are commonly used. The role of journalism is to select and present information, and editors have always done it. Aggregators pull together, and allow the individual to assemble news from a variety of sources into one place. Another definition of aggregation is collecting information from various sources and piecing it together into a coherent format. 
Those that also curate the news spotlight stories and often package content based on algorithms and the work of editors. The better curators of news often take this a step further and help to situate the resulting information object in a broader context. However, just as often the curation (or aggregation) of information is the end result. 
In these modern times social media editors collect and arrange the scattered tidbits of stories from across the social web into coherent collections. That and new technology have given the birth to a multiple of tools for news aggregation.

Google News may be the most well known commercial news aggregator, which to my mind is more about indexing news items. The Huffington Post is a 7-year old Internet Newspaper, a news site where the content is crowdcurated to some extent. Another popular news aggregator and mobile app is Feedly.




Mobile has been the focus for many of the developers of news aggregators. An example of such an aggregator is Pulse, which allows the reader to select from several sources of content (whether magazine, blog or social networks) to customize news reading on mobile devices. Some of Pulse's media partners include the Popular Science magazine and Wall Street Journal (at a premium price of 0.79€/month). For the media partners the business logic seems to be to boost digital readership.




The most popular of news readers on mobile devices has been Flipboard. It's definitely my personal favorite for use on the smartphone and the tablet. Flipboard bills itself as “your social magazine.” Its application is based on aggregating content from various sources including your social streams into a magazine-like reading experience. It also has an editorial team that curates timely and interesting content into different blocks of information, like 'Inside Flipboard' (the official Flipboard blog) and 'Flipboard Tech'. An interesting development is that more of the big Publisher have started to co-operate with the news aggregators, e.g. Flipboard has recently begun offering a full version of the New York Times on its Android and iOS apps (full content available only to NYT subscribers). As part of its business model Flipboard has also brought 'glossy' print-style ads to its iPad app. Here is a serious intention to make money on the popular app (see the article in Bloomberg Businessweek).


In spite of the increased effort to create functional mobile services many aggregators and on-line magazines are still based on a website like Scoop.it! or the new Finnish start-up Scoopinion. The latter turns your web browser into a magazine that learns, i.e. it 'curates' news based on what you read. It bills itself as a 'crowd curated online magazine'. It's worth to look at if you like your content personalized.




As a curious person I'm following the development of news aggregators with interest. Personalized news based on my interests and social streams gives a certain benefit. More often though I like to come across things that I did not expect to read, about business, culture and technology. That's why I still have a love for professionally curated stories by trusted editors of 'news brands', just like The Economist, NYT and their likes do.