15 September 2009 | Mark Stefik
Changing economics and new technologies are reshaping the future of online news. Industry observers call out changes in:
In addition there is growing interest by information consumers in taking more control of their media time. They want personalized newsfor their specialized interests. The problem? News on specialized topics is often hard to find and is scattered across many sources. Mainstream publishing organizations do not cover topics deep on the long tail because they lack both the editorial resources and the expertise.
In traditional news publishing, the role of curating is typically combined with publishing. For example, people seek out the Wall Street Journal for authoritative coverage of business news, or Technology Review for timely reporting on emerging technology.
There is a great need for curators of online information to help us find interesting and quality content, but the requirements and roles differ from traditional publishing.
Deeply specialized topics. The long tail of specialized information that people read vastly exceeds the editorial expertise and capacity of traditional publishing organizations. For example, a city newspaper is unlikely to have a regular column on “polymer structures” or “muscle cars”.
Density and aggregation. Reporting of long tail topics is sparse in major publications. For example, articles on “faith-based neighborhood partnerships” appear in many publications, but are not comprehensively or frequently covered in any one publication. Curators would need to aggregate information about such topics as abortion, gay rights, and women in the ministry from many sources.
Orientation. Information consumers on the web range from people seeking an introduction (“newbies”) to dedicated followers. A good curator presents the information within a structure that guides users in understanding what they need to know and what matters. For example, a newbie to the future of journalism could use a guide to the major topics, such as citizen journalism and mobile platforms.
Curators tend to be passionate about their subject areas. For example, in a health area they may be dedicated mainstream or alternative medicine specialists. In technology areas they may be graduate students organizing materials for reading groups on the latest developments in their fields.
Curators can have several motivations:
Many online journalists and bloggers already serve as curators by collecting links and adding commentary.However, I believe that a new form of curation is needed that helps curators work more efficiently. These ideas are informed by the experiences of early users of Kiffets, a social indexing system that we are developing at PARC. Kiffets recently started its beta release. At the time of this post, it has about 200 users and over 350 curated indexes on 6000+ topics.
Social media draw on three sources of power:
Kiffets shares a similar distribution of user roles as other social media. Most users are just consumers of information who provide simple feedback to the system. A smaller percentage of users creates single-topic indexes, which are the easiest to create. However, a small but growing number of users have graduated to more advanced curator roles, creating multiple-topic indexes and sharing them with friends. Since we expect this style of viral sharing to drive adoption of social indexing, several features reduce the effort needed by curators in creating and sharing indexes. These facilities shift some of the required effort from the “hard work of the few” to the other two sources of power.
Evergreen collection. Articles are collected regularly from designated web sources and automatically classified into the topics for the indexes. In contrast with social news sites such as Reddit, this reduces the burden of curators or other users in finding and submitting articles.
Topic training. Curators define a tree of topics and provide articles as positive (on-topic) and negative (off-topic) examples. Given these examples, machine learning algorithms create computational models that automatically classify articles by topic. In contrast with tagging sites such as Delicious, this reduces the burden of identifying categories for articles and provides consistent categorization.
Inline maintenance. Curators can mark articles as off-topic (on article reading pages) or submit new articles and their sources (using a Kiff It! book marklet) while browsing the web.
A social index aims to support information consumers in their personal news diets, even in highly specialized areas.
Curation is key to this.
A social approach can succeed because even our special interests are not entirely unique. By providing the means to leverage the work and activities of “birds of a feather,” we may make it easier for all of us to stay informed on what matters to us.
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