5 Content Curators That Are Transforming the Way People Consume News
Before the Internet came around, most of us relied on editors to curate the content we’d read. These highly-informed guys and gals were experts in their section and highly aware of their publication’s audience—they decided whether one story or another story was worth being shared. But with the proliferation of the information superhighway and the daily deluge of content now calling for our attention, we increasingly need editors of those editors. The kind of folks who look across the wide swath of publications and blogs and say, “this is an article worth reading.”
This new class of content curators are turning back to more traditional channels like email, or, in the case of a few enterprising startups, creating new software that helps audiences consume the best content from around the Internet. No longer are we at the mercy of a single publication, and no longer are we forced to wade through a flood content to find what we want to read.
Let’s look at five different types of content curators—big and small—that are transforming the way people share and read content.
Next Draft by Dave Pell
Next Draft, Pell’s daily newsletter, is an aggressive and highly-caffeinated undertaking. Pell opens over 75 different tabs on his browser while skimming through Twitter feeds to share the most interesting stories in business, culture, and tech every day.
Email works for Pell because the channel is an uninterrupted stream of content. “The inbox really is the perfect place for your daily news,” Pell said in an interview with Forbes. “It doesn’t stream by and disappear. It’s universal and it works.” His audience seems to think so, too: Pell’s Next Draft has over 160,000 readers. There are no bots or algorithms either—it’s all compiled by hand.
Pell’s ability to find the best content is an incredible skill to observe. His readers don’t have to wade through the deluge of content online to be informed. Instead, Pell offers up a highly convenient experience where readers simply wait for Next Draft to appear in their inboxes. It’s a level of trust that’s hard to come by. “People need some kind of algorithm to help them cut through the clutter and I’ve realized that for some folks, I am that algorithm,” Pell said in an interview with The Verge.
The Skimm by Danielle Weisberg & Carly Zakin
Danielle Weisberg and Carly Zakin’s The Skimm is an email newsletter for millennials who want the scoop on current events, but otherwise wouldn’t have the time to get caught up.
Weisberg and Zakin’s approach to email is working, as proof in the $6.25 million in funding they secured last year. “They’ve done a good job building a voice and a brand that was designed for young women, but has much more appeal,” Steven Schlafman, a lead investor in last year’s financing round, told The New York Times. Topics are often organized for conversational use, like “How to talk about the Giants game last night,” or “What to do when your friend wants to go to a comedy show.” Each header is followed by content relevant to the topic.
What’s fascinating about Weisberg and Zakin’s approach to the newsletter is that it’s a media entity in itself. The two curators actively pursue sponsored partnerships for inclusion in the newsletter, and cultivate “Skimm’basadors” (enthusiastic readers of the email) to champion the brand to new audiences. Weisberg and Zakin are treating an often-ignored medium as an opportunity to build a large media audience on the backs of other people’s content.
There are plenty of RSS readers and feeds available for those who want to organize daily reads. Newsblur is a tool for people who want to own the process of sourcing and organizing their dose of daily information.
“When you want to give up control in exchange for the digested output of sophisticated and heartless algorithms, [other competing RSS readers are] your best bet,” Newsblur founder Samuel Clay wrote in a blog post. “When you want to exert control and know what you want and from which sources, NewsBlur is the only option.”
Software as a curation service is interesting because it still relies on human interaction: The user has to decide what they want to see. But what Newsblur offers is a streamlined approach to organizing what could be thousands of articles, blogs, and websites on any given day. Users can tap through a combination of keyboard strokes to filter feeds, skim through content, or file away pieces for later reading.
Newsblur in particular stands out not only for its clean interface, but also for its ability to connect users with a community of other readers. The software’s Global Shared Stories feature allows users to dive into content being shared and read by other Newsblur users. Readers can also discuss specific articles with each other directly in the software through a comment system located under each piece of content. If there’s a particular user you like because of the content they share or comment on, you can follow that person for future content updates.
Grasswire is unique because it’s crowd-controlled software that aims to curate the truth in breaking news. Founder Austen Allred wanted to give news junkies a place to refute claims that were false, and organize social media users around a common goal: to fact check the news as accurately as possible.
The company could have some disruptive implications for journalism and crowd-sourced interactions. Journalists might have concerns that a product like Grasswire could make them redundant, but Allred believes the tool will supplement a journalist’s role rather than replace it: “The real power of journalism is when we have massive amounts of people trying to scrutinize whether or not [news] is accurate enough,” Allred told TechCrunch.
Allred realizes that his user base is key to the growth of Grasswire. Without enough citizen fact checkers, the community and system falls flat. “The homepage was originally a list of topics, but we realized that users actually want to see content. And the rate at which that changes will also change how often users come back to the site,”said Allred over email.
Social Media Curators
TweetDeck by Twitter
Context is what drives much of the experiences we encounter today—think of a speech on television, and the added value of seeing the conversation around the it unfold in real-time. Or think of the popularity of watching a reality television shows announce its winners while following along as fans tweet away their pleasure or disdain. Real-time events can be hard to curate, but Twitter’s TweetDeck is hoping to solve that problem.
Tools like Curator have existed for some time (take Storify, for example), though they’ve never been officially affiliated with Twitter. This is clearly a move by the social network to bring in services others have created under its own umbrella.
From a user-experience perspective, this allows media organizations to provide audiences with convenient access to relevant conversations taking place around an event. While services like Storify require users to navigate away from the platform, Curator will allow audiences to interact directly with Twitter’s content and community in one space. “Twitter is likely hoping better tools for media organization will help bolster its own user base, a metric that has been increasingly under scrutiny since the company went public,” Karissa Bell wrote in a 2015 Mashable post.
It’s hard not to see there’s a dichotomy at play here. On one side, you have software and other services that put users in the driver’s seat. Sites like Grasswire and Newsblur trust in their users to decide what they do and don’t want to see. On the other hand, you have email curators who do all the work for you. They gather the links, add some context, and deliver that content in an easy-to-read package.
At the center is an underlying shift since the proliferation of digital media: People no longer intake their news from one source. According to Pew Research, they want options. Now, with the rise of curation tools and big-name email curators, there are endless ways to distribute and consume content.
Image by Deb Wenof