In a moment of headstrong wilfulness, against the sage advice of my peers and even my own family, I’ve started an online newspaper.
Why? In part because I’m headstrong and wilful. In part because I’ve recently discovered some excellent aggregators for the Apple platform and it’s a great way of sharing the things that I find interesting with other people. Rather than squirrelling them away for private consumption with Evernote or Instapaper.
Aggregators have moved on a lot since the RSS reader was the only game in town and I thought I’d use this post to review the ones I use and to explain why I find Web Curation so rewarding.
The Apple IOS platform has been well supported by aggregators from Flipboard to Pulse and beyond. It’s been a continuing source of frustration that none of these applications seemed to care about the Desktop platform. On any operating system. I imagine that the thinking is most of these apps are used whilst travelling to work? My routine is that the first hour, pre breakfast is spent reading news with a cup of tea. I do use the iPad on the train and on airplanes, but fro me, it is a tool for immediate consumption. Occasionally I’ll save something for the journey home, but my routine is – news in the morning.
These are the apps I use everyday to source material.
There are two aggregators worth paying serious attention to in my view. The first, Prismatic, is a browser based application that allows the user to choose topics based on keywords. It uses these preferences to retrieve articles from the web for your delectation. It supports its own community and allows the user to rate articles or give a simple thumbs up/down. The interface alas is minimal and allows no branding. Nonetheless, with a bit of fine tuning of keywords, it has become indispensable. Why? Because it supplies at least 70% of the information I like to read in my first waking hour. secondly because I can click through to my browser for any article and that allows me to repost the good ones to my own curated newspaper – Electrical Image.
The second, as far as I know, is a Mac only application. It’s called Pulp. It lives on your computer and does pretty much the same job as Prismatic, with one important difference. Two important differences, it allows you to save articles for offline reading by dragging them onto a ‘bookshelf’. More importantly it supports the concept of pages. For me this is massive. I read about a lot of stuff, in IT, Business, Photography, Sport, etc etc. I don’t want this arriving in a hopeless jumble, I want it to be accessible via sections, like the Sunday Newspapers. Pulp does this brilliantly.
An honourable mention to Flipboard. One of the first ‘build your own magazine’ apps and still the best in terms of look and feel. It is viewer centric, by which I mean it enables me to build a newspaper for me. Nobody else. Great way to source material, but it stops there.
Using the tools mentioned above I can gather more interesting articles than I can reasonably expect to read. So why bother to republish them into an online newspaper? The answer is not vanity or self obsession! I’m developing a brand. I don’t mean that in any over ambitious sense, but it’s a reality I’ve written about before. We are, all of us, complicated creatures with a variety of roles and interests. There is a glut of information out there now and if I want people to notice me I need to stand out in the flood. This means focussing, it means being selective and matching my viewers interests. Put simply, I imagine there are more photographers out there than there are photographers with an appetite for Politics, Socialism, IT, Business and Tennis. The first audience is a lot larger than the second.
Paper.li has been around for a while now. It is still the best curation vehicle out there because unlike so many of its competitors it allows branding and it is getting better and better at integrating the users preferences in a seamless fashion. If I find an interesting article, I can post it on my paper by using the Bookmarklet, downloaded from Paper.li and installable on most available browsers in a couple of seconds. It then produces a pop up window in which I can choose a picture I’d like to accompany the article and whether or not I would like to add the source of the article to my automated feed. In this way, the bulk of the newspaper assembles itself more or less automatically. All I have to do is add more material as I find it and delete articles that I consider to be inappropriate. Over the course of a few weeks it builds up a pretty good representation of my tastes and curiosities.
The other curation medium worth a look is Scoop it! This one supports a community and allows the user to publish topics. This is great because it means you can still separate your concerns and target a defined audience. The downside is it does not support branding and so identity is hard to come by. The successful users are mostly already well known in their niche and so people are drawn to them for that reason alone.
Developing the Brand
I talked about the need to present a focussed identifiable version of myself in order to align with an audience of photographers and image collectors. Social Media is about more than self-promotion. It is about sharing information and in that regard, curation is very rewarding. All my social media activities are linked by the name ‘Electrical Image’. In this way, I am creating a recognisable brand and if I get the content right my audience will continue to grow. This is the way photographers market themselves these days.
Photography used to be a service industry and remnants of that practice still exist but with stock photography paying pennies the photographer that wants to do anything other than glamour or wedding photography (for which perfectly good commercial frameworks exist) has to find new ways of attracting an audience.
The internet is awash with astonishing photography, 20 million uploads a day to Flickr tell their own story. For this reason it makes sense to build up a brand. The bad news is it takes time. Not hours out of the day, but months of elapsed time before any momentum is established. As Hunter S Thompson once observed: “When the going gets tough, the tough get going!”