There are more and more signs that Content Curation is starting to “grow up”. The tools are maturing, ever more impressive cases are being created and interest from investors is rising. However - yet to come – are long-term, consistent and sustainable business models.
Part I: The “storified” laptop story
The impetus to this blog post (developed via curation and creation), was my fascination when I came across the following story that broke in the middle of May: ”Man tracks stolen laptop hundreds of miles away, calls thief”. – A very real example of what is going on in the content curation space today.
@seanpower (Sean Power), an Ottawa, Canada native living in New York, was on a visit to Canada (without his laptop), when he discovered, through his Prey software, that his laptop was in the hands’ of a stranger back in New York. Immediately, the tweeting began. As the story evolved, Sean Power managed to follow his travelling laptop as a victim, as a private person, with an alias, eventually identifying the person who had stolen it and moving a potential criminal case to its conclusion and positive solution – all through communication via social media and with the help of various different stakeholders.
In Florida, @btballenger (Brandon Ballenger), came across the story on twitter, immediately felt sympathy for Sean and his problem, and started covering the event, trying to help. At first tweeting in real time, then collecting tweets, retweets and replies in Storify and eventually, as the story came to a conclusion, commenting on the story’s spin-offs and reflecting on the meta-story.
On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, in Norway, @myrstad (Morten Myrstad) came across the story while surfing the Internet, started reading and experienced an immediate lightbulb moment – at this point with the curated story as his only source. He became fascinated and started to explore further………..
There are many more examples of curated stories that have caught people’s interest, engaged them, brought them together for a common cause, driven them to action, provided help in tragic circumstances, changed the political landscape. From Japan. From The Middle East. From Andy Carvin. And the conclusion from these stories is always the same:
Something is happening. Content Curation is evolving.
Part II: The numbers
Let’s look at some key figures:
The laptop story: 87.000 pageviews (as of Wednesday, 25th of May 2011)
Tools: Pearltrees has passed 100.000 curators in total and 10 million pageviews per month in april, Storify 13 million pageviews in total and 4.2 million in March alone, and the startup video platform, Shortform 1 million pageviews. These tools have all been in private beta so far.
Financially: As early as 2009 Robert Scoble talked about curation as a potential billion-dollar opportunity. Not much happened in 2010. But quite recently, the curation app Flipboard confirmed a $200 million valuation. The valuation of Huffington Post (with a lot of curated content) at $315 at the time of the acquisition by AOL is also a significant indicator.
Marketing strategies: Almost half (48%) of marketers now have a curation program, according to a Survey by HiveFire.
Still “young”, but “growing up”, it seems.
Part III: Democratization
While the statistics tell part of the story, the increasing number of curating tools and distribution channels of curated content truly reinforce what is happening. For example, both Storify and Storyful have recently gone public with their tools and at the same time, new solutions from competitors are launched nearly every week.
According to Oliver Starr, Chief Evangelist of Pearltrees, the curation practice has now started to move from the Professional Thinkers and Developers to the Early Adopters.
Brian Solis confirms the same perspective in his recent comment on curation user trends. He segments social media users into the well-known concepts of Consumers, Curators, Creators and Elite. He believes that most people on the net today are a mix of Consumers and “light” Curators, but that in the future more and more individuals, through a continuous circle of consuming, learning, sharing and creating, will have learned the art of curation and creation, thus becoming regular Curators and even Creators.
Part IV: The Social Networks
The social networks, especially Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, are naturally quite aware of this development, and are working on positioning themselves based on the trends they see.
They already facilitate a lot of curation, through user-generated tweets, lists, groups and updates. And more is to come.
So far, Twitter has been in the center of the development through its large Twitter ecosystem. Twitter also recently stated that curation is one of the five types of apps they recommend developers focus on. The other four recommendations, Analytics, Content, Publishing and Enterprise, are also closely related to curation technologies or practices.
Facebook is certainly actively engaged in research and development, seeing that even if the social graph is its basic foundation, this is not enough for users who are seeking content with higher information value and relevance. Facebook is therefore playing an increasingly important role in the information sphere, launching Facebook groups and “send buttons” to improve relevance, hiring Journalist Program Managers and providing service pages for journalists. Solutions from the Facebook ecosystem are also being launched, some focused on aggregation and others on curation. At the same time, Facebook is preparing for the future. And the tech community is wondering— what is Facebook’s next move?
YouTube has curation high on its agenda as well. It is using curation techniques of its own, experimenting with alliances with Storyful and third party video curation tools like Shortform. Its parent company, Google, is trying to combine search, social and curation through initiatives like The+, Panda and social search.
Part V: The News Industry & News Apps
The “grownups”, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Google are certainly watching the curation “kids”. This is also the case with the “old” media companies. For them, especially, the news aggregators can appear to be a challenge. Flipboard is probably the best known, but solutions like FLUD, HitPad, News.me, Paper Li, Postpost, Pulse, Taptu, The Tweeted Times and Zite can also be included in this category.
These newsreaders look like professionally edited newspapers or magazines. But most of the editing is automatic. The key to these solutions is that the content reflects the social network a person is a member of; who his or her friends are.
Obviously, these tools represent a threat to ordinary public news consumption. Mathew Ingram even asks if news apps are the future of media. And Steven Rubel thinks a head-to-head competition is in the offing, and therefore expects buyouts in the curation news app field in the near future.
From the “oldies”.
Part VI: The human curation
The other group of curation tools that are increasingly gaining interest from a media, marketing, tech and venture perspective are the human curation tools. Examples are Storify and Storiful among the storytelling tools, and Scoop.it, Curated.by, Curata, Equentia and Shareist among the more channel-oriented tools. In addition, there are tools with more specialized content, for example Keepstream with tweets and Magnify with video. A number of new tools aligned to a certain industry vertical or profession, like the media tool Flockler, are also currently being launched.
The interesting development with these human curation tools is that they are making alliances with social networks, blogs, websites as well as with dashboard solutions. Instead of building their own competing communities, the strategy seems to be to establish partnerships. Or as Marc Rougier, the President of Scoop.it puts it; Scoop.it intends “to be a ‘mediation force’ between the infinite Internet content and the social networks”.
Storify stories are already embedded on 5.000 different sites, either manually or automatically distributed. Shortform has created a widget so people can watch and navigate their curated videos on their own site or blog without ever having to visit Shortform, YouTube or Vimeo.
And recently, Scoop.it launched its sharing partnership/alliance with Tumblr and Worldpress, adding to the alliance they already have with Twitter and Facebook.
Scoop.it even built a Seesmic integration, which means a person can interact with his or her Scoop.it column side-by-side with the Twitter- and Facebook-columns on their dashboard.
“Grown-up” ambitions, it seems.
Part VII: Cases and practices
As individuals, journalists, brands and organizations take curation tools into their own hands, experimenting and playing with them, more and more cases are tried out, tested and shared. Following are some ”cool ideas” or ”best practices”.
Here five “storified” stories are shared on such different topics and from such diverse arenas as prisons, Wall Street, Japan earthquake, London marathon and Royal weddings!
Curation, as an expert channel, like SAY.
Curation, in the finance sphere.
Curation, in the political sphere, as Tweetminster.
Part VIII: Curation and business goals
As a person, I got engaged in the story about the stolen laptop.
As a curator, I was intrigued by the meta-story.
As a business person, I needs to ask these questions:
Can curation create value or more specific ROI?
Can the craft of curation develop to sustainable business models?
Steven Rosenbaum, founder of Magnify and author of Curation Nation, has answered the question “How does this build value” from the venture capital perspective: ”There is huge value that will be created as the web shifts from content created for search to curation built to find and contextualize.”
He sees this value through the following business concepts: Curation Software, Curated Content Platforms and Platform Services.
At this point, the only company that seems to have income from software is HiveFire; this through its Curata tool and its business model of Curation software subscriptions.
All other solution companies are at this stage offering the tools at no cost, are financed by venture capital, pushing the business opportunities, while “waiting” for a breakthrough. Scoop.it is planning a ”premium version for businesses”, probably with a price tag, but no other details are known so far.
HiveFire also has a channel program, facilitating a business model on the distribution side: Curation Software Consulting and/or Software Implementing. Handguns & Tequila, one of the HiveFire partners, is, in addition to technology tool selection, offering Assessment Services, Sponsorship Development and Curation Execution and Copywriting.
The available business models will naturally differ, whether the curated content is distributed via social networks (earned media), is embedded on websites (owned media) or presented as unique curated content platforms.
Curated Content Platforms could potentially open up for ”paid media” business models, as Rosenbaum indicates in this interview:
- Affiliate Programs
- Paid Advertising
The big question in this case will be if companies and brands are going to be more (or less) motivated to pay for ”profiling” on a curated page than for a content-produced page?
Content Curation, with its use of third party content and ambition to profile curation users as thought leaders, also needs to consider the ”not-trustworthy” text/branding association , the need to avoid this label and instead develop sponsor program models.
Storify says it will consider selling ads and/or charging companies and brands. But the implementation of this plan will depend on how Storify in the end will want to distribute its curated content:
- Ads in its own community (storify.com) can in theory function, for other sites it will depend on distribution deals and partnerships.
- Subscriptions for brands is viable in both cases, but then it looks like a software subscription model.
Ongo, the curated news platform partnering with a number of leading newspapers, is trying out yet another model:
- Subscription for users
Since Ongo is primarily an aggregator, not a curator, this might not be worth paying for. But sooner or later, Ongo’s competitors, the free news app, will also have to come up with a sustainable business model.
It is also possible to think of models where the ”easy” curated content is free, but where value-added curation, e.g. business intelligence information, has to be paid for. More or less a GigaOm Pro model. Oliver Starr, Chief Evangelist of Pearltrees, advocates for a possible ”fremium model”, in this discussion in Quora.
What about companies, branding and marketing, then? The organizations that are neither curation tool providers nor thinking of launching commercially financed curation platforms?
The HiveFires survey from earlier this year provided the most profound results. When the panel was asked for the primary reasons for adopting content curation programs, the responses were:
- Establish thought leadership (78.9%)
- Elevate brand visibility & buzz (76.1%)
- Lead generation (60.6%)
- Boost SEO (47.9%)
Lastly, what about the customers, or end-users of curated content? So far it looks like the Consumers are heading to the aggregating news apps, while the Early Adopters are experimenting with the human curation tools. Patricia Seybold even wonders if the curation field is currently more push- than pull-oriented. She therefore advocates a combination of end-user curation tools with marketers´curation tools, which can provide both relevant feedback and personalized delivery.
There are of course still a lot of questions around curation, among them copyrights, ethics, ”curation of the curators” and so on. Rather common questions for a “teenager”, when you think of it. And certainly for someone in the process of “growing up and coming of age”.
Without a doubt - “coming of age” ……..