When it comes to news, many Twitter users say they rely on the social network and the community of people they follow for links to important or interesting news stories, rather than going to a newspaper. A Swiss startup called Small Rivers has taken that idea and turned it into a service called Paper.li, which gathers links your network has shared and turns them into a kind of social newspaper, complete with different sections for different topics. Is Paper.li the future of news? Perhaps not, but it definitely fills a niche in the social ecosystem of news — and it is interesting enough that the company was just funded by Kima Ventures, whose co-founder recently acquired the legendary French newspaper Le Monde.
The site takes your Twitter stream and extracts links to any news stories, photos, videos, etc., which it then analyzes using what the company calls “semantic text analysis tools” to determine whether the stories are relevant. It then displays the links and related content in sections based on the context of the link. The service also creates themed pages based on specific topics using hashtags, such as #privacy or #climate, in much the same way that newspapers create special sections around an event or topic. Paper.li also automatically creates topical sections like Technology, Arts & Entertainment, Photos, Politics and Business. If you hover over the source of each link or photo, you can reply, retweet, follow or unfollow and favorite that user. Users can also now create papers using a Twitter list. Embedded in a sidebar on each user’s customized paper is their Twitter stream.
The Paper.li site describes itself explicitly as a kind of newspaper:
Any Twitter user is thus a kind of editor-in-chief, with the people they follow being trusted journalists. The sum of what is shared by them is thus a unique perspective of what is deemed of interest on the web on any given day. A bit like a newspaper.
I’ve started using Paper.li pretty regularly since I discovered it, and I find it’s a great way to catch up on interesting links my network has found — especially if I have been away from Twitter during the day and am wondering what I have missed. It would be nice to have a bit more customization ability when it comes to what sections the links are placed in, or the ordering of them on the page, but even without that, the service is a useful tool and one that has already partially replaced my RSS reader.
Paper.li completely replacing newspapers seems unlikely, especially since at least some of the links being shared on Twitter come from actual newspapers. But there’s no question that such a service fills a niche in our changing media-consumption habits online. In 2008, a college student taking part in a focus group uttered a phrase that has since become famous (or infamous). He said: “If the news is that important, it will find me.” What he meant was that he relied on his network or community to find important news (or links) and share those stories with him, something that more and more Internet users seem to be doing. Paper.li makes that easier to accomplish.
Paper.li isn’t the only one doing this: A similar service called TwitterTim.es also aggregates links from your stream and shows them to you. But it isn’t explicitly laid out like a newspaper, nor is it organized in sections based on topics or themes — apart from a section at the top called “What’s Hot” and one called “Top News History,” the rest is simply a long stream of links from people you follow. However, TwitterTim.es updates itself regularly, whereas Paper.li is only updated once every 24 hours (like a traditional newspaper).
Small Rivers, which also got some funding from a German group called Econa as part of its recent round of financing, says that it has been “approached by several traditional media companies that want to integrate the Paper.li experience into their own news sites.”