The Future of Media: Storify and the Curatorial Instinct

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The explosion of real-time information through social networks and information services like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube has produced a never-ending firehose of content. It has also created an opportunity for tools such as Storify, the curation service that launched as an open beta Monday. Although the aggregation and filtering of the news is something that has traditionally been done by journalists and major media brands, tools like Storify allow anyone to perform the same kind of function, regardless of whether she’s been trained as a journalist — or even think of what she’s doing as journalism.

Storify is a relatively simple-looking tool that allows a user to pull in content from Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr and other social-media services and create a kind of story stream. As I described in a post after the company’s launch as an invitation-only beta last fall, former Associated Press foreign correspondent Burt Herman started the service after thinking about how journalists could use social media during a Knight fellowship (a video interview with Herman is embedded below). I’ve used Storify and it definitely makes social-media curation fast and relatively simple.

There are other, similar services that also pull in Twitter feeds and allow users to create a kind of ongoing story about an event: Storyful is one of them, and Keepstream is another. Storify recently closed a $2-million Series A funding round with legendary Sand Hill Road firm Khosla Ventures, and Herman says Storify collections have been viewed more than 13 million times.

What Storify and similar tools do goes by a number of different name. Some call it “aggregation,” which is a somewhat mechanical-sounding term, and best describes the more automated approach taken by companies like Google with Google News. It’s also a term traditional media sources often use disparagingly when talking about new media, as New York Times  Executive Editor Bill Keller has when discussing The Huffington Post . Others prefer to call it “curation,” which implies a human being filtering and selecting the best of something and then pulling it together into some kind of coherent whole.

This is the term that many use to describe what Andy Carvin of National Public Radio has been doing with Twitter in the wake of the revolution in Egypt and popular uprisings in Libya. While he doesn’t actually report the news — since he’s thousands of miles away in an office in Washington, D.C. — Carvin selects, verifies and re-distributes the news from hundreds of different Twitter streams he monitors of people who are actually on the ground or have knowledge of what is occurring there. It’s a little like what a news anchor does on television, but with many different sources.

There are other examples as well. This week sees the publication of a book called Quakebook, which is a collection of memories and reactions related to the earthquakes in Japan and the aftermath of that disaster. All the responses were collected through Twitter, and became first an e-book and now a printed version.

We Need Curation More Than Ever

The rise of real-time information sources such as Twitter has produced such an unstoppable wave of content that we need curation and filtering more than we ever have before. And while that used to be something that only traditional media sources did, now it’s something anyone can do, regardless of whether they went to journalism school or work at a name-brand media outlet like the New York Times.

This is part of the reason why Bill Keller and others have reacted so strongly to what The Huffington Post and other digital media outlets do; it represents competition for them as the gatekeepers of information and the trusted oracles of what is important. And that poses a threat not just to their role in the media ecosystem, but to their financial status as well. Is Storify going to do this all by itself? No. But it is part of a much broader trend that is likely to become an even bigger part of the future of media.

Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Flickr user Ed Kohler

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