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Is Paper.li Good News, or Bad News, for Content?

by Angie King on September 15th, 2010

A recent Brain Traffic Twitter exchange with @dmnguys introduced me to the world of Paper.li. Since then, I’ve been trying to figure out whether I like the service or not. One thing’s for sure: it’s no substitute for curation.

WHAT IS PAPER.LI?
According to their website, Paper.li is an online service that “organizes links shared on Twitter into an easy to read newspaper-style format.”  You can create these “newspapers” to aggregate content for Twitter users, lists, or hashtags. Paper.li automatically generates these feeds into a homepage that emulates the feel of a traditional newspaper’s website.

WHAT I LIKE ABOUT PAPER.LI
As Mathew Ingram writes on Gigaom.com, Paper.li is “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.”

I’ve only been using Paper.li for a couple short days, but I can already agree that this is the main benefit of a service like this. Other things I like about Paper.li:

  • View by topic—If you want to see things only related to Technology, you can do that without paging through your full Twitter feed.
  • View by media—Gives you a snapshot view of videos and photos, without clicking a link first.
  • Create multiple newspapers—You can create up to 10 “newspapers” to follow the people, hashtags, and lists you’re most interested in.
  • No follow required—You can follow any Twitter list on Paper.li without actually following it from your Twitter account.

WHAT I DON'T LIKE ABOUT PAPER.LI
This list is meatier than the “What I like” list. Sorry, Paper.li.

Daily Tweets, without context—If you want to share your Paper.li site on your personal Twitter stream, you can click the “Promote It” link below the masthead. This requires you to sign up for daily promotional Tweets, and won’t let you do a one-time promotion of your page. Sure, you can go in and “manage” the papers you are promoting to turn off the daily Tweets—but that’s a bit laborious.

Additionally, Paper.li Daily Tweets provide absolutely no context for the content that appears on your Paper.li page. This absence of context is exactly what drew me to Paper.li in the first place.

Here’s the @BrainTraffic  / @dmnguys exchange that inspired this post:

The fact that the Paper.li daily gets “no input from us” doesn’t bother @dmnguys. Automatic generation of a Tweet absolves them from providing context. But as a user and an indirect subject of their Twitter stream, the Paper.li Daily Tweet ended up confusing instead of enlightening me.

Without the proper context around the “featured” Twitter handles and why they are being featured, the Daily Tweet doesn’t provide any value to followers. At least, not in my book.

Not all “stories” translate—Paper.li attempts to replicate the first paragraph of the links shared by your Twitter community. This lead-in doesn’t always translate well, so you end up reading a bunch of nonsense until you click the link. For instance, Kristina posted a link to some favorite articles the other day.

Her Tweet said:

Paper.li translated her Tweet as follows:

Um … WTF?

Not customizable—Because Paper.li automatically generates the sections of my daily “newspaper,” I have no say in what appears as my lead story. Also, I can’t hide or rearrange any of the topical sections.

No central dashboard—I created two Paper.li dailies, but am unable to access them without a direct URL. I expected Paper.li to keep a list of my previously created “newspapers” somewhere, especially after I’m logged in to the site. (In case you’re curious, the two papers I created are: Angie King Daily and contentstrategy Daily.)

PAPER.LI IS NOT CURATION
Granted, nobody said it WAS curation. But my experience with Paper.li just proves the importance of curation over aggregation.  Without an editorial eye overseeing the publication of my Paper.li page, the content loses value. I actually prefer just paging through my Twitter stream over trying to make sense of the no-context, automatically generated list of junk that displays on my Paper.li page.

But I can’t blame Paper.li for trying to meet a need. It just wasn’t MY need. Probably because I’m not a robot.

  • http://www.sdicorp.com/Resources/Blog/articleType/AuthorView/authorID/24/lkunz.aspx Larry Kunz

    This is really good, Angie. It mirrors the thoughts that I've had about paper.li — except that your analysis is much more through and articulate. While paper.li definitely is not curation, and while I sometimes wouldn't even use it to wrap fish, I can't help thinking that it's a first step. Years from now, when we have software that CAN do curation, we might look back and regard paper.li as a pacesetter.

  • http://www.bigpictureweb.com jlbraaten

    I don't like the idea of paper.li. Show me something original or curated. I don't want to see a day's worth of your tweets aggregated. It's noise if you ask me. Nothing more.

  • Ben

    How you feel about Paper.li is how I feel about Twitter. No matter what, it always looks like a bunch of nonsense to me.

  • http://twitter.com/harveytherobot Harvey the Robot

    I'm a robot. I love it.

  • http://www.verticalmeasures.com/services/content-development/ Redlincook

    Have you ever gone to a blog post and felt like someone snuck into your brain and stole your thoughts? That is exactly how this post made me feel. Angie, you’ve hit the nail right on the head. Paper.li is no cure for curation, but an interesting step in that direction no less.

  • http://blog.esimplestudios.com Gabriele Maidecchi

    I actually like the Paper.li idea overall, but I am aware, as you are, there’s room for improvements. At the moment I find myself using it for my new concept of #followfriday, giving a somewhat original way for people to have at least an idea of why I recommend someone, rather than a simple name.
    I never used it for more “structured” reasons but I guess your objections are reasonable if you plan on doing with it more than I do.

  • http://twitter.com/spincycle3 David Patton

    I totally agree on the curation over aggregation, but I like paper.li for myself, not for my audience. I didn’t sign up for the automated tweet for the exact reasons you mention. I will occasionally share my paper when it’s compelling or funny and call out the headlines I like. I particularly don’t like the way the automated tweet notes the PEOPLE and not the CONTENT. I care about the content, not the people who created or more likely shared it.

  • Dave Beaudouin

    Good thoughts, Angie:

    While I think paper.li fulfills some of the potential of Twitter as a publishing platform, I agree that a bot is no substitute for an editor. Give the next iteration a dashboard–but in the meantime, the format is at least an improvement in terms of scannability.

  • http://twitter.com/RealtyScholar Marcus Barber

    With some enhancements paper.li can be a nice tool to add to the twitter experience. I do hope they gives us some editorial control soon.

  • http://www.mhmediaonline.eu mhmedia

    I found myself “mentioned” on Twitter last week, and found that a paper.li user had picked up on a relevant tag that I’d attached to a Flickr announcement of a new set. While I like the publicity, I need to check on the T&Cs on paper.li and Flickr as all my images are “All Rights Reserved”.

  • http://www.futureisfiction.com/blog daretoeatapeach

     Thanks. You just spelled out all the concerns I have about the paper.li site. And all the “Features” I keep getting are perplexing. Now I just ignore them, which is a shame. If people aren’t retweeting me, how are my tweets automatically endingup in someone’s automated paper? I hope Paper.li works out the kinks because it isn’t a bad idea.

  • http://www.futureisfiction.com/blog daretoeatapeach

    The thing that frustrates me about comments like this (it’s pretty common to make fun of Twitter, no?) is how many of these people are lovers of Facebook. I ask them what they like about FB and they invariably say they like the content stream of what their friends are up to. All Twitter is is that same “lifestream” without the clutter of the other stuff Facebook provides.

    Not that Ben is making any of those claims. Just a thought. 

  • http://claudenougat.blogspot.com/ Claude Nougat

    I’m coming to this discussion 9 months late! And since then Paper.li has given people a chance to adjust the looks of the paper: you can move around an article or even delete it. So a little curation does come in for those who care.
    Trouble is: it’s a little laborious and it’s only after the fact (after it’s published).
    What surprised me though was how amusing it was. Actually, from the first, in my experience on Twitter, I’ve tried to follow only people I thought were interesting (there are exceptions of course). But overall, most people I follow are worth following and I’ve rarely given in to the impulse of responding to a follower with an automatic “following” you too!
    Is that why my “Claude Nougat Daily” is (relatively) fun to read? I don’t know. One thing is certain, as one of your readers said, it’s mostly useful to the person whose “daily” it is…And if it’s fun for others too, well and good.
    I do worry about the legality of this. There are some bizarre news (things I never knew were out there) and some extraordinary “curation” decisions, pushing up to the top some news that I would never ever think of highlighting. Or putting next to each other. At the end of the day, am I legally responsible for this curation? Just wondering…

  • http://www.theuniuni.com/ Payton_vege

    Amazing write-up! This could aid plenty of people find out more about this particular issue. Are you keen to integrate video clips coupled with these? It would absolutely help out. Your conclusion was spot on and thanks to you; I probably won’t have to describe everything to my pals. I can simply direct them here!

  • http://lembing.com Anonymous

    Never tried paper ly but I think is ok

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