Missing players in the #dfmcuration conversation: time and place
I’m going to start by talking about a newspaper, perhaps partially because it’s Father’s Day (and Google is referencing it, too), but also because I see it as a helpful guide for our discussion on curation in an increasingly digital world of journalism (#DFMcuration).
Disagree if you like, but printed newspapers do some things really, really well. They’ve also done it for quite some time. Yes, in addition to serving as great hats for children, many of us can recall how practical they were in the pre-internet era: every morning, the content assembled on the pages provided us with an overview of the most relevant information for a person to know, often in the short amount of time it took to finish a fresh cup of coffee, and perhaps a bowl of cereal.
It, hopefully like the coffee, was nice. A simple idea. Newspapers, small-town and national alike, provided a helpful package of info for a certain moment, for a certain location, and once the information was taken in by a person, that person could go on with their day and not worry about checking in with media.
Pause. Don’t hurumph. Checking in with Twitter is also quite nice, and not by any means a bad thing. There are both simple joys and potential triumphs in being able to access information (and news) whenever you want it. It’s nice to know how Kevin Durant’s shooting when I’m busy, and for some, it’s empowering to know a political gaffe the moment it’s said.
But in a need for speed and constantly appearing in newsfeeds, I posit we’re forgetting what rocked about the pre-internet print newspaper: it was curation that appealed to readers based on two important factors, time and place.
When it comes to curation, it’s not just all about adding context to what you sort. It’s also about the context of accessing content.
This is the point where I expect someone in the field to barge in and say, “Kevin, you don’t get it. Everyone is online all the time now. We have to be curating for every moment, shooting for the newsfeed around the clock.” It’s a fair point—if you want to be seen (and clicked-through) amidst someone’s hundreds of followees, you need to be sharing whenever someone scrolls by.
We can’t neglect, however, that most people are not literally on their devices all-day long. If we remove ourselves from our little corner, the realm of journalism (the one that those reading this likely inhabit), or perhaps politics and notably some other fields I just haven’t named, people generally have “newspaper morning”-type moments. The only change is that they look different. Just like how people would read a newspaper in the morning in the days before the internet, there are still times where individuals (idiosyncratically or culturally) habitually check, consume, and now interact with news.
The more positive thing about anytime access is that there are now more of those moments. The negative thing is that we aren’t fully capitalizing on them.
Let me illustrate. Here are moments I can think of off the top of my head in which I regularly check my phone:
- In line. Any line. Ever.
- On the Metro. (Or likely, on the bus, if I ride one of those, too.)
- When I’m trying to hide from a social situation (admit it, those times happen!)
Take my habits for instance…Why don’t we design our curation around context categories like that? Let’s think of curation, at least for the time being, in terms of times and place like those three above, each of which I think is a situation in which you’d want different content:
Here’s what I mean:
- When I’m in line, I want something short to either A) distract me, or B) update me on news, or some sort of interest. I don’t want anything too lengthy, but I want something that can occupy me while I wait for my sandwich.
- When I’m on the Metro (or you could substitute eating alone, for professionals in DC who are on a lunch break, for instance), I often want something a bit longer, something I could take time to read through and walk away with something a bit heftier than the content I want to see while in line.
- When I’m trying to hide from a social situation, I often just want something funny. Something that’s a distraction. Maybe something silly Joe Biden said, or something that’s cute and involves puppies.
Since that last bullet flowed into a specific example of content based on context, here are a few examples of what type of content would be good to be curated for each context:
- In line: The latest breaking news, perhaps, with selections built around my interests.
- Metro/lunch: A feature on a candidate, or maybe a NYTimes opinion piece, depending on my interest.
- Social distraction: Pretty much anything from BuzzFeed.
So far I’ve been outlining situations for content consumption via a mobile device, but I imagine this concept could also be built into a desktop/laptop setting, like an app for Google Chrome or on a website itself. The categories would just be different.
Why I personally like this particular idea of context and content:
- It separates our consumption out, rather than mixing it all in our Twitter stream.
- It’s an attempt to reclaim our media consumption in way that makes sense, because it fits in the right kind of content in the place where we can rightfully consume it.
- It one-ups apps and services like Read it Later (now Pocket), which are admirable, but often mix the mark because we don’t always, in fact, read it later. We consume content, instead, when the context is right. There’s too much choice, otherwise, and we go mad trying to stay on top of it all.
An app could probably curate like this — and I would love to help make that happen — but so should people. If we add in the element of reading context, based on principles of times and place where our readers interact with information, I think we can influence and help how journalists create content. Editorial teams with curators could think about the contexts in which their readers are reaching for certain types of content, and capitalize on those trends by integrating the element into their editorial decisions.
Individual journalists could make whole jobs out of writing content for lunch, and maybe this all could spark a greater appreciation for the diversification of content types, but at the same, a healthy consumption of all of them. We could toss aside the idea that Buzzfeed type content is “tidbit journalism” and of no value, because it is in fact of absolute value when, like a powerful piece in the NYTimes read in full over lunch, it is consumed its proper place.
More importantly, under this model the right type of content is presented in the right place— and just the right type of content alone. How easy is it to always just look at pictures of puppies when you’re presented with that option next to news you should really read in order to be an informed citizen? We want to be informed, but hot damn, we love those freakin’ puppies. We are weak.
Why’d I start with describing a newspaper? Again, it’s basically the same old idea. Pre-internet print newspapers got context and content right. They based everything on time and place. For the technology that existed, it was the right material, the right content-type, the right time. Now all we need, as curators, is an update.
A shout-out to @SarahDayOwen, as I’ve discussed some of this with her. The general ideas shared here build off a conversation we had following this presentation by @mthomps and @robinsloan.