The Future Of Content Curation Tools - Part I
Content curation tools are in their infancy. Nonetheless you see so many of them around, there are more new curation tools coming your way soon, with lots of new features and options. Existing content curation services will in fact need to start rolling up their sleeves as the next wave of offerings will significantly go well beyond what is possible with present day tools
Photo credit: 3D Flower by ShutterStock
In this last few years I have looked at, signed up for and tested over 400 content curation tools, which I have gradually collected and listed first here:
The NewsMaster Toolkit and here
Best News Curation Tools for Independent Publishers
then here on Mindomo: Content Curation Tools: Newsmaster Toolkit 2012
from July 2013 here on Pearltrees: Content Curation Tools Supermap
and from September 2013 a simplified version here: Content Curation Tools Directory
As a small independent author and publisher, I curate content on a daily basis, since 2005. To do so I use an evolving set of content curation tools shaped over time by the specific needs of the audience and the types of content I am curating.
While testing, experimenting and adopting new tools, I have become very sensitive to the tools and features that are most useful for a news or content curator and to the limitations and problems caused by the lack of these.
Enormous progress has been made since the early days of the first news curation tools to what is available today, but yet, I feel we have only barely scratched the surface. There is a lot more that needs to be done to enable passionate subject-matter experts to better curate the huge amount of little-known valuable resources available out there and to weed out the noisy, useless information from the true treasures.
To illustrate what I expect to see on this front, here is a panoramic tour of the traits, features, patterns and trends that I expect will characterize the future of digital content curation tools, organized into specific feature areas.
1) Display Formats of Curated Content Collections
The first area in which I expect to see lots of improvement and innovative ideas is the one of how a curated collection or stream can be displayed to the user.
This is one of the most underestimated and underutilized areas of improvement for content curation tools, as the models followed so far have been all been based mostly around:
- the newspaper-magazine vertical type of layout, (Scoop.it, Paper.li, Spundge)
- the classical text list (List.ly, Listal)
- the Pinterest-like grid metaphor. (Keeb, Learnist, Liiist)
Few have ventured beyond these limits by adopting other metaphors like:
- the guided web tour (Mentormob, Roojoom)
- slideshow (Google Presentations)
- booklet (Simplebooklet)
- navigable map / (Pearltrees, Mindomo, Mindmeister)
- the visually rich flippable magazine (Flipboard, Noowit)
- playlists (Zeeik, Huzzaz, etc.)
- timelines (Dipity, Tiki-toki)
But there's a universe of other options that are all yet to be explored.
Consider for example these other content formats:
- Treemaps (Newsmap project)
- Structured boards (Zeef, Startme)
- Living Stories (Google experiment)
- Stories (Google Story Builder)
- Data Dashboards (Sparkwise)
- Books, eBooks (Pressjack)
2) Slicing and Dicing
When you are trying to cover comprehensively, explore, study and get deeper inside a topic, issue or event, to make it available for others, which is what curation is designed for, you want to provide users with multiple ways to slice and dice the content or data you provide.
At the very minimum, you may want to offer some easy and instantaneous ways to sort your content collection in a few different ways. At best you it would be nice to provide multiple ways to allow users to recast, mash-up and create new valuable sub-sets from your collection by allowing them to filter it by specific tags, keywords, or by other relevant criteria.
Some of the present-day content curation tools, including Scoop.it, Spundge and several others, do allow you to tag and filter content but none provides a direct facility to easily create sub-sets that gather together collection items with the same characteristics.
I expect to see more features addressing this need for easily scanning, re-grouping, slicing and dicing any curated content collection for the purpose of creating new valuable sets from existing ones.
3) Micro - Macro
One other badly needed feature, that I hope will see its way in some of the leading content curation tools, is the ability to instantly switch from a bird's eye view of a topic to the detailed view of a specific information item.
If you think of it, when you look at a collection, you are generally exposed to only a few items at a time. You are always looking at a little fraction of the "whole". Whether you are on Pinterest, Scoop.it, or in a YouTube playlist, what you see at any one time is just a little fraction of the whole collection, stream or playlist.
To show the whole from above, without making individual content assets become unrecognizable dots, you need to be able to group, categorize and provide higher-level views of a collection, that can provide multiple and alternative panoramas from which to dive-in at specific spots.
There are many user-interface approaches that can be adopted on this front and I look forward to be surprised by the solutions that will materialize.
For one thing, I think that zoomable treemaps and other similar visual approaches offer some of the viable routes that should be taken into serious consideration by content curation tool makers.
" treemapping is a method for displaying hierarchical data by using nested rectangles."
Some good examples of this approach are here:
- Demo of a zoomable teemap
- BBC - Visualizing the Internet
- Obama Budget Proposal (static)
- Treemap example"Area-based visualizations have existed for years. The main distinguishing feature of a treemap, however, is the recursive construction that allows it to be extended to hierarchical data with any number of levels. This idea was invented by University of Maryland, College Park professor Ben Shneiderman in the early 1990s. Shneiderman and his collaborators then deepened the idea by introducing a variety of interactive techniques for filtering and adjusting treemaps."
Whichever the approach, the technology or visualization method used, the goal must be one of greatly simplifying for both the curator and the collection viewer, the ability to easily, instantly zoom in and out from an item-specific view to a panoramic sight. The goal is the one of allowing the understanding of the overall collection structure and the make-up of its individual parts at-a-glance.
Another area that offers great opportunities for innovation and for the introduction of new useful features is the one covering the ability to assess, managing inventories, organize and curate one's own existing assets.
What is needed is for example the ability to:
a) easily map and visualize all of the contents of an existing web site in a way that allows you to identify key valuable content lost in the archives and to curate it into new and more meaningful collections.
b) copy, duplicate and move curated items between collections without having to recreate them.
c) create easy-to-access collections, maps, and directories of valuable content that has been already created. Gateway builders to existing content.
5) News Discovery
While there is a very large number of tools that claim to be of help in finding and discovering the most relevant news in specific areas of interest, the ones that do actually a useful job of this, without relying too heavily on what your friends preferences are (generating themselves some kind of Filter Bubble), are still very few.
The main problem with news discovery arises from the fact that quality filters and algorithms capable of both fully understanding the topic of interest, not just by way of a keyword or a hashtag but by semantic inference, and capable of identifying the relevant sources among so many noise-making content marketers reposting other people stuff, are not easy to build.
You get a little help from some friends.
The best way to uncover, identify and identify new quality sources and content items may be to employ a balanced mix of automated search filters augmented by human curators that can supervise, edit, refine and improve on what is gathered by the algos.
On this front news curation platform and services are sitting on a treasure trove of great content being curated by their users. The challenge for them will be how to find, surface and expose the most valuable parts of it.
But news discovery is not just a matter of search algorithms and filters. It is also a matter of providing a facility that makes it effective for you to browse and scan through hundreds of stories or visual items. This is why the presentation and display of information inside news discovery tools will increasingly be looked at as a comparative criteria for evaluation.
As the news curator needs to sift through tons of stories, the way this content is presented, organized, formatted and made easy to navigate and browse through, becomes of primary importance. Even the choice of title fonts, line length, layout and spacing between news items becomes quite critical.
Unfortunately too many news discovery tools keep looking for a cool-looking UI rather than paying greater attention to the way we can read, scan and move through all those bits in a fast and effective fashion.
Considering the fact that many popular content curation tools make it possible to curate information by having users relinquish all of their rights to the content they have curated, it is not unlikely that a number of content curation tools will try to gain a competitive edge by offering an alternative to this.
The main benefit offered by content curation platforms that require you to curate and publish first via their systems (Scoop.it, Pinterest, etc.) is that they provide you with an existing broad audience readily interested in your content. For someone just starting out online, this can be a huge booster.
The con side of the equation is that your rights on what you have curated as well as the physical ownership of that content is not under your control anymore. And for those already having good visibility and reputation online, this may not be the most attractive proposition.
Unless this trade-off between ownership and visibility will be somehow compensated (by way of additional visibility, money or other type of rewards) I would expect better and more qualified content curators to gradually move away from hosted curation platforms and onto their own curation-publishing systems.
Curations tools that complement existing CMS or web publishing service are going to provide such solution. There exist already many such plugins for curating content on WordPress.
Furthermore the ability to import and export a full complete curated collection in a number of standard file formats (e.g.: csv, xml, comma delimited, etc.) will also become a standard requirement for professional solutions allowing you, if you decide to switch curation engine, not to risk losing all of the work done until then.
Even though many of the existing curation tools offer ways to easily embed the content produced on their platforms on your web site, I would expect individual publishers with a specific subject-matter expertise to lean more toward tools that allow them to originate and publish directly on their sites their own curated work.
Output to standards-abiding RSS feeds will also remain a key reference requirement for portability and content distribution.
7) Credit and Attribution
For professional curators the need to properly and systematically credit and attribute the content and sources utilized is not a secondary matter. Discovery of new interesting content is at the heart of the curator job, and facilitating the exchange on meta-data that provides credit and hints as to who has been of help in discovering something will increasingly be a highly valued activity.
For this reason better content curation tools will:
a) provide automatic crediting and embedding of any citation, or other multimedia content (image, video, presentation, sound) utilized and
b) integrate standard approaches that make it easier to identify the true source or originator a story.
See Curator's Code.
Content curation tools are in their infancy. In the near future they will play an increasingly important role in supporting content production, education and learning and, more generally, in organizing available online and offline information in more effective ways.
To achieve these objectives, content curation tools will need to test, integrate and adopt new features and facilities that meet many of the requirements of a content curator.
In Part II of this guide to the Future of Content Curation Tools I will identify more content curation features that would greatky benefit the work of content curators and which I expect to appear in both existing and new tools entering this space.
Originally written and curated by Robin Good and first published on MasterNewMedia on December 13th 2013 as "The Future Of Content Curation Tools - Part I".
Display formats Brochure cover by Shutterstock
Slicing and dicing Fresh carrots by Shutterstock
Micro - Macro Insect eyes by Shutterstock
Recurate Vintage compass by Shutterstock
News discovery Black binoculars by Shutterstock
Ownership Key by Shutterstock
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