5 opportunities for dynamic curation tools

by Kevin Loker

Dozens of newsrooms have jumped to use the social media storytelling tool Storify this fall. It’s great for crowdsourcing and making stories out of content floating about in the social web.

The tool also received praise last month at the Online News Association conference in Washington, D.C. Amy Webb, the CEO of Webbmedia Group, an international consulting firm that advises various organizations on emerging technology, highlighted the tool at her Ten Tech Trends in ’10 talk. She also called it the interface the “future of content management systems.”

Webb’s onto something. We’re not quite there, but here’s a rundown of how you can use curation tools. Some you may have seen or tried; others may be something new to keep in your toolbox for later.

1. ‘Standard’ coverage (recaps and storytelling conversations)

We’ve written about this at 10,000 Words a few times now, but to recap, several journalists are using Storify tell stories by how they unfold on the Web. The Storify Twitter account does some lovely retweeting of those who use it. Here are a few recent, great examples.

The tool works well to replay reactions and events, from sports games to arrests. There are current limitations, however, for it acting in real-time.

2. Breaking and developing news

Storify is great for recaps and reaction pieces, but as of right now, it’s better for telling a story once it has already happened. It’s hard to get users to continually refresh a page to see updates.
Meet Qrait. You could consider it a real-time Storify.

Cool, huh? The platform is in alpha testing right now, but it looks like a step in the right direction for curation. Like Storify, Qrait allows you to pull in bits of information from the across the web — including feeds — and display all in one location. But, as the video shows, the updates occur and reload in real-time in a viewer’s browser, something that could potentially keep your audience from wandering away to another website. Before it goes public, it’s also expected to have the ability to incorporate pagination and place anchor links.

Those two features should be reason to rejoice if you consider yourself a curator. Anchor links allow you to link to specific content on your feed when you distribute the page through social media, and pagination helps segment your coverage for the same purpose (not to mention, it can make your content look cleaner and eliminate the endless scroll).

Will Storify have some of these features when it goes completely public? It’s a good guess. But since this new product is being promoted as a real-time curator, I’ll use Qrait for examples under the next items.

3. Contextual content during live coverage

With a reliable real-time curation tool, web journalists can bring events coverage to a whole new level. Yes, you can more easily keep users on your page — say during an election or a breaking story of a nightclub death — but you can also add contextual information alongside something like a video stream of a live event.

The concept here is very similar to another tech trend that Webb spoke about at ONA10: interactive TV. People are working on ways to drive relevant information related to what you’re watching on TV to mobile and tablet devices at your side or on your lap.

For instance, let’s say I have a Google TV and an Android tablet and am watching a news report on Afghanistan. I may not know who the Tajiks are. Since the devices are tied together however, there’ll soon be ways that background information on Tajiks could display on my tablet. I’m still watching the TV, but I’m getting additional information that enhances my viewing experience, and I don’t have to go out of my way to get it.

It should be just as easy to do this on a single computer screen. Computers do it (a la Qwiki), or we can keep a human layer and use a real-time curation tool like Qrait.

4. Curating feedback

Write for a blog or website that gets a lot of traffic? Maybe you wrote a controversial post that’s getting a lot of buzz, and you want a nice way to display the conversation around your piece? Why not use Qrait or Storify to display that feedback alongside your post?

The ideas not much different than #1, but it’s a concept that I haven’t seen put into practice. It could be a nice way to highlight parts of the conversation that you think may most benefit your readers. Storify works for this just fine, but the element of real-time updating that Qrait currently is promoting would be a nice touch.

(Qrait’s Help page inspired this one).

5. Research, sharing and collaboration

Remember how Webb said she considered Storify the future of content management systems? That future can begin by managing your own research for a post or story.

Perhaps it’s time we consider using these tools for our own use in the newsroom. If it’s useful for displaying bits of information in one place for our viewers, it can be just as useful for organizing content during brainstorm sessions or production.

David Somers, one of the creators behind Qrait and the creator of Twitterfall, said that collaboration features within Qrait are “certainly a possibility” and if it were something that people requested or discussed, he’d take it into consideration feature-wise. To Somers, real-time curation is such a new space that it is “naive to lock down to one path.” Curation tools need flexibility.

And so do we. If the ability to let multiple users easily contribute to curation project exists, then Qrait becomes even more practical. The same would be true with Storify. Beyond being pretty and easy ways to display information for readers, maybe these handy tools can evolve into prettier, more useful versions of Google Wave.

Preferably, of course, with a brighter future.