The first time I was mentioned in a Paper.Li I didn’t understand what had happened. It showed up in my Mentions stream on Twitter that I and a few others had made “The ____ Daily” and were part of the “Top Stories.” I thought the person who had mentioned me had read something of mine and liked it enough to tweet about it. I promptly thanked him for the tweet, but little did I understand that the gentleman in question most likely had no idea who I was or what I had written. I had been picked up by the automated service Paper.Li.
For those who are not familiar with Paper.Li, it is a content “curation” (and I use that term loosely) system that publishes multiple Twitter and Facebook feeds and makes a newspaper of sorts. You are able to determine the topics that make your digital newspaper by specifying certain terms. There is a very slight aspect of curation, as you can specify one of your columns be from a certain Tweep. For instance, you could set from:mashable as a parameter. However, this is not just tweeting Mashable’s latest blog post, this is reproducing a selection from every tweet in Mashable’s tweet stream with a computer determining which tweets are worth republishing.
This excerpt from a recent Paper.Li press release explains how the people of Paper.Li view what they do:
“Curation is the next iteration of information on the web, and I believe Paper.li has the momentum, passionate publisher base and advanced technology to deliver on the promise of curation and hand-picked content,” said Eric Hippeau. “In a world awash with information, well-curated content is increasingly important and I’m excited to advance the industry through working with the Paper.li team. Paper.li opens up a whole new way for people to consume information and engage in news that matters.”
Over 12 million articles are curated daily by Paper.li publishers, creating highly personalized and contextually relevant content collections. The company’s enhanced search now provides the Paper.li community easy access to this filtered information, for an unprecedented content discovery experience.
Content Curation or Aggregation?
The problem with this viewpoint is how one views curation. Curation, to me, means that a value judgment has been made about the quality of the content. Even Triberr (which I recently joined) may not curate individual posts when in Automagic mode, but it does curate the source of the posts and that is a form of curation in itself. Paper.Li has no such human value judgment attached to it. Posting to your Paper.Li whatever happens to be in the #smalllbusiness hashtag stream when the Paper.Li runs is not curation, it’s topical aggregation.
Is Paper.Li Too Spammy?
Paper.Li also dances in the grey sands of spam with its automatic @mentions of those that are listed in a Daily. To quote Venkat Balasubramani of Spam Notes, who is no fan of Paper.Li:
The sole currency of paper.li is people retweeting dailies because they are mentioned. (The bulk of traffic to paper.li dailies are from people who check to see whether their tweets are mentioned in the dailies.)
This is essentially the Paper.Li model: retweets generated through automated mentions. There is no substantive reason for the mentions, and thus the retweets are even more empty, as they are forwarding something which had no real content value to begin with.
I should mention that spammy is not the same as spam. A few bloggers I have tremendous respect for use Paper.Li, and obviously, they are using it as a marketing tool for their blogs. I would be very curious to know if it has produced results?
I think the best analogy I can think of for Paper.Li (particularly when set to daily) is that it is similar to the friend we’ve all had who, back in the early days of email, forwarded every joke that hit his inbox. It didn’t matter if it was funny or if it had been around the web 500 times, he forwarded everything. You wouldn’t define that as spam, per se, just an activity which produced no value and wasted valuable time.
So, does Paper.Li add any value to our collective digital lives? At this point, I think the answer has to be no. In a world where we are, to quote Paper.Li, “awash in information,” the greatest content challenge we all face is sifting through the rushing waters of information to find the little specks of gold. Paper.Li is but another tributary feeding the rapids of information, adding repetitive and randomly selected content to a world that already has too much of both.
Paper.Li might have potential in the future. Heavy hitters such as Guy Kawsaki and Eric Hippeau are on board, so hopefully Paper.Li will have the resources and innovation needed to take its product to the next level. If computerized filtration can learn to be more intelligent and truly come closer to human curation, it might begin to bring useful content in a valuable form. Until that happens, most of what Paper.Li purports to do can be achieved much better and cleaner through RSS and Twitter lists.
So… Is Paper.Li more spammy than useful? If you use Paper.Li, has it produced traffic to your blog? Have you ever read someone else’s Paper.Li — for its content and not just to find your own stuff?