About a month ago, I discovered Paper.li, a service that aggregates content linked to by people in a Twitter community into an online newspaper. It’s one of the most useful ways I’ve found for surfacing news and information I might otherwise have missed entirely.
Not only that, "Neville Hobson Daily," the newspaper I created with Paper.li, gives me insight into the kinds of content some in my own Twitter community find useful or interesting that they link to it. Some of it is similar to the sort of things I would link to but more is new, part of its discovery appeal.
Note that the newspapers you create with Paper.li aren’t about the people in your community who tweet but rather what they link to. I was explaining it to a friend yesterday when I saw that he clearly couldn’t see the remotest value in something like this: he thought it was about publishing people’s tweets. Once he understood that it wasn’t that, he said he could see the potential usefulness of such a tool.
Other aspects of the newspaper make it compelling, too. Sharing, for instance. It’s all very well to publish your newspaper but what about telling people about it? Paper.li offers a great way to do that – tweet it. What I especially like about this is that Paper.li auto-tweets via your Twitter account once a new edition is published, as this example tweet shows, about once a day.
Each tweet includes an ‘@’ link to some of your Twitter followers who have linked to material that’s included in your Paper.li newspaper, thus increasing the chances for others to retweet your auto-tweet, and so bringing your paper to the attention of the communities of those who retweet.
You can also get notified by email whenever a new edition of your paper is published.
If you prefer, you can see the content in list form rather than as a newspaper, which some people prefer. Hovering your mouse over the name of someone who tweeted produces a little pop-up with the actual tweet concerned, the link and any hashtags that tweeter used.
I think the overall concept is a great idea. Paper.li isn’t the first such service, nor the only one – The Twitter Times, for instance, has been around for longer (I tried that out a while ago; my newspaper is still published there). Yet I find Paper.li has the edge for me in terms of its elegance and utility.
Speaking of Twitter hashtags, here’s where a service like Paper.li gets really interesting – you can create a newspaper from linked content in hashtags. So if anyone tweets a link to anything and their tweet includes the hashtag you’ve set up a paper for, that content will be included in the next edition.
Here you can see what I mean – "#hcsmeu Daily," a newspaper I set up a few weeks ago under the #hcsmeu hashtag (‘hcsmeu’ standing for Health Care Social Media Europe, a Twitter-driven discussion group set up by Andrew Spong and Silja Chouquet).
This hashtag paper aggregates content linked to by anyone tweeting who used the #hcsmeu hashtag in their tweet. So it’s not about your own community, it’s about the hashtag community which may also include members of your Twitter community.
See the possibilities for sharing and connecting?
I’ve noticed quiet a few people in my Twitter community starting up their own newspapers, people like Sherrilynne Starkie, Robert Harper, UK band Georgia Wonder, Ecademy, Stephen Fry, and Eb Adeyeri, to name but a few.
[…] find an easy way to connect distant communities of shared interest to leverage their respective know-hows and enable collective action. All without leaving their web site, blog or social networking platform.
Paper.li is one way. They also have River.li, a service to "interconnect like-minded sites and related conversations from across the web." I haven’t tried that one yet.
All the services are in alpha, meaning they’re in early-stage development and will evolve and change, or perhaps even cease, no guarantees. The developers actively solicit users’ feedback.
Whatever the route they take, they’re nice ideas.
[Later] GigaOm has an insightful commentary about the Paper.li service including this succinct perspective:
[…] Whatâ€™s interesting about using Twitter for such a service is that you donâ€™t have to explicitly say which articles you like, or wait for the software to learn what you are interested in â€” you choose the people you follow and those people choose the links they want to share, and that constitutes your newspaper.
In many ways, this is a natural extension of the idea that if the news is important â€œit will find me.â€ In other words, if something is important or interesting, it will eventually make its way to you through your social network, by being shared on Twitter or Facebook or some other service. This is an almost complete inversion of the way media traditionally works, where editors decide what is important and then publish it for readers. In that sense, it is â€œdemandâ€ media rather than â€œsupplyâ€ media, or pull rather than push.