The one thing that is making my stay away from twitter (Flipboard is also gone now, since the iPad has been returned to its rightful owner – the wife) hard is the fact that I’m unable to find a reliable alternate means of curating content. Let me explain.
Basically, how do you find interesting stuff to read? I’m talking about article length pieces here (500-5000 words), and not books – the latter are “easy” in terms of how they’re packaged, etc. Fifteen years back it was quite simple, and not all that simple – in order to find a good piece of writing you needed to be subscribed to the periodical in which it was published.
So you would subscribe to periodicals as long as they published good pieces once in a while – at least for the option value of finding such pieces. This meant that sales of periodicals was inflated – a handful of good pieces here and there would support significant subscription numbers, and they did rather well. Then the internet changed all that.
The beauty of the internet is unbundling – you can read one piece from a periodical without reading the fluff. Even periodicals that have a subscription paywall usually offer a certain number of articles (not certain number of editions, note) free before you pay up. This has turned the magazine business topsy-turvy – if you only have the odd good piece that appears in your magazine, people are going to find it somehow, and are not going to bother subscribing to your magazine just so that they can find it!
The question, thus, arises as to how you can find good pieces that are of interest to you without subscribing to whole magazines themselves (and considering the number of sources from which I’ve consumed content even in the last two weeks it’s impossible to subscribe to all of them).
Close to ten years back you got it by way of an RSS reader – you essentially subscribed to entire periodicals or well-defined subsets of them. You didn’t pay for the subscription and there was no paper – the pieces would come and fall in your “RSS feed”. Feed readers such as Bloglines and Google Reader became big in the mid noughties (I remember switching from the former to the latter in 2006 or something).
You used these readers to subscribe to blogs of interesting people (back then a lot of interesting people blogged), and these blogs would link out to other interesting content, and you would consume it all. Then Google Reader began this thing called “shared items” – where you could share items from your RSS feeds with your Google Talk friend list. This improved curation – for example, I knew that there was this friend who would share all interesting posts from a particular blog, so I didn’t need to subscribe to that blog’s RSS feed any more. Soon you could share items apart from those on your RSS feed – any interesting website you came across, you could share. It was beautiful.
And then in its infinite wisdom, Google decided to kill Google Reader! Like that. Gone.
Thankfully by then we had twitter, where among other things people would share interesting stuff. And there would be enough of those posted through the day every day to keep you busy! All the buried content in the world now started getting dug up thanks to twitter. There was always tonnes of interesting stuff.
But then it comes with a remarkably high degree of outrage – no one can simply share a link any more – there has to be commentary that is outraging about something or the other. The question, thus, is about how we can consume content from twitter without the outrage. That leads to apps such as Flipboard, which presents the content in an interesting format. There was a similar app I tried to write but gave up on.
Now that I don’t have access to flipboard any more (while flipboard for Android is nice, it’s not anything like flipboard for ipad) how do I curate content? How do I get interesting stuff recommended to me without having to trawl infinite websites?
The app that I think is well placed for such curation is Pocket – where you can store articles for reading later. But then its native sharing application isn’t too good. It in fact encourages you to share via twitter and email! If only Pocket can improve upon its native sharing, and thus build a social network around the shared content, it is possible that we could have something like Google Reader shared items once again!
But with everyone on twitter is there a market for this?