Or at least find a way to use it right.
Last week, a blog I read went off on a bit of a rant about Instagram. The post seems to be suffering from a little data vs information befuddlement, and a slight miss-location of the value of photographs. But its perspective is one that had not occurred to me, and it’s well worth a read.
I’m pointing it up so that visitors get at least some content benefit from what is very shortly to turn into my own version of it. It also feels like a similar family of objection to mine about Paper.li – it’s the principle of the thing. It feels wrong. You just shouldn’t do that with content.
With that, and the accustomed caveat that opinions here are purely my own in mind, here’s a simple pitch for making the internet better: stop using Paper.li
In fact, don’t just stop using it: stop following anybody who uses it. Maybe even mail them a bag of dead frogs every day until they stop using it too*
But Roger, what’s wrong with the #NavelGazing Daily?
If you have to ask, I’m confiscating your internets so you don’t hurt yourself.
Ok, that’s a little inflammatory. So I probably have some explaining to do. After all, I’ve said before that we should shy away from blaming a platform for the idiot standing on it. And just as Paper.li is not the fault of Twitter, so also is the endemic fatuousness of Paper.li tweets not the fault of the service itself.
The problem, basically, is that it’s throw-away easy to use, and so gets used in a throw-away manner. Paper.li provides an incredibly quick and easy way to “create” content, and thereby populate a content channel. On the surface, it’s all good.
Well, it’s good in the same way that buying books by the meter is good if your goal is to decorate a pub.
I think it goes a bit like this.
You, or someone in your organization decides you need social media presence, so you get a Twitter account. It works great – you get to talk to your customers, make announcements, and sometimes they send you videos of kittens falling off things. The problem is, to be effectual (especially as a marketing platform) you need a wide follower base. A wide follower base is tricky but not all that difficult to create, bur really quite hard to maintain.
Sooner or later, you realise that you need to give your followers something, and ideally something that’ll keep them attentive to your content channel. Problem is, there’s only one of you, and you have a day job. Tricky. Luckily, you’ve been to the internet before, and it’s full of folks writing stuff. Plus, RSS feeds are cool, right?
Yeah, it’s Paper.li time. You whack in a couple of hashtags for stuff your users like, or maybe one of your twitter lists, and bang – high quality curated content that will bring all that’s beauteous and good to they eyes and adulation of your ecstatic fans.
In practice you get an entirely arbitrary hyperlink landfill. Oh, and it’s dynamic
Curation != aggregation
Or mere presentation, for that matter. Carefully selecting content; commenting on it, maybe; creating context, guidance and flow; presenting salient (perhaps dialectic) content juxtapositions; these things all add value. These (and other) things are enriching curation activities.
They are not part of any use of Paper.li I’ve ever seen.
A hashtag alone is not a guarantee of relevance or interest. It’s not really a guarantee of anything. If your competitors use a hashtag-based Paper.li feed to “add value” to their Twitter account, you can have a lot of fun demonstrating this to them in a variety of varyingly goatse-related ways**
Aggregation of course, does have value. I’m not (quite) anti-aggregation. If you’re not an info junkie for a particular topic, an aggregated feed on that topic can be a very useful thing. If you are, it’s spam.
If you are, you’re watching already, and it’s very likely that Twitter will bring you these things organically.
Better yet, if you are watching the various channels for a topic, you’ll find things out without…
…that thrice-damned default message
Maybe this one is just me. I’ll concede this point. But the Paper.li default message has to be one of the most annoying things made by mankind. It manages to come across as both annoying chirpy and decidedly arrogant.
“The #AardvarkTopiary daily is out! Read this Twitter newspaper.”
There’s an aura of assumed authority to the thing. Which just looks silly when you see it from six people in a row. Then there’s the really pointless one:
“The random-list-of-people-I-follow Daily is out”
I just want to punch people whenever I see it. Now, I’m not insensible to the irony of me complaining about distastefully enthusiastic self-importance, but that’s the odour I get off the thing, and I gag on it.
There was an afternoon where, in rapid succession, I saw three or four separate tweets announcing that the #ContentStrategy daily was out.
Several brands or people felt entitled to co-opt the topic. They all fired off the same announcement. They were not beautiful and unique snowflakes. They did not add anything. The company that did this was (already) not in my good books, and came across as rather sad, and a little desperate to seem relevant.
The folks using Paper.li seem to be using it to create noise rather than value, and something needs to change that.
Isn’t it just like RSS?
RSS feeds and aggregator apps do a similar thing, but with the key difference that they are opt-in. You have to go and subscribe to an RSS feed. And sure, when you do, some of them will be vacuous and noisy. But plenty of them are from sites, companies, or services you will trust to create or curate content to a standard you find acceptable.
Paper.li isn’t opt in, and it’s only opt-out by unfollowing someone.
Sure, a tweet here or there isn’t that annoying, but they really mount up. And when eighteen people decide they just must publish the definitive automated aggregation of links under topic , that mountain becomes something I want to climb and yell from.
More importantly, and unlike RSS, the content they deliver is completely arbitrary.
Please, if you want lazy content population so you can feel like you’ve given people something, spend at least a few minutes choosing things, maybe even editorialise a little. Just do something to spice up the vacuous fuzz that Paper.li seems condemned to be.
Basically, if you can’t use paper.li without looking spammy, intrusive, and arrogant, don’t use it at all.
Otherwise, I’m off to the ranine mortuary with a large brown envelope and a spring in my step.
Addendum: Paper.li does one thing right
Its newspaper look is not a bad layout for reading a hashtag’s search page. Which is good, since that’s basically all the value it adds.
*Either don’t do this, or find a legally rock-solid way of indemnifying me if you do.
**Don’t do this either.