The flood of information available online long ago surpassed what the human mind is capable of taking in. In fact, it would take several lifetimes just to read the URLs of the over 650 million websites currently available. And over a third of these sites are updated on a regular basis, some many times per day.
The argument for content curation is no longer an argument. Curation is the only means by which anyone can really make sense of the flood.
But there are a lot of different forms of large-scale curation, from the purely automated aggregation of RSS feeds to hand-selected, best-of-the-best link lists. Not to mention the smaller-scale curation going on all over the social web by individuals sharing interesting and valuable links with their personal and professional communities.
To begin making sense of this range of approaches to curation, we’re going to take a look at six different large and successful websites currently using one or more forms of content curation.
For today’s post, we’re going to examine two successful curation sites that focus on technology: Techmeme and DaringFireball. Each site handles content curation (and creation) in very different ways and begins to reveal the range of possibilities in handling curation.
Interestingly, Techmeme began as a strictly automated technology news aggregator, but later added a human editorial layer. Here’s how they describe their curation strategy on their About page:
In 2012, knowing what’s changing in technology is required to understand the cultural currents and business events reshaping the world. If you’ve been watching the tech industry evolve, it won’t surprise you that social networks enable political revolutions, brand new companies can acquire millions of customers in months, or the world’s most valuable company built that wealth on products that didn’t exist five years ago.
Techmeme is the foremost source for tracking these changes. By presenting a summary of the day’s essential reports and analysis on a single page, Techmeme has become the technology news site of record for people both within and beyond the industry.
Techmeme accomplishes this the only way possible: by linking to stories from all around the web. Spotlighting the writings of reporters, commentators, and industry players from across the media and industry landscape provides the only effective means of offering a comprehensive view. And by doing this well, we spare readers the impossible task of monitoring an abundance of news sites, tweets, and status updates.
Techmeme was founded in 2005 by Gabe Rivera as an automated news curation service, like Google News, but focused on the leading edge of technology. Starting in 2008, we introduced human editors to complete the editorial process, and have now assembled the team presented on the right. Our experience leads us to believe that a thoughtful combination of both algorithmic and human editing offers the best means for curating in a space as broad as technology. Today, Techmeme remains independent, bootstrapped, and privately held, a point of differentiation in an increasingly complicated tech media landscape.
Techmeme focuses on pulling together top stories, with the human editorial viewpoint necessary to weed out the junk and the redundancies. They’re also well aware of the fact that different readers choose to consume content in different ways. The clean and uncomplicated home page provides a constantly updated list of top stories, which I’m guessing (don’t quote me on this) is populated, in part, by applying a click-through rate algorithm to the list of the “newest” stories that appears on the far right. Also, in the middle, is a list of sponsored stories supplied by paid sponsors.
As an alternative to the home page, they also provide a page called The River, where readers can consume new stories as they arrive and look back chronologically over previous stories from the previous few days.
And, in a unique and powerful form of additional attribution, Techmeme also provides the Leaderboard, a linked list of sources ranked by how frequently their stories have appeared on Techmeme over the previous 30 days. Since the human editorial input ensures that quantity of posts will not guarantee a top ranking, this list provides awesome social proof for the sources that consistently provide the highest quality content.
In a recent interview with TheVerge.com, Techmeme’s founder, Gabe Rivera, was asked if he ever considered adding original content to the mix. He had an interesting take on the creation/curation question that many content marketers are struggling with right now:
We think of almost everything, so yeah, the idea of producing original content has flashed through my brain for a few seconds before I tossed it. Producing original content would be too much of a distraction for us, complicate our product, and could sour our relationship with the publishers we quote and link to… Is news curation more important than creation/reporting? Well, you can’t have curation without production in the first place, so I’m gonna go with “no”. But I’ll add that all “original” content producers are doing curation and even aggregation themselves at some level.
While Rivera humbly denies Techmeme is “the new Digg” for technology publishers, there’s no denying the powerful role Techmeme currently plays in the tech sector.
Also in the technology space, but focused to a large extent on Apple and Apple-based products and apps, DaringFireball applies a very different approach to curation.
The blog has the stripped-down feel of a Tumblr blog, focusing attention strictly on the content. With an Alexa rank of 12,926, founder and only blogger John Gruber has accomplished something amazing as a one-man-show: Estimated feed subscribers of over 400,000 and estimated monthly page views of over 4 million!
Although Gruber’s technical background allows him to dive pretty deep into the tech subjects with authority, the real key to his popularity is that he fully understands his audience. As noted on his sponsorship page, where sponsors can sign up to have their ad displayed for a full week in DaringFireball’s RSS feed, Gruber lets them know who they’re going to reach:
Daring Fireball’s audience of Mac nerds, designers, nitpickers, perfectionists, and connoisseurs of fine sarcasm.
Gruber scours the net and locates breaking news, interesting tidbits, infuriating exposes, and hilarious screw-ups and adds a sentence or two of sharp-witted commentary to every one. DaringFireball readers know they’re getting one man’s well-read and well-thought-out view of news that’s important to him. And since John Gruber IS the average DaringFireball reader, this news is important to THEM too.
In addition, Gruber will occasionally run an original piece like this recent response to the upcoming schedule for the WWDC 2012 Conference. His in-depth, knowledgeable view on the subject is just as apparent in this format as in his curated posts. Interestingly, although this isn’t set in stone, he seems to generally curate between 8 and 12 posts in a day but leaves one original post alone on the day it’s posted, perhaps to draw reader attention to it more effectively.
His approach has certainly worked as is evidenced by the readership numbers, and the fact that he is able to offer a paid membership that amounts to readers voluntarily paying for something they can get for free. Here’s how the paid membership is described on the DaringFireball website:
It is essential to note that Daring Fireball is and will remain a free web site. New articles and the complete archive are available to all, free of charge. This is a good thing. However, paying supporters do get access to a few members-only perquisites, including separate full-content RSS feeds for articles and the Linked List (my daily list of links and blurbs related to Mac, web, and design nerdery).
While no one would make the mistake of considering DaringFireball to be “the next Digg,” it’s operating in a completely different space from Techmeme and other larger-scale content curators. Instead of hoping to be all things to a segment of the population, Gruber is simply being himself, which turns out to be incredibly appealing to a large audience of readers.
These two sites, Techmeme and DaringFireball, have gained a tremendous following from a devoted audience, while applying content curation (and creation) in fundamentally different ways. Techmeme focuses purely on curating stories and sources, including Tweets. Meanwhile, DaringFireball combines the curation of stories and quotes with insightful original commentary and the occasional full-length, original blog post. Both approaches are equally valid and provide significant, but different types of value to their audiences of technology enthusiasts.
Stay tuned for our next post in this series, where we cover two political and news focused curation sites: The Huffington Post and The Drudge Report.
This is a guest post by Justin P Lambert. Justin is a content marketing specialist and freelance copywriter. He is also a ghostwriter, speech writer and consultant.