If there was a time-lapse video chronicling how humans have shared and received news information throughout history, the transcript of that video would go something like this: Chest-thumping. Hand gestures. Screaming. Cave paintings. Language. Carrier pigeons, or personal messengers. Scrolls and the printing press. Pamphlets, periodicals, telegrams, and newspapers. Eventually, television, and the Web, most recently fueled by blogs and social networks. Status updates, tweets, Instagrams. Whatever the time period, humans have constantly (re)invented new mediums and channels to get information (despite paywalls), some faster than others.
Fast-forward today, with social firmly stitched into the web’s fabric, it’s cliche to point out there are a dizzying amount of information sources and channels from which to find this information. Stepping back from firehose, I see people receiving and consuming news through the following three main avenues listed below. (As a disclaimer, (1) I won’t be able to list each and every service in each category, because that would be impossible; (2) some of the examples are influenced by multiple categories, but I’m trying to isolate and highlight the essence of each service’s offering; and (3) I realize many, many people still get their information via traditional channels like network/cable television, radio, and print daily newspapers and their online extensions.)
- One, information filtered through a network graph. Receiving and sharing information through a network acts as a filtration system to help readers find signal based on their personal or professional relationships, or based on their interests. On social, the Facebook newsfeed provides a clear signal for hundreds of millions of people, while LinkedIn’s feed acts this way in more of a business setting. A newer, smaller service Newsle puts an interesting twist on news alerts by triggering them based on who your friends or colleagues are. On the interest graph, Twitter dominates (of course), with networks like Tumblr, Quora, and services like Google Alerts help millions discover and surface content and information. And, there are “community-based graphs” such as Upworthy, Reddit, and Hacker News, where engaged communities of users find, post, and surface information.
- Two, information generated through focused content verticals. Vertical sites focus direct audience traffic around specific interests to provide signal. Here, we have content verticals around the big traditional topics like entertainment and celebrity, politics (Politico), sports (Deadspin) , and so on (like TechCrunch, even). The motivation is focus audience through verticalization is a logical path for sites to sell ads against and serves as a primary destination for many readers. Improving on the model pioneered by Huffington Post, properties like BuzzFeed and the RealClear network for politics, sports, and markets.
- Three, information is filtered through various methods of aggregation. Broadly, aggregation takes three forms: design, summarization, or personalization. Products like StumbleUpon, Flipboard, and Feedly, for instance, are examples of new designs that attract readers through a pleasurable way to receive information. Services and apps also promise signal by boiling the news so the best information rises to the top, either distilled by humans (in the case of Circa), by technology (in the case of Summly), or a mix of both (as in the case of Techmeme). And, taking Google News steps further, services like Prismatic create personalization algorithms to match relevant content with readers, while services like RebelMouse aggregate an individual’s activity across disparate services under one roof. And for people like me who want to take personalization one step further, they can explicitly fill their Pocket, Instapaper, or Readability feeds with information to read, finally, after passing through every filtration system possible.
This is a lot of information about information, and fascinating to see how new mobile platforms, new technologies, and new communities and network graphs power the creation and advancement of these new channels. Gone are the days when everyone reads The New York Times, USA Today, and watches the nightly news on television. That much is obvious, and has been exacerbated over the past few years, though in 2012, with all of these new services recently launching, it seems to have been kicked into another gear, where the same kernel of information passes through what seems like an infinite maze to reach us in different forms.
Maybe I’m an outlier as a consumer in this space. As the number of channels increase, Twitter becomes exponentially more critical to me, both as a lens into the world and a strong meta-filter for what I allow to creep into my limited attention. I view the web through Twitter on every device and I subscribe to the summary email newsletters from each of the few main information services I use. I also file things into Pocket to read later or flip through Flipboard or Prismatic if I feel overwhelmed by my reading list, and that’s about it.
But, that’s only me. For many others, especially given the scale of mobile, a host of other services are robust enough to act as “go-to” destinations and entirely “new” news brands. No matter which way you prefer to get your news, there’s a service or app that will likely fill your needs and delivered information filtered to you by a host of signals and variables. It’s all the news that’s not only fit to print, but at this specific moment in time, also fit to reinvent, though the eternal challenge of focusing on what’s most important — in a day when it’s easy for everyone to create content — may remain as elusive as ever.
Photo Credit: miggslives / Flickr Creative Commons