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There is no longer any doubt about the awesome impact that Twitter is having on the media landscape. Every day, the micro-blogging phenomenon cements its place at the center of news gathering, social networking and information dissemination. But while its basic functionality has been widely accepted, the delivery mechanisms employed are being challenged on various fronts, most notably by the Flipboard app on the iPad, and now by paper.li.
What paper.li does is organise links shared on Twitter by your social network into an easy to read newspaper-style format for readers to consume. Developed by a Swiss startup called Small Rivers and situated on the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology EPFL campus, the company is “focused on facilitating the discovery of relevant content and other people of interest on the web”. It neatly takes the links that your network has shared, including photos, videos and text, and presents them in the format of a traditional newspaper, complete with bold headlines and different sections for Sports, Business, Arts and Entertainment and Education, amongst others.
Paper.li describes itself in the following way: “Any Twitter user is thus a kind of editor-in-chief, with the people they follow being trusted journalists. The sum of what is shared by them is thus a unique perspective of what is deemed of interest on the web on any given day. A bit like a newspaper.”
One of the glaring weaknesses of paper.li is that it only updates your paper every 24 hours. In theory this sounds reasonable, but at the hyper-speed of Twitter, the news gets old really quickly, and one experiences a sense of disappoint at checking in on one’s paper only to find that it still shows the same content. This is definitely an issue that should be looked at if paper.li is to flourish.
There are three different types of newspapers that you can create, each of which will aggregate and present different information.
- From a Twitter user + those being followed
- From a Twitter hashtag
- From a Twitter list
Once inside the newspaper, the content is simply and manageably laid out, and while it is not yet perfectly customisable and feels slightly dry, you are able to interact with it in much the same way as on other Twitter clients. For example, if you hover over the author of a story, then you are able to access all the usual associated Twitter functionality, such as “reply”, “retweet”, “unfollow” etc.
Another interesting feature of paper.li is that users are able to read the newspapers that other users have created and made available. Simply select one of the many categories listed on the homepage, and then choose from the many ‘papers’ created around that idea. Influential entrepreneur Ross Dawson wrote that “One of the ways that paper.li has gained traction over the last weeks is by identifying the main contributors to the curation of each edition, and tweeting their names along with the link to the personal newspage. This consistently exposes the more influential people on Twitter to paper.li.”
Techcrunch reports that “SmallRivers is now gearing up to launch Paper.li in beta, and says it has already attracted a lot of attention from established social and traditional media companies for partnerships. The startup is currently working on adding more functionalities to the service and adding support for a bunch more languages”.
Paper.li is a strong, innovative concept and is likely to win its share of devoted fans. But it is still a rather clumsy product and doesn’t hold a torch to the elegance and delight that comes from discovering Flipboard. It’s certainly worth keeping an eye on, as the company’s blog indicates it is working furiously to improve on a promising product.