Media companies across the board are trying to make sense of the swirling stream of information on the web by consolidating, curating and explaining.
And we’ve had the “explanatory journalism” sites attempting to shave down the mountain of extraneous information to present you only with “the facts you need to know”.
Now, with the FT’s Antenna and Atlantic Media’s This. we’ve got the emergence of another approach which aims to refine the barrage of messages on social media into something more digestible by emphasising importance over immediacy. In its emphasis on curation it’s very new media, but it’s also reminiscent of the role media has traditionally played filtering out the noise.
The Financial Times set up FT Antenna last week as an aggregator that pulls together the most important information from Twitter that FT readers may be interested in.
As head of new projects at FT.com, Lisa Pollack, told Journalism.co.uk:
“The fire hose of stories that are published on the web every day is difficult to keep up with. Even if check a variety of sites as well as your Twitter feed, there can still be a lingering feeling of having missed out on something.”
An algorithm underpins FT Antenna, with a “double whitelist” ensuring that in order for a tweet to be published it must come from a trusted source and link out to a trusted website.
The service is partly for those who might be a little wary or unfamiliar with social media, but will inevitably also be useful for those FT readers who are confident using social media but may just not have the time to monitor it constantly.
Atlantic Media’s in-house “entrepreneur” Andrew Golis told the world what he’s been up to since last year, revealing the somewhat-awkwardly-named “This.”.
This. is an attempt to remove the enormous volume of information most people currently receive on sites like Twitter, and instead will only let users share one link a day, with the emphasis being that “If you must only read one thing today, read THIS.”
As Golis told Digiday.com:
“We love content recommendations from people we trust, but we can’t keep up, we feel constantly distracted, and are increasingly aware of how narrow “nowness” is a primary definition of value.”
Flipping the mechanics
The internet is a busy place. The “stream” is arguably the biggest shake-up to the information structure of the web since Google revolutionised search. It replaces point-to-point browsing with real-time streams of information based on a fundamental hierarchy of time – newer information comes in at the top and pushes older information down.
Twitter is a perfect example of this, but so many other companies have already embraced the concept – Facebook, Tweetdeck, chat apps, and even news websites featuring infinite scroll – Quartz, LA Times, and Ampp3d to name but a few.
With these streams of information has come a gradual build up of separation anxiety when we’re not positioned in the middle of the torrent, trying to drink up as much of the stream as possible, and a feeling for many that there’s simply too much information to absorb in the first place.
But in attempting to tame the firehose of information the web pumps out, both of these services display an interesting reversal in attitudes to social media.
Publishers have spent the last few years desperately trying to adapt to the social media focused habits of younger generations. But here we have two venerable publishers – with a combined age of 283 years – trying to make social media more palatable to those who have never been fully immersed in the flow. They are introducing one of the biggest threats to their existence to a wider audience.
That suggests not only an acceptance that this new structure of information delivery created by social media is becoming the norm, but also a hope that publishers can play a role in helping those who haven’t taken the plunge to do a little more than just dip their toes into the stream.