The idea of curation has long been associated with cataloguing collections in libraries and museums. More recently, it also refers to the person who is responsible for picking the artists to perform at a music festival.
In the context of social media, a new concept of the role of the curator is developing. This curator aims to filter the deluge of social media content washing over us every day to edit this and provide context for the interested public.
On average there are 140 million tweets a day and 35 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute. With this swell of information, how does a curator sift through it and catalogue what is valuable, accurate and newsworthy? How is this then built into a digestible story?
These questions led to the creation of Storyful, a website founded by journalists that is dedicated to the curation of the real-time web.
Storyful founder, Mark Little, a journalist with 20 years experience, explains where the idea came from, “My passion has always been foreign reporting and I did a huge amount of it in the nineties. News organisations were spending less money on this and it was becoming far more difficult to get to go to places where there was interesting stories.
“I saw the rise in social media as an opportunity. My role was not necessarily always to travel but was also to find out if we could find the sources that were reputable within this mass, big conversation. It just became so much more important after the Iranian protests in 2009. The big problem was there was no filter.
“The beginning of last year when I set Storyful up, I really had no idea except a hunch how we might do it. Gradually I just met people who shared the same vision.”
“What we do is we work very much to begin with around lists. We believe that every news event creates a community.” Storyful then watches this news community and it effectively becomes a newswire for a particular story.
This creates the content for a story which is then translated into news with added context, insight and information from the Storyful curators who are located in countries including Ireland, China and America. The stories feature a mixture of tweets, maps, video and context drawn together by the curators to promote the depth of understanding around an unfolding news story.
“The business is orientated around a private Twitter account called Storyful Pro. Storyful Pro is effectively a newswire.
“What we are is the first news agency designed for the social media age. We built a set of tools and workflows and our clients pay a subscription to get all the material that we find.”
Relying on sources from social media for both the public and private element of Storyful raises questions of reliability. A recent story published on Storyful profiled a man claiming to be dying of cancer who used Reddit to speak of his last hours and answer questions on his illness. Later it emerged that the entire story may have been a hoax.
Does this worry Mark? “Yes, absolutely, but the great thing about it [the Reddit story] was it was Twitter that exposed it. So, from our point of view, in that kind of story what we’re interested in is the way the community itself does the verification. And that’s the next step for us. We can’t just be eight people or twelve people, or whatever we end up being, doing this ourselves. We have to get the community.”
To encourage the wider community to engage with the curation of news, Storyful has just launched a public curation tool.
This curation tool is a customised app that allows the public to curate the news and insert tweets, video and other content. A story can also include paragraphs of text of up to 500 characters. The subject matter can be as diverse as the conflict in Bahrain to star trails.
Mark hopes that this will encourage thousands of people to become involved with the curation of the news.
“Something like this becomes very much more interactive and social. We’d love people to join with us. If they’ve got problems with the way we do things come and join us. Tell us. We’re wide open to people coming in to help. If they’ve got a specialist interest or they have a particular way they want to do it then they can do it themselves, we’ll give them that capacity. That’s the whole point.
“What we eventually hope to be is effectively like the public utility within social media that anybody who is of that 1% who does the important things – tells stories of universal value – they can congregate around our site and around our services.”
The gauntlet has been thrown down to social media users everywhere with an interest in curating stories to engage with news and a news community through Storyful.