When it comes to news, many Twitter users say they rely on the social network and the community of people they follow— rather than a big news organization—for links to important or interesting news stories. A Swiss startup called Small Rivers has taken that idea and turned it into a service called Paper.li, which gathers links that your network has shared and turns them into a kind of social newspaper, complete with different sections for different topics.Is Paper.li the future of news? Perhaps not, but it fills a niche in the social ecosystem of news—and it's interesting enough that the company was just funded by Kima Ventures, whose co-founder recently acquired the legendary French newspaper Le Monde.
Paper.li takes your Twitter stream and extracts links to any news stories, photos, videos, and so forth, which it then analyzes, using what the company calls "semantic text analysis tools," to determine whether or not the stories are relevant. The site then displays the links and related content in sections based on the context of the link. The service also creates themed pages based on specific topics using hashtags, such as #privacy or #climate, in much the same way that newspapers create special sections around an event or topic. Paper.li also automatically creates topical sections such as technology, arts & entertainment, photos, politics, and business. If you hover over the source of each link or photo, you can reply, retweet, follow or unfollow, and favorite that user. Users can also now create papers using a Twitter list. Embedded in a sidebar on each user's customized paper is their Twitter stream.
The Paper.li site describes itself explicitly as a kind of newspaper:
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.
important news "will find me"
I've started using Paper.li pretty regularly since I discovered it, and I find it's a great way to catch up on interesting links my network has found—especially if I have been away from Twitter during the day and am wondering what I have missed. It would be nice to have better customization options when it comes to what sections the links are placed in, or how they are ordered on the page. Even without that, the service is a useful tool that has already partially replaced my RSS reader.
Paper.li is unlikely to completely replace newspapers, especially because at least some links shared on Twitter refer to them. There's no question that such a service fills a niche in our changing online media-consumption habits. In 2008 a college student taking part in a focus group uttered a phrase that has since become famous—or infamous: "If the news is that important, it will find me," he said. What he meant was that he relied on his network or community to find important news or links and share them with him, something that more and more Internet users seem to be doing. Paper.li makes this easier to accomplish.
Paper.li isn't the only one doing this: A similar service called TwitterTim.es also aggregates links from your stream and shows them to you. It isn't explicitly laid out like a newspaper, nor is it organized in sections based on topics or themes. Apart from a section at the top called "What's Hot" and one called "Top News History," the site simply presents a long stream of links from people you follow. TwitterTim.es does update itself regularly, whereas Paper.li is updates only once every 24 hours, like a traditional newspaper.
Small Rivers, which also got some funding from a German group called Econa as part of its recent round of financing, says that it has been "approached by several traditional media companies that want to integrate the Paper.li experience into their own news sites."
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