Flip Back to the Future

By Tyler Singletary, BBI Board Member and VP & GM Klout and Consumer Data, Lithium (@harmophone, Klout, Lithium

Flipboard was the first killer app for the iPad — a beautiful new way to read content from across the web, without worrying about RSS feeds. It was an early innovator at leveraging social networks for personalization. And it just might be the canary in the coal mine in a number of ways.

While Facebook gets mired in a debate around its use of human curators, and again deeper in its use of algorithmic curation, Flipboard had already gotten us familiar with both — and without the backlash. It’s been awhile since one finds a completely irrelevant article, and it’s learned what sources you read, the topics you’re interested in, the amount of time you’re reading — nearly everything that optimizes a discovery and personalization system.

Flipboard’s native National Geographic experience, putting up the wall one brick at a time.

To accomplish this, we were lead through the gates of their walled garden. Don’t be afraid, they’re pretty good gardeners. Early Flipboard users remember a time when a decent amount of content wouldn’t render well. Limitations with the IOS browser, content crawling and classification, and inherent hardware problems presented some downright ugly content and application crashes. To drive a more consistent user experience, Flipboard introduced a few features that sound familiar in today’s world of OpenGraph tags, Instant Articles, Twitter Cards, and Pinterest optimization: custom Flipboard CSS tags and a content partnering platform with select publishers — to beautify and provide a native experience to users. Flipboard became a platform. It also gave them their first ad monetization opportunities.

Walled gardens aren’t usually made with bad intentions. Most people are just happy to see the foliage. It tends to rankle the open web purists though, and certainly gives engineers a lot more to consider. What if web standards are behind? What if users don’t actually care about a standards-compliant, utopian free web, and just want to see their content? Then there are the paywalled gardens, like the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. While germinated from a more protectionist point of view, they’re fighting for survival. Users don’t want to see ads, but they want content for free. Open Web enthusiasts seem happy with simple RSS readers and ignore the window dressing that content creators have the right to be viewed. Flipboard remains one of the only platforms purely dedicated to aggregated content discovery and consumption, with Apple News taking their playbook since IOS9. In this game, the platform with the most eyeballs and the best relationships with publishers will win.

And this is where Flipboard may be an early warning system. We’ve seen a number of other “newsreader” tools fall by the wayside and be shut down, already. If Flipboard loses this battle, it isn’t because of their approach to personalization — it worked, and social data had one of its first proof of concepts (and corrections: Flipboard was smart enough to ask its users about their interests, too). It isn’t because of their deals with publishers — that was survival, good business sense, and a model Facebook and Apple adopted. But its peer-to-peer social features and curated magazines, perhaps its only unique features against Apple (with Nuzzelon its heels), aren’t essential to the experience. Apple has won these arms wars in the past through shrewd licensing. Ironically, Open Web concepts may be the saving grace that keeps Flipboard in the game.

Facebook is betting users will only care about the news as a passing interest amongst their friends, with Twitter focused on breaking the news, not just sharing it. LinkedIn thinks it’s part of an authored thought leadership forum. Apple will integrate it tighter with iMessage, but gave us the “just the facts, ma’m” version. If anyone dies in this mine, it’s not because there’s gas poisoning, it’s because there just isn’t enough clean air to breath. The users will read pretty, relevant content wherever and however it appears. The more seamless, the better.

How Digital Curation Enhances the Value of Social Data

By Leigh Fatzinger, CEO, Turbine Labs (@lfatzinger, @turbinelabs)

Over the last 10 years, the social data market sector has enabled a multitude of ways to understand how audiences interact with brands, organizations, political candidates, governments, and more.  Social data platforms have expanded in functionality and complexity through investment and industry consolidation, while simultaneously adjusting to new and evolving data sources. In the case of Facebook and Twitter, the availability or restricted use of existing data sources has required platforms to divert from their original product roadmaps. Even with the changing data access landscape, social data platforms have access to a staggering amount of consumer and media content – data that needs to be collected, filtered, and processed into a usable format.

From an innovation perspective, and as a response to the amount of data available, much attention has been paid to enhancing and simplifying the user experience of these platforms with the goal of attracting and maintaining the widest possible audience of analysts, researchers, brand managers, subject matter experts, and others.

Attention has also been given to automating, as much as possible, the results delivered by these platforms once configured for an entity or use case. Fulfilling the ‘ease of use’ benefit that many platforms tout as differentiators, users have come to expect that producing and consuming useful insights should require no more than one or two clicks of a mouse.

At the same time, users of social data platforms continue to face headwinds when it comes to answering key value-oriented questions: What should we be measuring? What are the right KPIs? What is the expected outcome of the data we collect? Do reports generated by our chosen platform align to business goals? Are these insights actionable?

Access to massive amounts of data, the pressure users have placed on platform developers to simplify user experience, the expectation of automation, as well as the near real-time need for actionable intelligence, is driving the market to an inflection point – an inflection point that will change how these platforms are used to justify their investment.

Today, new questions are emerging that focus more on topical context and relevancy rather than vanity metrics such as audience growth and engagement rates. Yes, users of these platforms continue to measure, with good reason, how many shares and retweets their owned content generates. They continue to count earned media placements. They continue to plan and generate content with an expectation of virality.

But increasingly, brands, organizations, and governments are realizing that the definition of insights is achieved through a granular, contextual understanding of how audiences respond to a campaign or topic. Users need to be able to quickly and efficiently digitally curate massive amounts of data in a very short time to be able to extract truly relevant and actionable insights from the data.

Digital curation begins by configuring and tuning social data platforms to listen not only for a brand, organization, candidate, etc., but to categorize media and consumer conversations on a campaign-by-campaign or topic-by-topic basis. The output of these categorizations enables an analyst or researcher to make a baseline comparison against the total conversation as well as understand the overall sentiment of the topic.

The real value of digital curation comes from leveraging software to enable humans to quickly analyze and process a subset of the categorized data to determine the tone, narrative, and impact of the campaign or topic as a whole. The software offers access to the data, while humans extract unique, contextual elements of the data to make it useful and actionable. Through digital curation, the reporting of insights becomes more than just raw performance numbers on a campaign or topic. Results can be presented in a more persuasive way by presenting stakeholders with what consumers, media, and competitors are actually saying within the context of a topic – similar to a comment card.

By integrating digital curation tools and processes into today’s highly advanced social data platforms, users can more quickly define what should be measured and what should be ignored. They can settle in on a concise, realistic set of KPIs. They can align social data more succinctly to business goals. And, most importantly, they can justify the investment in social data by finding unique ‘needles in the haystack’ that often cannot be found via any other type of business intelligence or research platforms.