curating, not moderating, the flow of content and participation

[I originally posted this on the Headshift Blog last week where it got a lot of attention and some useful comments. It was also re-blogged on Social Media Today where it has now been read nearly 2500 times.]
User generated content is, for many media companies and other organisations, more of a problem than a solution. Vague calls to action lead to waves of irrelevant content submitted by audiences who have taken time, effort, and in some instances spent money to do so – only for that content to, in most instances, be ignored. Online communities require moderation to keep discussions on the right side of the law. Breaking stories of importance, or topics that capture the imagination, lead to floods of content that quickly overwhelm processes and technical platforms.

In all these situations, which will be familiar to anyone who has ever worked at the social media collision point between audiences and organisations, very little of value is extracted from what can be a costly exercise, primarily because most “social platforms” have been built to pull in audiences and allow moderators to police user activity.

Whilst there is still a place for such propositions, particularly where calls to action can be closely aligned to the editorial or other content that is of value to the owners of that proposition, in many instances it makes sense to move away from moderation towards curation.

A simple enough idea, in practice curation of external and social content has been relatively difficult for media brands and other organisations to put themselves at the centre of the flow of information and content around them. That, at least, was my experience at the BBC where, for more than seven years, I (and others) tried to come up with a solution to this problem, culminating in the well received but ultimately unsustainable, at least within the (non)budgetary confines in which it existed, BBC Manchester Blog.

A few months ago, one of our technology partners, eVectors, introduced me to a tool they’d created which, with the right editorial strategy wrapped around it, can make the job of finding, curating, editorialising and socialising content far more efficient – and interesting – than I’ve seen before.

So, with our friends Paolo and Cristian at eVectors, Nick, myself and several others here at Headshift created a demonstration which we call ClimatePulse. As we say on the site:

“Climate Pulse tracks a wide range of source for information, comment
and content about the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference (COP15).
It’s different from mere aggregation services because there is an editorial layer and a social layer.
The editorial layer allows curators to highlight specific pieces of content. The Social layer
gets users involved in tagging and categorising content. In the near
future, you’ll even be able to take away a widget containing the flow
from Climate Pulse – a widget that lets your friends, contacts or
audience to not only consume but to contribute their own content, straight from your site, back into that flow.”

In plain English, Climate Pulse basically monitors and aggregates blog posts, news websites, twitter tweets and a wide range of other sources we’ve configured in the backend. An editor can then curate this content and display it as they wish – for example letting the flow appear as a raw feed, tagging or geo-tagging content, featuring the best stuff, etc. Here’s a diagramme showing the flow of content into the system, the editorial and tagging layer, and the social layer:



For the social layer, in this instance we’ve asked users to declare an interest based upon work based affiliation – energy business, business, government, environmental NGO or journalist. As can be seen in the screenshot below, users then determine whether pieces of content describe a problem or a solution, and add free tags to describe, in their own language, why:


All content is tagged, either by the original author, the editor, users, or by the system scraping the content for key words. When visitors click on a tag, say “nuclear energy”, they get a graph showing how each of the five categories of users voted. Using this example, it’s likely that government and energy business will see nuclear energy as a solution and, because of they’ve tagged the content, we can see that they feel it’s clean, brings jobs, is future proof, etc. Environmentalists, however, area likely to see nuclear energy as a problem because, again based on likely tags, disposal of spent fuel, mining, accidents, etc. Here’s a few possible use cases:

  • If the UN, which is organising the Copenhagen Climate conference, or an environmental NGO was using Climate Pulse, they’d be able to see, at a glance, what issues people agree upon and why, and could push delegates to spend time negotiating on topics where it’s necessary to do so.

  • Businesses wanting to send the message, “we know you care about this issue, we’re doing what we can understand your views, and we want to be part of the solution” could use a proposition like this to do exactly that.

  • A media organisation, wanting to provide coverage and analysis of a range of viewpoints, based upon content from a wide range of sources, could use a tool like this to create a compelling editorial proposition that feeds content to journalists.

One last feature, which would help exposure to the proposition spread virally, is that we can easily build widgets of the flow from the page, and enable site owners interested in a particular issue, for example deforestation, to create a widget that displays, on their own site, that content. Social features could then be made available, meaning that the audience on third party sites could participate on the sites they choose to visit, rather than visiting Climate Pulse itself, and that participation, likely to be ranking, voting or comments, could feed back into the general flow to be highlighted and editorialised by the site curator.

It’s been, and I hope will continue to be, an interesting example of how Headshift, working with technology partners, can help implement exciting and useful propositions that extract real value from audience participation, wherever that participation takes place. It is, to me, a giant leap in the direction of resolving the issue many have grappled with in the past, which is how to find and reflect the content and opinions of a wide range of participants, without being overwhelmed, as is so often the case, by the flood of content and rising moderation costs.

The model here is a nice example of the social business archetypes that my colleague Lee Bryant described in this earlier post and it’s easy to see how we could use the ideas here not just for climate change but any topic or event, such as an election, a popular television programme, a brand, or the research or strategic work being done by an organisation.

You can see the alpha release of Climate Pulse at