How curation automation is going to disrupt content consumption

The best content curators have extensive topic knowledge and a knack for reader interests and preferences. That sounds like something only a living, breathing human can do, right? While that’s largely the case today, I believe technology will drive the biggest advancements in content curation tomorrow.

Narrative Science is a terrific example. I met Kris Hammond of Narrative Science a few years ago when he spoke at a Tools of Change conference I helped produce. If you’re not familiar with them, Narrative Science is one of those companies that develop tools to automate story writing.

You may have read a computer-generated article or two this week and never even realized it. Think you can tell the difference between human- and auto-generated content? Stick around and take the quiz at the end of this article… 

Data is at the heart of the stories generated by Narrative Science but what exactly is “data”? In the current model, data typically consists of numbers, tables and other highly structured information. For example, the narrative summary of last night’s baseball game could be auto-generated using nothing more than the game’s box score, the data from the event.

As platforms like Narrative Science’s evolve, so will the definition of data. 

Last week I wrote an article about why all-you-can-read subscriptions need curation. We’re drowning in a sea of content and we need better tools to help us uncover and consume the must-read content. There’s a big difference between what you and I consider must-read though and that’s where the curation element comes into play.

A number of industry pundits criticized my thinking and pointed out the high cost of this sort of curation. I agree. Curation today almost always requires human intervention. But what happens when that’s no longer the case?

What happens when an application is able to rewrite and summarize the sea of daily content that’s most important to you? What happens when this tool, which knows your interests, your job responsibilities, etc., is able to deliver a fully-automated Cliffs Notes version of everything you need to read that day?

I think that will be a game-changer and will become an extremely important, real world application for artificial intelligence. Will it put writers out of business? No, not necessarily. After all, most of the original content still has to be written by someone. But it will help amplify the content that needs to be read, enabling it to rise above all the noise that surrounds it. 

Still think this is nothing more than sci-fi and wishful thinking? Take this short quiz and see if you can figure out whether each of these excerpts were human-generated or computer-generated.


PopSci Genius Guide: Next Gen Magazine? Sort of.

Popsci I was all excited when I read this terrific article about Popular Science's venture into what they're calling "the next generation of digital magazines."  Then I checked out the product and was extremely disappointed.

Here are some of the article excerpts that got my attention:

And make no mistake -- this isn't your typical "interactive" digital magazine with an animation here or a video there.

PopSci has effectively demonstrated the ability to create a multilayered (emphasis mine), interactive experience for readers without overwhelming them.

Readers choose which aspects they want to activate and when.

Our goal was not to create a web site with the Genius Guide, and not to re-create Popular Science magazine with it...but to create a totally new product...that engages and enthralls the reader.

How much can I pay to get this outstanding product?  Sign me up!

OK, now take a look at the product the interview describes.  I found it to be ho-hum and pretty much what they say it's not (your typical interactive digital magazine with an animation here and a video there).  To be fair, I remember seeing a couple of animations but no videos.

I couldn't help think the PopSci Genius Guide was built by a team with a magazine mentality.  Why do they feel compelled to render the product using the virtual dimensions of a print magazine?  That results in so much wasted space, leaving my screen mostly blank when I'm flipping through it.  Why not think about the user experience and fully utilize the available surface area rather than limit yourself by forcing the product to look and feel like a print magazine on a computer screen?  Btw, if you follow this advice you wind up with something that looks more like a web page than a print magazine page, and that's OK!

Why does every "digital magazine" designer feel compelled to animate the page-turning process?!  Who cares?  That's not a critical element of the print magazine user experience that absolutely must be preserved in the digital product.

Also, while they're rethinking and better utilizing the available space on the computer screen, how about considering the small screen as well?  I'm talking specifically about the iPhone.  I looked and there's no Popular Science iPhone app.  Talk about a missed opportunity.

I recently signed up for a deeply discounted print subscription to Popular Science ($6 for 12 issues via Amazon) and I'm hooked.  If they offer me an iPhone app subscription at 99-cents/month I'll send them more money.  That's not much but it's a lot more than I'd be willing to pay for the current implementation of the PopSci Genius Guides.


"Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!", by Richard Feynman

FeynmanMy son recommended I read this one and I'm glad he did.  Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! offers a fascinating look into the life of one of the brightest minds of the past 100 years.  Richard Feynman is probably best known for his involvement in the Manhattan Project and for winning the Nobel Prize in Physics but this book is more about who he was as a person.

Unlike some dull and dreary book on the science shelf, Surely You're Joking is an extremely enjoyable read, thanks in large part to Feynman's conversational writing style.  The author's curiosity also shines through and it's easy to see why he was such a brilliant scientist; he clearly was one of those kids who spent a lot of time taking things apart and learning how they worked.

This book is a timeless adventure through the highlights of Feynman's adult life.  It's filled with stories of his time at Cornell, CalTech and of course, his work on the bomb.  Although you won't learn much about science from this book, it will definitely give you a better appreciation for the man and what made him tick.


My Favorite Book

Short_historyI read it a few years ago and it really sparked a renewed interest in science for me.  I'm talking about Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything.  What an incredible book.  It's my very favorite book of all time.  If you haven't read it yet grab a copy as soon as you can...and get another one as a gift for a friend!

Speaking of which, oldest and best friend from my younger days in Pittsburgh recently told me he just read Bryson's latest hit, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid and loved every bit of it.  I just got my copy and can't wait to dig into it.

So what's your favorite book?  What's the one book you'd wish for if you were stranded on a desert island?  Bryson's is my choice.


Gotta Love the New TED Website!

Ted2If you haven't been over to the relaunched TED website this week you owe it to yourself to stop by.  I love the redesign and how it enables you to drill down into the areas you're most interested in.  At the same time it also encourages even more exploration and makes things more discoverable than ever before.  Well done!

TED fans will also want to read this NY Times article featuring June Cohen, director of TED Media.


TED Talks

TedLooking for some inspiration?  Want to hear some of the brightest people around talk about what they're most passionate about?  If so, you need to check out the TED Talks.

TED, which stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design, is an annual conference featuring the best and brightest speakers on the planet.  I just finished watching this session with Malcolm Gladwell.

Fortunately for those of us who can't attend the conference, the kind folks at TED offer freely accessible audio and video archives of every speaker.  Isn't that the way every conference should be, btw?!  I've often wondered why more conferences don't do this sort of thing.  Yeah, I know...they're afraid it will affect the in-person attendance rates, and those fees are where the hosts really make their money.  Maybe they ought to consider more sponsorships to help fund the operation.  TED obviously benefits from both in-person attendees and loads of virtual attendees after the show.

You say you don't have the time to sit around watching this sort of thing?  Then do what my friend Bryan Gray (CEO of MediaSauce) did: Download the audio versions, put them on a CD and listen to them on your way to/from the office.  Do it.  You won't regret it.


The Science of God

Regardless of your beliefs, you owe it yourself to read Gerald Schroeder’s The Science of God. My son (the science buff) recommended it to me, saying it’s one of his favorite books; in fact, the copy I just finished reading was a gift he gave me a few months ago. I was intrigued to see how Schroeder went about tying the Bible to science.

I wasn’t disappointed. You often hear about how science has exposed flaws in many of the stories that appear in the Bible. Schroeder goes into detail to show how many of these events can actually be explained with science. For example, he uses Einstein’s theory of relativity to support the creation of and age of the universe. Those two chapters alone were worth the price of this one.

Although this book may not cause you to change your beliefs, it will undoubtedly get you thinking differently about creationism, the origins of life, evolution, free will and much more.


The Case for a Creator, by Lee Strobel

I finally finished reading The Case for a Creator. It took me much longer than I originally thought, mostly because I got halfway through it, let it sit for awhile, then picked it back up again a couple of weeks ago. I also found that the first third and the last third of the book were the most interesting. It took me a lot longer to work through the middle third of the book.

Don’t let my slow reading mislead you… This is a great book. Regardless of your beliefs, you owe it to yourself to read this one. Through the use of “expert witness” interviews, a model that Strobel uses in other books, I learned quite a bit along the way.