If you’re a Twitter user, perhaps you’ve already heard of paper.li. If not, I recommend checking it out and creating your own custom “newspaper” based on links shared by your Twitter network. The tool suggests that while the traditional role of journalists as sole curators of news information might no longer be valid, the newspaper as a format can still be quite compelling (not to mention the business model of advertising-funded content aggregation).
The debate about newspapers versus social media (blogs, Twitter, Digg, Reddit, etc.) has predominantly been a debate about which information filter is better—an editorial filter based on a journalistic bias, or a network filter based on the wisdom of crowds. The former assumes an executive editor supported by a system of reporters, news wires, and section editors will make informed decisions, the later assumes the crowd is wise. Shifts in online traffic (see Alexa chart below) seem to indicate that public appetite is for the wisdom of crowds, although I personally believe both methods have proven successful in their ability to separate signal from noise. The combination of the two approaches in initiatives like paper.li, The Huffington Post, and Spot.us, are intriguing and likely point the way to a sustainable news model for the future.
Perhaps even the physical newspaper as a medium might persevere using some combination of a customizable production technology like The Espresso Book Machine and a news aggregator like Digg. Espresso is a point-of-sale book-printer that can print content on-demand at the rate of 100 pages per minute. This isn’t just a photocopier on steroids; it could be a disruptive technology. Large book retailers wouldn’t likely see a big impact from Espresso as they already stock most books typically sought by customers, but discount channels like Wal-Mart, Target, and Costco, as well as small mom and pop shops—where choice is typically limited to a few dozen titles—could benefit greatly from the ability to turn virtual book warehouses into physical products for their customers, on-demand.
Marry Espresso with a ‘wisdom of crowds’ content promotion system and an entirely new business model for the publishing industry could appear overnight. Under this scenario, newspapers could become dynamic, living documents that are printed on-demand and personalized to users’ preferences. Each subscriber would have a paper printed just for them, complete with emphasis on the stories that interest them and the events that impact their lives—a big change from the one-size-fits-all newsprint model of today.