Why we created Paper.li
Clay Shirky: “It’s not information overload. It’s filter failure”.
On the web, the amount of content vying for our attention is exploding. Some kind of content curation is thus needed, now more than ever. Such function has typically been provided by the editors of our daily newspapers or magazines. The last couple of years, however, has seen a shift in how we find & consume news. According to a recent Pew Internet study, 75% of news consumed online is through shared news from social networking sites or e-mail. The social network of a reader is becoming their personalized news wire.
Twitter has become a choice platform on which to share content socially. In fact, the service has so successfully simplified this act, that users are still (or once again) faced with the issue of content volume. What’s more, for most of us, reading tweets in a dizzying stream is a sub-optimal experience to say the least. The act of sharing news socially has been solved, its efficient filtering and consumption has not.
This is where Paper.li comes in – filtering.
More than just presenting the news shared with you in an easy to read manner, Paper.li acts as a powerful relevance filter. To do so, Paper.li does 2 things behind the scenes: semantic analysis of shared content and it’s ranking.
Semantic analysis
In order to provide an efficient content discovery and reading experience to a user, Paper.li needs to know more about the content being shared with that user. Paper.li thus semantically analyzes all URLs shared with the user, and assigns a topic (e.g. Technology, Health, Art, Environment, …) to each. This is how Paper.li can provide topic sections in each paper.
Paper.li currently analyzes over 10 million links a day, in four languages: English, German, French and Spanish.
Contextual relevancy ranking
While semantic analysis of content helps in structuring its presentation (i.e. topic sections), there also needs to be a way to determine the relative importance of content items. This enables the presentation of news not in terms of chronological order, but in terms of relevance to the user. This ranking of content is done using Paper.li’s own set of ranking algorithms, which take into account a mix of variables relating to both the context and the content.
Uses of Paper.li
Since we launched, we see the service being used in all kinds of manners. The obvious one has always been to read your own Twitter stream, i.e. a more personal usage. But over time, there is a clear trend towards using Paper.li in a more publishing mode, creating papers of interest to a wider community of users. While some personal papers of celebrities have a large readership, e.g. The Joe Rogan Daily, here are some other uses we see a lot of:
  • work groups (based on Twitter lists or hash-tags)
  • trade shows (generally based on Twitter hash-tags)
  • news events (generally based on Twitter hash-tags)
  • brands (generally based on Twitter or Facebook search queries)
  • causes (generally based on Twitter hash-tags or search queries)
Launched last summer, Paper.li reached 2 million unique users in over 200 countries and publishes 150,000 online newspapers.
Where to from here
Here are some of the things we are working on:
  • geographical expansion, including additional languages support for Dutch, Italian, Portuguese, Japanese & Chinese
  • multi-device support, including smart-phones and tablets
  • paper customization features, e.g. removing/replacing ads, manual content curation
  • platform API – integrate other content sources, integrate Paper.li technology in other services & media sites, etc.
Paper.li basically wants to become smarter at what it already does as well as provide more publishing options to paper editors.
We are receiving hundreds of comments & feature requests on Twitter @smallrivers, this blog or by email info@smallrivers.com – keep it coming! We try our best to respond to all, and knowing more about your appreciation of the service and what you would like to see us doing in the future is key.


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15 Responses to “Paper.li, or fixing the filter failure”

  1. fiddledidee

    Great…love it!

    Are there any plans to include Twitter’s geographical location feature in the possibilities for tweet filtering, when users are setting up customised papers?

  2. Avishek

    “This ranking of content is done using Paper.li’s own set of ranking algorithms, which take into account a mix of variables relating to both the context and the content.”

    Could you tell us what these variables are?

  3. Barb

    I love the idea of Paper.li (and the papers already created), however, I cannot create a paper based on a public twitter list (and have tried several times). Where can I get assistance with this?

  4. Kelly at Paper.li

    thanks all for your posts!

    fiddledidee – we are in the process of defining features for customization. We will take this into consideration.

    Avishek – I can’t say much more than what has been said in our post – but when the time comes, we will post more information on this blog.

    janetedavis – glad to hear you like the functionality and we will are looking forward to see how we can evolve the service to its best!

  5. Kelly at Paper.li

    Barb, if the below doesn’t help, please feel free to drop us an email with detailed information as to what is happening at info@smallrivers.com.

    Having said that, here are a couple of things to remember;

    -to ensure a query will work when you create a paper, we suggest you use the twitter advanced search function to test your group or query first.

    -if you follow people, or set up user groups that are not generating tweets, there won’t be any content to publish.

    Hope this helps – Kelly

  6. Tony

    Is it possible for editors to correct and make suggestions for the semantic analysis?

    There really is not much in the public lists for which I’ve created a paper related to Arts & Entertainment, but stories are being put there. I would like to those stories, just under a different topic.

    Perhaps a button that lets an editor suggest where a story should go instead?

  7. Kelly at Paper.li

    Hi Tony,

    In the near future we will be releasing a feature update that will allow publishers more control over their content.

    Let’s see if that helps you out! Looking forward to following up with you after the release.

    Thanks! Kelly

  8. adeibiza

    ive tried various ways of changing the css to suit my website but it seems i’m stuck with only changing the red border – i’m sure embedding would be taken up more if we could change the styling on the elements

  9. Jayne

    Love the work guys. Notices that most of my tweets are not being posted to the paper though. It is a case of twitter overload or a filter?

  10. Kelly at Paper.li

    Jayne, depending on the type of paper you have created it could be a couple of things:

    1. URLs. Your paper will show the URLs of links tweeted within a time range ( 12 hours, 24 hours, 1 week) The more content tweeted with links, the more displayed on your paper

    2. Query: If a paper is based on a search query, then sometimes the query needs to be refined. We recommend checking the query with Twitter Search to see how many content rich links you are pulling up. If it looks good there, it should work for Paper.li

    3. Broken links, time outs : Indeed at the time of an update something can go wrong; there can be a downtime, broken links, etc. We don’t see this happen too frequently, but we also cannot rule it out.

    I hope this helps and good publishing.

  11. Grumpyelder

    Is it possible to create a Word Press Website theme based on paper.li theme? With the paper li permanently fixed as a second page page. (condition of use)

    The layout on the Li page is perfect for news and political bloggers… with the installation of of what ever widgets and feeds the blogger put where, each would become unique.. but similar enough to the paper li readers would feel they were on the same site when they went from one to another… Personally I’d like to see 3 feature loops, one in the current feature area above the Video bar, from there items would migrate down to the area occupied by the Politics, Society and World pages..

    Leave the Picture and Video bar.. and the rest of the grid intact.. People could use the space of advertising, feeds from friends sites or various widgets


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