Social Media Curation: !nstant Gets Funding from the Knight Foundation

!nstantThe Knight Foundation announced today that it would fund 24 new projects as part of its prototype fund. !nstant, a social curation tool, is one of the projects that will go from idea to prototype with the $35,000.

While the final name of the software has yet to be decided, the idea has been brewing for a while. Four 2013 Nieman Fellows came up with the concept: Ludovic Blecher, Paula Molina, Borja Echevarria and Alexandra Garcia. While the group plans to have many features, they’re focusing on one for their prototype: ‘Who to Follow.’

“My belief is that journalists are very good when they curate,” said Blecher, who is leading the project. “They can be very good at making the choice between noise and signal.”

Essentially, the tool — an HTML5 Web app — would allow journalists and newsrooms (and anyone else, for that matter) to use !nstant’s software to curate from social networks during breaking news events. !nstant will generate a feed based on the event and provide an embed code that can be used anywhere – Website, blog or directly within a native app. “We [want] to figure out a solution to make breaking news more understandable on mobile,” said Blecher.

The tool relies on human curation to highlight the best content on social media – information that has more value because a human has selected it. “As an editor, you will be able to explain why these guys are important to follow,” he said.
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The idea for the project came to the group during the Boston bombing attacks. “We were four people sitting on the couch with computers, tablets, mobiles, television, radio and also [we were] listening to the [police scanner]. We were not able to figure out what was really happening,” explained Blecher. There was a lot of information floating around the social sphere, which only added to the confusion. “There was really a gap to fill between social media and what was displayed on legacy media… It became clear to us that the way that [media outlets] were covering breaking news was not done well for mobile.” While a quarter of Americans followed the news on social media, half said they kept up online or on their mobile devices. An overwhelming majority — 80 percent — followed the story on TV, according to Pew Research.

The Boston bombing was, in a sense, the first of its kind: a terrorist attack on U.S. soil in the age of smartphone ubiquity. “This is one of the most alarming social media events of our time,” media studies professor Siva Vaidhyanathan told the Los Angeles Times. Traditional media outlets couldn’t keep up with social, and social got too far ahead of itself as speculation quickly became accusation.

As those unfortunate events have shown us, not even “reliable sources” can be trusted. Traditional media outlets and professional journalists reported inaccurate information, fuelled by the race to keep up with the Internet. Even though a professional journalist may be more qualified to identify reliable sources, the feed is not something that has been verified by a newsroom.

Blecher says that they hope to address this issue with computer intelligence that will help curators make decisions by looking at keywords and trends. The details of this have yet to be figured out. He acknowledges that mistakes will still happen, but the project is betting on journalists being superior curators. “Today, everybody wants to be part of this crazy situation when something breaks… it’s not just for [journalists] anymore, we have to share that,” said Blecher. “The first job of a journalist is not to write a story, it’s not to find news. Our first job is to check what we hear from people. It’s to find the reliable person… to find reliable sources in order to fact-check something.”

The prototype will be developed in Paris (where Blecher is based) and will be multilingual from the start: French, Spanish and English. While it is geared towards newsrooms all over the world, we think that the tool could have a wide range of applications beyond professional journalists. Anyone could use it to curate a feed about, well, anything.

For more on the prototype fund and its other projects, check out our sister blog 10,000 Words. For those of you that have an idea kicking around your head, the next deadline for prototype applications is at the end of this month.

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