The problem of curation platforms, and the Scoop.it monetization clampdown

Profile picture for user jreed By Jon Reed August 16, 2019
Summary:
It's Friday, I had an 18 hour travel day this week, and I'm crank-o-riffic. A slow-cook meltdown with Scoop.it needs to come off the stove. Behind that meltdown is the enduring power of content curation.

boy-in-cap

Have you ever been burned by the "try our free platform" bait-and-switch? The free platform is awesomeness - until vital services are gated behind the newly-announced paid version.

So you walk away from what you once evangelized with enthusiasm - or you pay up. Sometimes, the free-to-paid transition is elegant - I think of Spotify, and how I willingly upgraded to a paid plan, for perks like device-specific downloading.

When you take formerly free services away, you're asking for blowback. Usually, the bump from free to paid is like one bad trip to the dentist. The curation platform Scoop.it, however, prefers to draw it out - extracting one tooth of benefits from the free plan each time you come back.

Scoop.it's callous approach raises questions on the future of curation platforms. For all the hype around curation, the carnage of failed curation tools is everywhere. At worst (e.g. Storify), the platforms disappeared into thin air. At best, they moved upmarket and left freelance curators with that early-adopter vinegar aftertaste.

The B2B content curation opportunity is better than ever

Over the years at diginomica, I've made an impassioned case for the impact of curation - both for individuals and businesses.  As I laid out in Why curation matters, a curation strategy is simply taking the process of consuming and sharing content to a more structured level. Curation is about making your own research process transparent.

You can't create lasting B2B content without knowing your industry inside and out. Impactful content is hard enough to create; curation allows you to bolster your content with the top selections in your field. Given we are all struggling to find the signal amidst flatulent tech marketing noise, curators perform an invaluable service (thus the rise of the curated email newsletter, free and paid). In the process, curation:

  • builds your topic authority
  • expands your network of influencers and experts as you amplify their work

Some shy away from curation because they don't want to expose content outside their brand's stable. That insular mentality is legacy. As my colleague Den Howlett always says:

You send people away to bring them back.

And he's got our stats to prove it.

Good news for enterprises: as the "free" curation tools market shrinks, enterprise-grade curation tools have grown. You can now curate everything from article content, to social streams, to your own community's "user generated content."

Curation tools needed for each step

But there's an area where curation tools aren't all they could be. Curation requires two or three steps:

1. A content repository where your bookmarked content is initially stored and tagged. This could be private or shared. (I use Instapaper, Evernote, and Pocket for different things - Pocket is fantastic; tip of cap to Betsy Hindman for that recommend).
2. A subset or special repository where a specific topic of content is collected. Ideally, this is publicly shared. But the more important thing is: that repository becomes a feed that can be pushed through various opt-in channels, from social networks to email subscription lists. (For my best-of-enterprise newsfeed, which I use for Enterprise Hits and Misses and our diginomica weekly, I use a public Pinboard that now has 6,500 searchable stories)
3. Platforms to publish your curated content on. This is where curation falls short - and where my beef with Scoop.it lies.

Yes, you can publish curated content on the big social platforms (Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook). But: they usually aren't topical or targeted enough for developing a vertical B2B network. LinkedIn and Twitter try to alleviate that with content hashtags, but outside of events, who reads hashtags? And when you have hashtag abuse like this, who really cares to click on these tags?

Note: I'm not picking on VersaAccounts, countless vendors and self-appointed "gurus" do this type of hashtag-drenched tweet, this was just the first example I quickly found in my feed of those I follow.

So, your curation platforms to share/publish on are:

  • The big social platforms (limited, especially in B2B)
  • Your own web channels and subscription lists (good, but may not reach all the audiences you want)
  • Curator channel platforms like Flipboard and Scoop.it (a very limited set of options)

Now, I suspect a few are thinking "What about Pinterest?" And yes, for visual topics, particularly consumer-oriented, Pinterest could be one of the best curation platforms out there. But I doubt your curation of the best robotic process automation articles will garner much traction there.

The Scoop.it monetization half nelson

That's why I enthusiastically embraced Scoop.it when it came out. I am of the belief that in the B2B market, it can pay off to maintain a valuable free product for those outliers who wouldn't buy your enterprise product, but who would still evangelize your solution (example: free open source tooling, with enhanced versions, add-ons, or support services for the paid audience). Scoop.it, however, doesn't share that view.

As first, Scoop.it had everything I wanted - coming through where Flipboard stumbled. I was hoping Flipboard would work out - and I continue to respect how much web traffic Flipboard can still generate (it's no accident the Flipboard icon is on the short list of sharing icons on this article).

But Flipboard has an egregious curation flaw: it doesn't allow the curator to provide any commentary on the content being shared (yep, I've roasted them too). So you curate a Flipboard publication without ever getting the chance to provide your point of view. It's just a stream.

That's a huge curation fail, and it goes against the grain of the most popular curated emails, such as Azeem Azhar's Exponential View. Scoop.it solved that - allowing the creation of channels where you could insert your own commentary, and quickly post to your social platforms of choice. I started with two channels; the only one I still maintain is: Enterprise media disruptions - curating what matters from the noise. That channel forms the basis of my semi-regular diginomica column, Digital media disruptions, which is written with B2B publishers in mind.

Scoop.it decided to strip away the free features I cared about, while pushing a paid product beyond the scope of the value I perceived. One day, to continue with the free version, I had to agree to destroy my entire article archive up until that point. (I guess organic search pages created by curators' content weren't of much value to Scoop.it).

Putting my huge archive of searchable content on the chopping block was impressive, at least, for sheer ruthlessness. Buh-bye research archive. Now, still on the free version, each time I add an article, I get this lovely monetization spanking:

scoop-it

But Scoop.it didn't stop there. Like a beleaguered jalopy sent to the scrap heap, Scoop.it kept pulling features from the free version. Suddenly you could only post to two social accounts from Scoop.it. Then only one. Now, this:

Scoop.it sucks

The comical thing about this monetization march: it's easy enough for me to manually post to these channels. Scoop.it is the only one that loses: each post I shared from my channel used to have Scoop.it branding, and bring all readers back to their web site. Either they hate free marketing, or they are seriously bean counting, or they are clueless. I have no idea.

Oh, and Scoop.it has one of the most annoying chatbots in the entire industry:

Scoop.it bot fail

You can't actually ask "any questions" of "write a message." You can only choose from the three options. Either you're a lead, or you're a schmuck. Guess which one I am. (Their home page has a more flexible bot now - perhaps the bot above has been sensibly retired, or is saved for the irritation of logged in users).

I can't comment on Scoop.it's enterprise pricing, I can imagine an enterprise getting great value from Scoop.it, especially with newsletters and lead gen features activated. But their free version is pretty much curators gutting it out on a paddleboat while enterprise accounts surf on by.

Whatever Scoop.it's reasons, I'm in the market for a fresh curation platform for individuals, and, no surprise, not much there. And yeah, I'll pay for one. My beef is less with Scoop.it's (over)pricing and more with their "thanks for promoting our platform - nevermind" style. Since they dumped me on our third date or so, I'm not sure being engaged is the right plan.

The aforementioned Exponential View also launched a paid version, but unlike Scoop.it, Azeem didn't gut the free version. You lose a bit, but you still get plenty. For individuals, I do recommend paying for your curation tools - if the pricing is in line. I pay for a number of them, from Newsblur's fantastic RSS reader to Pinboard and Diigo for bookmarks, and Evernote and Pocket for tagging. Paying for niche tools gives them a fighting chance to serve the outliers.

The wrap - tools change, but curators ride on

Enterprises have a different set of product choices, but this much holds true: evaluating the financial stability of your curation platform is just as important as the functionality and ease of use.

Curation is powerful, but the tools do come and go. Backups and redundant services are part of the game. The joy of curation ultimately outweighs the loss of tools, and occasional the monetization burn.

As for the much-beloved Storify, nothing has really come along, in my view, that allows curators to tell a vivid social story of an event. I asked former Storify wizard - and expert enterprise highlighter Holger Mueller - what he uses now. He's been using Wakelet, which allows him to embed tweet highlights in a post, like his roundup from the Workday Innovation Summit. It's no Storify, but it's something.

Other products that intrigued me while writing this:

Security stuff - an interesting/popular Flipboard "magazine" example.
Miappi - display your social/user-generated content across events/devices/web sites
Curata - enterprise-level curation for content marketers (Barb touched on Curata in her piece on content intelligence platforms)

End note: this piece is part of my semi-regular diginomica series, Jon Reed on productivity, filtering, and beating the noise - and the art of content curation.

Updated, Saturday August 17 10am US PT time, with a few minute clarifications and a few more resource links.

Image credit - Cute preschooler boy in cap, by @mamaza, from Shutterstock.com. Screen shots from Scoop.it.