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Storify, even with its redesign, is in Twitter’s good graces … for now

storify new home page

There’s a wealth of content out there and Storify provides the tools for its users to corral breaking information from social networks into digestible tidbits. We can blame social media for the inundation of information (which can even be misleading or completely false), but at the end of the day social media is a delivery mechanism for news. The consumption of information is ravenous and we’ve come to crave it at the very second that the news breaks. This is where social media comes in and feeds our appetites. Storify has embraced the discord and revamped its homepage in a way that it hopes will cut through all the noise by offering  a much-needed centralized curation platform that surfaces the latest relevant current, including what’s shared via social networks.

Storify is a curation platform that, without much effort, helps its users piece together a string of events using text, tweets, Facebook posts, YouTube videos, Instagram photos, and other social elements from around the Web. Its content management system for Storify’s curaters is backed by a search engine that scours social networks to find social content relevant to what they want to curate on their Storify story.

For noncommittal bloggers with an eye for curation, Storify will become your best friend. Its platform cuts the time that they’d spend otherwise embedding images, videos, tweets onto a WordPress or Tumblr blog. News organizations including the Washington Post, Huffington Post, and NBC News have pieced together news from Twitter, Instagram, and eye-witness accounts using Storify.

“We’re in an age of media overload, so more than ever we need people who make sense of this and amplify the voices that matter. That’s what journalists and other storytellers have always done,” says Storify co-founder Burt Herman.

Storify search results screen

When it comes to the update, the prominently featured search bar on its homepage (and below it the search results) enables users to search and discover relevant content. It could prove to be helpful for disaster victims for instance. Instead of following hashtags on Twitter, they can keep up with the latest developments (that aren’t only tweets) using Storify. But there’s a dual purpose to the update that Herman explains to me: Storify also serves as a platform for its storytellers to collaborate and share the latest content to build off the work of others. “By focusing on search and surfacing the best media elements, we are enabling the network of our users to work together.”

If you’re concerned about the quality of the content surfaced on Storify’s search results, you’ll be relieved to know that it culls stories from authoritative sources including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, CNN, Al Jazeera, The Daily Beast, and others.

Now here’s the uncertainty. We’ve written about Twitter’s API restrictions until you’re blue in the face, and even GigaOm published an article on the “threat of competition from Twitter,” which Herman pointed out to me as I was writing this. Twitter is undoubtedly among the primary sources for the latest news culled from any social network. Herman acknowledges Twitter’s importance and there’s no denying that much of the meat from the Storify stories come from Twitter, but he was quick to turn my attention to the fact that “there are other sources as well,” reminding me not to forget that Twitter isn’t the only social network Storify aggregates content from. For now Storify is in the safe zone and Herman is confident that his platform’s business won’t be complicated by Twitter.

For many developers, Twitter’s API restrictions was a curve ball that no one saw coming. It forced developers like Tapbot and Tweetro to change their business models. Storify was among the “lucky” few startups that have been in Twitter’s good graces. In fact Storify was credited in the blog post that announced the API changes, and is said to be among those apps that provide value to Twitter users. And this was especially important since Storify is among the exceptions to the “upper-right quadrant.”

twitter developer quandrant chart

In a visual graphic of a four quadrant ecosystem published in the blog post, Twitter VP of Consumer Product, Michael Sippey notes that Storify is a service that “enable users to interact with Tweets” and falls under the “upper-right quadrant.” The types of Twitter clients that fall under this category are the “Traditional Twitter clients” and “Syndication” platforms. The problem with this is that Twitter is encouraging activities in the upper-left, lower-left, and lower-right quadrants  but developers flirting with the upper-right quadrant can only do so on a case-by-case basis. Unfortunately this quadrant is touch and go, so developers can never be sure that they’re safe should Twitter change its mind.

Twitter survives on advertising. Tweet syndication and third-party clients take user eyeballs away from the tweets that live on Twitter’s native client. This of course would offer no opportunity for Twitter to collect advertising revenue from these other platforms, which is why Twitter restricted the number of tokens that developers can distribute to just 100,000 users. Tapbots and Tweetro ultimately shifted its business model and began charging its users for a token to keep the number of tokens allotted below the 100,000 limit.

Storify, a curator of content and an effective purveyor of up-to-date news, for now is on Twitter’s buddy list. When we reached out to Twitter about how Storify’s update will affect its relationship with Twitter, their spokesperson was mum on the touchy subject. However Twitter hasn’t been silent about its interests in jumping into the content curation game. And this could be bad news for Storify.

I can formulate my own theory about why Storify is an exception to the upper-quadrant. In the very blog post that first introduced the API restrictions, there was this bit that some of us have overlooked: “Beyond API v1.1, we look forward to creating new ways for developers to not only build applications using data and content from Twitter, but to also build interactive Twitter Cards.”

A Twitter Card is the expanded content that previews links shared within tweets. At first Twitter partnered with select publishers and developers during the testing phases of the program, but has since opened it up to all publishers and developers with the hope that the Cards will be embraced by publishers. To achieve its goals, Twitter needs the help of the same developers that have helped it to grow into the essential social network that it has become today.

As news is intended to be disseminated and what newsrooms want is the maximum number of eyeballs on their articles, Herman says that Storify has been experimenting with embedded tweets that contain these Twitter Cards. But users aren’t satisfied with the embedded tweets. “Our users have some issues with them and want more control, so we are deciding whether to stick with them,” says Herman.

In Twitter’s eyes, Storify is just one more channel for distribution and reason that publishers and developers should be compelled to invest their resources into Twitter Cards.

With all this in mind, I asked Herman what differentiates Twitter from Storify, and what he told me was that “Twitter does not have an open curation platform that anyone can use. Storify is a platform used by top news organizations, brands, political groups, and NGOs from around the world.”

Today, Herman is right. Twitter doesn’t have an open curation platform, although the social network dabbled in curation partnerships with Nascar and NBC with the London Olympics. However in September, Twitter’s CEO Dick Costolo during his keynote at the Online News Association Conference in San Francisco, spoke about Twitter’s interests in developing curation tools for newsrooms to track live events. “We have known for a long time that when events happen in the real world, the shared experience is on Twitter and we want to create an ability to curate events,” Costolo said.

During the same keynote, Costolo plugged Tweetdeck as the Twitter client that should be used by journalists and other professionals.

If you think about it, Twitter is really a media company that’s just one step away from launching its own version of Storify. It would be competition for Storify, but Twitter eating away at its business would be the least of its concerns. There’s the risk that Storify could one day fall out of favor with the social network should Storify threaten Twitter’s bottom line. After all, it’s all about the money for Twitter. And what Costolo said during the keynote, “We are in media business because we sell ads,” could not make that any clearer.

But even in the worst-case scenario, Herman tells me that there’s really nothing to be concerned about. “Whether we use their API or not, tweets are publicly posted on the Web and Storify is about curating publicly posted content. They will be able to be quoted just like text from any website.”

In retrospect, Twitter isn’t infallible and could be another dotcom bust in five years. “We can’t predict what will emerge in the future,” says Herman. But Twitter is just one channel in the cornucopia of social networks that Storify curates content from. If Storify still exists by then and people are still using Twitter, then great. If Twitter fails, users will shift their attention to that next big social network and Storify will follow and syndicate from that “next big social network,” in addition to the ones that it curates content from already.

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