If you subscribe to a lot of feeds in your RSS reader, have lots of Facebook friends, or follow a lot of people on Twitter, you would agree that it is quite time-consuming to comb through a huge list of content/posts and find the bits and pieces that are actually meaningful to you personally.
Sure, you can refine your list of feeds, follows, and friends - but even then you'll still probably skim over 90% of what you're presented with.
Publishers are fully aware of this and are constantly in search of how they can differentiate themselves and provide a unique value-add to a precisely targeted audience in an extremely competitive arena. The best way for publishers to go about doing this is by intimately understanding their readers and quickly tailoring content packages that engages their readers via a clearly defined visual hierarchy.
This is why we continue to visit individual news sites that we trust - for the feeling of relief that we get when someone we identify with has assimilated all of this information for us, leaving us with the feeling that we are "up to speed" on that particular subject matter.
Publishers have traditionally a number of challenges in this regard, some of which are business-related (namely fewer resources) and many of which are technology-related (inability to efficiently incorporate syndicated content with original content, designs lacking a clear hierarchy, outdated and proprietary content management systems).
The Curation Dilemma
On nearly every publishing system I've worked on, a lot of discussion and planning revolves around the concept of "curation".
Curation refers to the process of placing specific pieces of content in specific areas of the site. The most common example of this is a home page carousel, where an editor chooses the three "top stories" of the day in a particular order.
As one would expect, publishers want to do as much curation as possible without over-extending their editorial staff. To take it a step further, "advance curation" is really what most publishers need as opposed to "scheduled publishing".
When I first started working on CMS builds for publishers, it seemed that individual content lists/packages had to be either fully curated using some sort of queueing/inclusion mechanism or fully automated based on some pre-defined logic (i.e. show me the latest stories tagged with "Health").
This formed the crux of The Curation Dilemma: to curate, or not to curate?
Finding a Balance
The key to solving this dilemma is to make curation an optional exercise as much as possible. In other words, display the most recent stories tagged with "Health" unless an editor intervenes by picking a specific set of stories that need to sit on the top of that list in one or more places where that list is used. Stories that are curated in this way might also get more emphasis - maybe we display a thumbnail image, or alter the typeface in some way.
In another implementation, we implemented a standard page template for a Tag List that shows the most recent content associated with that tag. If that tag starts to be come more important/relevant, that standard / automated approach can be replaced by a more robust, fully-curatable "landing page" for that tag without writing a single line of code.
These are a few of the ways that we are continuing to think outside the box and come up with better, more efficient ways for publishers to craft better, more engaging experiences for their readers online.