This was the year social networks turned into news organizations

Social networks are the overworked writer’s best friend. It’s easy to observe the latest outrage on Twitter, grab a few good jokes from Reddit, or screen cap the ridiculous things people write on Facebook and turn them into blog posts. Writers used to have to find stories to chase — now they just have to be willing to sift through gargantuan masses of shit to find a few nuggets of social media gold.
There are a few problems with this: the people whose content has been lifted don’t always like someone else taking credit for their words, photos, or videos; relying on outside platforms can lead to the meat of a publisher’s blog posts falling right out of their sandwich of context and witticism; and social networks don’t need writers to surface their best content. They can collect it themselves.
That’s what many decided to do this year. Reddit created a publication called Upvoted to highlight the stories that propagate on its service. Twitter introduced Moments to aggregate tweets about breaking news and entertainment alike. Snapchat got into the news business during the San Bernardino shooting. This was the year social networks tried to establish some control over social media.
The reasoning behind this shift, as well as each company’s approach to it, has varied. Upvoted resembles a traditional publication that just happens to pull its stories from the Reddit platform. It’s designed at least partly to redirect some of the traffic that would’ve otherwise gone to other sites back to Reddit itself. But, as Gigaom’s Tom Cheredar wrote, it’s also meant to humanize the community:

Right now, Reddit is viewed by advertisers with caution. The reasons for this are well-documented. But there’s no denying that Reddit is popular enough that you’d be crazy not to try and get in front of its audience. The problem is that it’s often hard to predict how the discussion will form on Reddit by its community, and that’s a risk many advertisers aren’t willing to justify should things go sour — deserved or not.

Upvoted can soften those fears by enhancing the top submitted content on Reddit proper (as explained above). On other news sites that may credit a Reddit user for submitting a piece of content that gets written up in an article, usually there’s no desire to go beyond the user name. But doing so could help humanize the submitters, which might help advertisers overcome some of the negative characterizations of the overall Reddit community.

Twitter’s Moments feature (not to be confused with the Facebook photo app of the same name) has a different motivation. It’s supposed to find the best tweets so people never have to wonder why they should visit Twitter. It’s also supposed to make it easier for new users to understand what Twitter is about — a way to distill the chaos into a manageable form so normal people can interact with it.

But the implementation is very different from Upvoted. Moments doesn’t look anything like a traditional publication. Instead it looks like just another feature on Twitter’s navigation bar, making it harder to tell that serious editorial talent, like New York Times editor at large Marcus Mabry, are in charge of its content. Its team is a dedicated newsroom masquerading as part of the Twitter machine.

Snapchat’s foray into breaking news took yet a different form. Its staffers gathered content shared to public “Stories” and made them available to anyone near the area affected by the San Bernardino mass shooting of December 2. Small updates about the investigation were written by these same staffers, but for the most part, the company simply shared what its users were experiencing.

I argued that this approach, combined with the ephemeral nature of Snapchat’s service, is a refreshing departure from the majority of breaking news reporting:

It’s easy for misinformation to spread on the web. Hitting “like” or “retweet” on a false report doesn’t require much effort — certainly less than it does to spend a few seconds looking for accurate information or sharing new info as it becomes available. That misinformation often remains until someone goes through and deletes it, which is another opportunity for someone to get the wrong idea about something, share that idea, and keep the perpetual ignorance machine going.

Snapchat’s self-deleting updates don’t afford this opportunity. There’s no perpetuity. It’s a bit like talking on the phone with someone: Unless they’ve taken extra steps to record whatever was said, the information is passed along once before it disappears into the aether. The photo-and-video-based nature of the service also lends itself to eyewitness accounts, which limits the claims people can make. (Not that video or photo evidence on social media is infallible.)

These are three very different approaches, but the underlying goal is the same: Gathering user-generated content before writers aggregate it themselves. So I’m left to wonder when other social companies will get around to creating their own publications instead of waiting for writers to swoop in, gather all the free content lying around, and turn it into something that could lead to millions of pageviews.

There are some obvious contenders. Vine’s users already provide a glimpse into what’s happening during important events, so it would be trivial for the service to collect the best coverage and make it available to users. The same could be said of Periscope — instead of showing things in six-second loops, it offers live-streamed video. Twitter could editorialize both services without much effort.

Another less obvious one might be Product Hunt. That site is like a gift from the tech journalist’s gods. (That is assuming tech journalists have gods willing to serve their — sorry, our — wretched souls.) Need to find something cool to write about? Go to Product Hunt! It’s got everything from software to podcasts, and many founders use the platform to answer questions about their products.

Talk about manna from tech journo heaven. New products? Public statements? Links to the app store, animated GIFs, and ready-to-use images? Product Hunt is one dedicated “news” section away from putting a good number of tech writers out of their jobs. Let’s all take a moment to thank chief executive Ryan Hoover for sparing us from such a grisly end to our careers — at least for the moment.

Aggregating content from social networks has created a weird loop that takes something from those networks, puts it on another website, and then inevitably shares it to the same networks and other platforms. (I, and probably many other Redditors, encounter many links to BuzzFeed stories containing jokes I read a week ago.) These efforts are merely the result of social networks closing the loop.

Recent Enterprise File Sync and Sharing News

Here is a brief round-up of some recent news from the Enterprise File Synchronization and Sharing market segment.

EFSS Application Security

MobileIron published a whitepaper, titled “State of App Security”, that includes results of a survey conducted with its customers. The survey and white paper are briefly summarized in this post.
Survey respondents were asked to list the cloud applications that had been blacklisted by their IT departments. Of the top ten apps listed, five were EFSS solutions: Dropbox, Microsoft OneDrive, Google Drive, Box, and SugarSync.
It’s important to note that all of these blacklisted apps are consumer-oriented and their vendors do offer business versions that are not commonly blacklisted because they include better security features. However, the unauthorized or “shadow” use of consumer EFSS solutions within businesses continues to pose significant information security risks.

Dropbox Doubles Down on Business

Dropbox made several product and business strategy announcements at its inaugural customer event, Dropbox Open, which was held on November 4th, in San Francisco. Most were directly relevant to the company’s increasing focus on businesses, rather than consumers. They are  briefly summarized in this Dropbox post, but here’s the skinny on a few.
First, it’s clear why Dropbox is doubling down on its efforts to win over organizations. The company announced that it has signed up around 50,000 new organizations as paying Dropbox Business customers in the last year. Dropbox now claims to have 150,000 business customers; that’s organizations, not seats. The company stated that business is it’s fastest growing target market.
To underscore the point, Dropbox announced a new product, Dropbox Enterprise, which “provides the same core security features, admin capabilities, and modern collaboration tools as Dropbox Business — plus new deployment tools, advanced controls, and services and support designed specifically for large organizations.”
Dropbox also announced three new administrative features that will be included in Dropbox Business as well as in Dropbox Enterprise. The new capabilities ‒ suspended user state, sign in as user, and custom branding ‒ are available now through the company’s Early Access program, with no general release date given.
Dropbox is going down the same road that Box has already traveled. It started with a consumer grade product, added functionality to make it more attractive and useful for small and medium businesses, and now is incorporating the robust security and control features that IT departments in large enterprises demand. The big question now is can Dropbox overtake Box in the EFSS market?

Google Drive Adds New Features

Google announced three new capabilities that are intended to improve the usability of Google Drive. These new features apply to all Google Drive users, not just business employees.
It’s now possible to receive a notification from the application on your Android or iOS device when someone has shared a file or folder with you. Previously, those notifications were made via email. The new notifications are actionable; clicking the link will take you to the document or folder that has bee shared.
Google Drive users can now request and grant access to a file or folder to which a link has been sent, but the owner forgot to extend access rights. The feature is mobile friendly. Android users can request access with a single tap. File and folder owners can instantly be notified of the request and provide access from their Android or iOS device.
Finally, it’s now possible to preview files stored on Google Drive on Android devices even if you don’t have a Google account. That feature has been available in Web browsers for a while and makes sense in that context. It’s hard to imagine why an Android device owner wouldn’t have a Google account, but, apparently, its is a problem and Google chose to address it.

Syncplicity Plays Catch-Up on Mobile Security

Syncplicity announced partnerships with AirWatch and MobileIron to help customers secure files on mobile devices. It should be safe to assume that the integration with AirWatch had been ready (or nearly so) for quite a while, since both were owned by EMC until it spun off Syncplicity a couple of months ago. At any rate, these partnerships merely bring Syncplicity even with its competitors, who have had similar partnerships or their own mobile device containerization capabilities for some time now.

Box Expands Its European Presence

Box has opened two new offices in Europe in the last 3 weeks, one in Amsterdam and another in Stockholm. This continental presence is crucial to Box as it seeks to grow by expanding overseas sales efforts. However, the new offices also raise questions about how Box (and competitors) will deal with the recent nullification of the Safe Harbor agreement that had been in place between the European Union and the United States.

ownCloud Brings Control of Open Source EFSS On-Premises

ownCloud announced the newest version (8.2) of its open source EFFS offering, which moves it to a hybrid model. With ownCloud 8.2, it’s now possible for customers to deliver security and control of their files residing in the cloud through an on-premises adminstrative console.

Linoma GoDrive Customers Gain Mobile Access

In another transformation to a vendor’s existing EFSS model, Linoma Software unveiled its GoAnywhere mobile apps for its GoDrive on-premises EFSS solution. Linoma customers can now access files residing in GoDrive from iOS and Android mobile devices. While files and folder are encrypted during transit, Linoma does not secure files while they are on a mobile device. However, they do provide an administrative capability to deactivate and wipe files and folders from devices that have been lost or stolen.

Social news curation app Nuzzel finds backers in the media world

Though it may be short on manners and healthy discourse, the Internet is almost certainly never short on content. There is so much content floating around the web, in fact, sorting through it and curating it has become a multi-million dollar business. Enter Nuzzel, the personalized news curation app that just secured a slew of new investors from a land beyond the walled kingdom of Silicon Valley.

Nuzzel, a startup founded by Jonathan Abrams (founder of Friendster, the social networking app of yore), is a news delivery service and app that curates web content based on activity in your social circles, news you might be interested in, and things you might’ve missed in a clear, uncluttered feed. Using Facebook or Twitter, Nuzzel pulls together stories that your friends are reading and sharing under the assumption that if you’re friends with or following someone on either site, it’s likely because you have a fair number of shared interests.

To be clear, this kind of socially influenced content curation isn’t new. It exists on a number of apps both operational and defunct, from Digg to Flipboard. However, the fact that it doesn’t play a huge part in the habits of most content consumers and that we’re often still Gchatting links to one another suggests that it the social curation functionality is still missing a vital piece of the puzzle: Nuzzel, perhaps.

Investors in this round include Matter, a startup accelerator funded by the likes of the McClatchy Group, Associated Press, and Google News Lab, along with a half a dozen individuals touting credentials from a laundry list of media money bigs: The Wall Street Journal, Business Insider, The Guardian, CNBC International and more. While the dollar signs are far from unimportant in a funding round, the “who” and “why” are much more noteworthy in this case.

Since the Nuzzel team comes from the Silicon Valley & Internet world, not the traditional news/media world, and our existing investors were mainly from the Silicon Valley world, we thought it would be useful to Nuzzel to add some investors from the news/media world,” says Jonathan Abrams, founder of Nuzzel. “This was less about money and more about getting news industry veterans as advisors to Nuzzel.”

The fact that investors from the news and media world are backing Nuzzel is key because as former publishers, CEOs and board members of some the largest media organizations, they are likely not easily wooed by attempts at distribution and curation. The media industry is rife with plans and concepts to deliver content to willing and eager eyes. In a world driven by page views, there are many trying to crack the code to simple and effective distribution, but most are wildly ineffective and unsuccessful.

“As CEO of the Guardian I saw many new digital products innovating in the news/content space. Few cut the mustard,” says Andrew Miller, former CEO of the Guardian and one of Nuzzel’s most recent investors. “An exception however is Nuzzel which successfully declutters my newsfeeds and surfaces only relevant content.”

A financial vote of confidence from those who have had plenty of contact with new approaches to content curation is a promising sign for Nuzzel, which is looking to beef up their offerings for publishers.

For example, we are thinking of how Nuzzel can work with publishers in the future, i.e. perhaps we should offer some sort of widget or way for publishers to use syndicated feeds from Nuzzel,” says Abrams “Those are the kinds of things that these new investors will help advise us on.”

While the funding round is a big step in the right direction for the budding content curation darling, the key to success for Nuzzel will be something that no funding round can provide: more users. With powerful integrations like Slack, Pocket and Buffer, paired with new incentives and tools for publishers and the pedigree of the investors behind it, though, Nuzzel’s just might become content’s next big “must-have.”

In the age of niche media, everyone still really wants to be mass

As doctoral student Frederik De Boer pointed out in a recent blog post on some of the new-media sites like BuzzFeed and Fusion, if you don’t focus on a specific market or target a specific kind of reader, you run the risk of blending in with everyone else

Brian Williams was an anachronism even before his memory problems

Some media watchers are wondering whether NBC anchor Brian Williams will be able to regain his position at the pinnacle of the U.S. news business now that he has been caught in a lie — but the reality is he lost that position a long time ago, thanks to the web

BuzzFeed gets serious with editorial standards and ethics guide

In an attempt to hold what was once an experimental viral-content lab to higher standards of conduct, BuzzFeed has published a new comprehensive standards and ethical guidelines document that tells staff what they should and shouldn’t do