Due to problems I often have with brevity when I’m writing, people often mistakenly believe that I don’t deal with writer’s block. This, however, is not the case. Sure, I always have 2,000 words in my pocket, but the problem is those words are often about whatever topic is not due today. When the blank page stares relentlessly back at me, one of my favorite fall backs is to curate and comment on content created by others. It’s been working for me for over 10 years, and there are some great tools out there that freshen up this old stand-by for the reader who skims for substance before reading in-depth.
However, these days, everyone is a curator on some level. Some are better than others – that edge comes from being different and adding a fresh perspective. Smart marketers have it figured out. But you can also vary things like how you visually present your curated content, adding a collaborative element, or otherwise including your community in your creations. Here are five of the best free content curation tools you can use to stand out.
This is far and away my favorite tool right now. Why make a List when you can make a List.ly? List.ly, as the name suggests, offers you the ability:
- Create your lists as you browse the web – there’s a bookmarklet that allows you to add a webpage, to your list, complete with image, title, description and tags. Fill them in or use the data the tool pulls from the site.
- Embed the list you’ve created anywhere you can create a post.
- Get the opinion of the crowd on your list, with voting
- Use the list as a resource to bring people together for a project or cause or gather data (Advanced feedback labels include “I can help” or “I can participate”)
- Re-sort the list alphabetically, by crowd rank or in the order curated
- Share and embed other people’s lists or just an item from their lists.
List.ly also gives you an opportunty to present your lists with style. Embed options range from a gallery of the images to a more minimal presentation of just the bare minimum information. There’s a WordPress plugin as well.
When I attend local or national conferences, I like to summarize what I’ve learned and take pictures with people I’ve met, to jog my memory later, as well as to share as much of my experience as possible.
Whether the reason is to promote the event or simply share the high points with my subscribers, clients and customers, Storify lets me take bits of information from a variety of sources on the web and curate them into, well, a story. Using the tool, you can use keywords or hashtags to collect images, social media status updates, web pages – really any item of media on the web – add your own thoughts, then publish them in a blog post. I’ve used it to:
- summarize a collection of links related to a news story
- collect resources around a conference hashtag
- show the main highlights from a Twitter chat
- include links from several types of media in a blog post
- collect details of links I’m referencing in a story
- get ideas for a blog post from someone else’s Storify – which I can also embed
- cite my inspiration or sources for a story.
Storify gives you the tools to expand upon what you’ve curated, with some free-form areas to include your own text. You can also write your post and just add the embed at the end. It has a great feature that lets you notify any person included in your Storify – though I suggest personalizing the notice it sends out. Embed options are similiar to the ones available at List.ly (or vice versa since Storify is older). It’s now owned by another of my favorite services, Livefyer, and also has a WordPress plugin and an iPad app.
It took me a while to warm to Spundge. To me, at first, it seemed like a buttoned-down-collar version of Storify. Though some of the features and functions are similar, there is more to Spundge.
Like Storify, you can use it to collect and curate information from around the web and present it in an aesthetically pleasing way that’s infinitely less boring than the standard blog post. It also adds the ability to collaborate on private or public topic collections called Notebooks, which allow you to tune their fire hose of data into a coherent feed of curated information.
Journalists have taken to this feature, and I suspect anyone who has to do ongoing research in their field would as well.
The overused cliche that a picture is worth a thousand words becomes meaningful with Thinglink. The basic idea is that you can embed information hotspots into an image, that can provide more information in text when hovered over, or even send you to a web link when clicked. You can then embed the image in your blog post. Right-clicking on a non-hot spot in a Thinglink gives you the option to “touch” an image (their version of liking) or to share the image via link or embed. Hotspots can be anything on the web with a URL – YouTube videos have a pop-up that can be played without the user ever leaving your blog post. Comes in handy in places where you can embed pictures but not video. It’s so much easier to see than explain though – here’s a Thinglink about the Spundge Notebook feature, and another about how to use Thinglink with Storify. Thinglink also has a free app for iOS.
Have something difficult to embed? Want to include a PDF but don’t want to use Docstoc or Slideshare? Embed.ly does one thing great – it makes anything with a web address embedabble.If you can see it on the web, you can embed it with embed.ly.
It’s a good tool to fill in the blanks, or to create your own embed code when you need to share something but don’t have the resources or know-how, or don’t want to use third-party tools.
Bonus: Find embeddable content to create a story around
Every social media site that has an embed tool, from Slideshare to YouTube, has a way for you to embed any public conversation you’ve having into your post. If you are only pulling data pieces from one source, don’t forget this as a quick way to include the original source of ideas into your discussion.
Image: Drew Coffman (Creative Commons)