Living Stories can reinvent the article

Google's Living Stories platform fills a big gap in the content universe

Content consumers — the people who seek information but don’t create or curate it — are getting a raw deal.

Why? Because static articles don’t capture the kinetic energy newsworthy topics generate. Real-time updates are flawed, too. Twitter can’t offer context or deeper analysis. And RSS is most useful if you’ve got the time and energy to curate your sources. That’s like gardening, though: some people love tilling the soil, but most just want to eat.

Tools of ChangeUntil recently, there was no middle-ground content product. No service that combines editorial oversight with the archival quality of articles and the real-time info-drip of Twitter. But a few months ago, Google teamed up with the Washington Post and the New York Times to test a new content model called Living Stories that addresses the missing link in the content chain.

The first batch of Living Stories focused on things like health care, education reform, the war in Afghanistan and other broad topics with lots of viewpoints. Here’s how the project was originally described when it was launched back in December:

Living Stories try a different approach that plays to certain unique advantages of online publishing. They unify coverage on a single, dynamic page with a consistent URL. They organize information by developments in the story. They call your attention to changes in the story since you last viewed it so you can easily find the new material. Through a succinct summary of the whole story and regular updates, they offer a different online approach to balancing the overview with depth and context.

Early execution on Living Stories wasn’t all that impressive (“dull” was the defining characteristic). But the white-label look was just a starting point. Living Stories was built to be a tool; a new type of content platform. The real innovation would take place beyond Google’s borders.

That’s why yesterday’s announcement that Living Stories is now available as an open source project is so exciting. Now we get to see what this thing is capable of.

Off the top of my head, I see three Living Stories projects developers at news or content organizations should immediately pursue:

  1. If your company has topic pages — many do, since they’re SEO magnets — look through your analytics and find the top 10. Create Living Stories around each of those topics and publicize the heck out of them.
  2. Build out internal toolsets that let editors and writers create new Living Stories on the fly. That way, they can quickly plant a flag around a topic and then fill it out as additional coverage is produced.
  3. Consider the public utility. Could the Living Stories platform become a community tool? A hub for targeted local events? News organizations get raked over the coals for missing big opportunities (classifieds, local search, etc.). Maybe Living Stories can play out differently.

The utility of Living Stories isn’t limited to newspapers, either. A book publisher could post chapters or use it as an author portal. The timeline component could be adapted for family histories. Academics could chronicle research. It’s a publishing platform, so you can do whatever you want with it.

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