Why paper.li is just plain wrong

When I first saw paper.lilast year, I thought it was an interesting concept. Kind of like the Flipboard app on my iPad, although nowhere near as attractive, but universally available, picking the most popular updates from my Twitter and Facebook “friends” and presenting them to me in a newspaper format. I quickly grew tired of the format though along with the increasing number of tweets telling me that “The Daily<insert name of person> is out” – I can see the value for an individual but tweeting about it just seems a bit spammy. (Sorry if you’re one of the people that does this – if you think there is some real value, I’d be pleased to hear your view.)

More worrying though is the way that paper.li seems to misrepresent my views and opinions when it “retweets” me…

I work for a Japanese company and spent a lot of Friday and the weekend thinking of colleagues whose friends and family might be affected by the recent events in Japan. For that reason, I was appalled to see a ZD Net article last Friday questioning whether the iPad 2 would be hit by supply problems as a consequence.

I can see why the writer/publisher put this out (perhaps it is a legitimate concern for some) but really, in the big scheme of things, does a shortage of NAND memory matter that much, given the scale of the human disaster in Japan?  Any iPad 2 supply chain issues strike me as a “first world problem” and, even though the earthquake/tsunami did strike on iPad 2 launch day (presumably why this was newsworthy to ZD Net), couldn’t the publisher have held back, if only for reasons of taste and decency? I tweeted:

RT @ZDNet: Will the earthquake in Japan ding Apple’s iPad 2 rollout? http://zd.net/ibvmgp ^MW FFS get a grip. Bigger issues at stake here!

(If you’re not familiar with the FFS acronym, don’t worry, I was just expressing my frustration.)

I think that tweet is pretty clear, I’m RT (retweeting) ZD Net’s tweet about their article, with a comment – in the socially-acceptable manner for the Twitter community (the “new-style” RT built into Twitter misses the ability/potential added value of a comment).

Unfortunately, when I saw paper.li’s version, it was completely out of context:

Paper.li appearing to credit me with a ZDNet article about iPad 2 delays following the Japanese earthquake/tsunami (and with which I disagree!)

It simply grabs the title and first few lines from the link and credits the person who retweeted it (me) as the source. Not only does this appear to be crediting me as the author of the article, which I would be uncomfortable with, even if I did approve of the content but, in this case, I fundamentally disagree with the article and would certainly not want to be associated with it. 

Paper.li does include the ability to stop mentions, but that misses the point – by all means mention my tweets but they should really make it clear who the original source of an article is and, where that’s not possible, include the whole tweet to ensure that it remains in context.

And it seems I’m not the only one to see issues with the way in which Paper.li uses the Twitter API, disregarding the social networking element of Twitter. Then there’s the fact that some people thank others for mentioning them in their paper.li edition (which, of course, was entirely automated).

Indeed, I’d go as far as to say that the way paper.li handles retweets is sloppy and demonstrates a lack of knowledge/understanding on how platforms like Twitter really work – they are (or should be) about conversation, not broadcast – and that’s why the newspaper format is really not a good fit.

2 thoughts on “Why paper.li is just plain wrong


  1. I don’t see the value in these services. Say something in one place, or many. Don’t get a bot to paraphrase what you might have found interesting and spam people with it.

    As for the quake, it’s hard to get tone right. Clearly there are some very shallow people in the world who have to relate everything to the iPad. I suspect a lot of iPad owners and almost all of non-iPad owning 99.6% of humanity (a.k.a Normal People) tend to see relating everything possible back to the same – ultimately unimportant – thing (iPad or otherwise) as shallowness, and wish these people whold shut up.

    BUT it is difficult for many people to realte to a disaster in a far away country with which they have no connection. For most of us it is not *our* friends and family how have died or lost someone, or their home or livelihood, so it’s easy to say “we are not affected”, but in reality we are. For example, the wholescale shutdown of Japan’s nuclear industry will mean they need to buy extra oil and gas driving up world prices. It would a pretty crass tabloid headline that said “Jap Quake – your heating will cost more”. But the same facts could be the base of a more cerebral peice explaining that the effects will ripple out through the energy market to touch those of us who don’t know the impact of the Tsunami even second or third hand… chuck in a quote from Donne’s No man is an Island, and it has the makings of great article on how globalisation ensures what happens to people in a far away country of which most of us know little still affects the whole of humanity.
    We know the worldwide electronics industry was disrupted by the Kobe, and it seems pretty certain to be disrupted again. I can’t draw the line where commentary on that becomes plain insensitive.


  2. James, I think you’re right that there is a balance to be struck – perhaps it was newsworthy (it looks to have delayed Japan’s iPad 2 launch at least) but, in the scheme of things, that’s not really important – but this is where editors should step in and say “no, let’s hold off for a day or so”. As for paper.li – glad to hear I’m not the only one who thinks it’s worthless…

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