My paper.li Epiphany: Why It Doesn’t Work and How To Fix It

I’ve discovered Paper.li 2-3 years ago. I remember being fascinated by it….for about 3 minutes. And then never returning to it ever again. Why?

What is Paper.li?

If you already know, you can skip this section.

From their About page, they say that Paper.li is a content curation service. It enables people to publish newspapers based on topics they like and treat their readers to fresh news, daily.

How Does It Work?

Really, really easy.

You sign in with Twitter and click to create your own newspaper. Amazing! AMAZING! Technology.

If this technology existed in the 90s, it would have put NewYorkTimes (and all other newspaper-y blogs) our of business.

How It’s Used

People usually use it as a self-promotional tool. This is natural, of course. Humans ARE Attention-seeking animals.

I have never, EVER, clicked on someone’s paper.li link to check out what they’ve “curated”. I will explain why in a minute.

How It Should Be Used

I think it would be way more effective if you shined a spotlight on someone else, and hyper-focused it on one subject.

For example, a good way to generate your own paper.li is to include people who are authorities in a particular subject. Pulling all of their work into your paper on weekly basis might come in kinda handy.

Why It Doesn’t Work

The thing is, no matter what you do, it’s not going to result in any tangible benefit, and here’s why.

The people you’ve included in your paper are not going to feel thankful and reciprocate simply because it takes no effort what-so-ever for you to feature them in your paper.

Potential readers are not going to read it because:

  1. They also know it took no work what-so-ever to generate this page
  2. Since it’s SO EASY to generate your own paper, if they want to keep an eye on certain folks, they can just create the paper of their own
Humans are willing to pay more money for hand-made products rather than mass-produced ones. Because we understand, deep down inside, that one is worth more than the other not because it’s better necessarily, but because it took longer to produce.

How To Fix It

Make it harder.

There’s an apocryphal tale of Betty Crocker’s initial failure (in the early 1950s) to appeal to housewives because it provided a ready-made cake mix with everything you need to make your family a delicious cake.

This marketing campaign, which focused on the ease of use, failed miserably.

The sales were sluggish, and the appeal of the product was abysmal.

So, General Mills -the company behind the Betty Crocker brand- put a psychologist to work who came back with an idea. Make it harder, he said.

Remove the egg-mix from the box and have housewives add eggs themselves. This will make them feel like they are part of the process and that they had higher degree of involvement with the baking process.

The theory goes -and it turned out to be correct- that if Betty Crocker does all the work, then she gets all the credit. But if the housewife adds the egg, then that tiny, little small step allows her to see her self as a crucial player in the cake-baking process.

Therefore the satisfaction the family gets from eating the delicious cake goes to the wife, not to Betty Crocker.

Sure enough. Betty Crocker removed the egg-mix, and launched a new marketing campaign focused on the pivotal role of the matriarch in the cake-baking process.

Note the focus on the “homemade goodness”, and “YOU add the eggs”.

Find Yer Egg

I think paper.li needs to find its egg.

Maybe they pull the free version and make it unavailable to all. Turn their technology into a WordPress premium plugin and sell it to businesses who are dying for a good curation-solution.

It has the be a plugin because I want the curated content on my blog, not on paper.li. And no, embedding paper.li on my blog is not enough.

I admire the fact that they developed this technology and they have stuck with their basic model from the get go. I think the basic model is hurting them now.

They need to make it more exclusive. Customer focused (instead of paper.li focused which is currently the case), and they need to find their egg.

Too Easy

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Making things too easy can backfire.

Here’s a 2 part question for you.

  • How can you make things more difficult for your customer whilst improving their experience?
  • How can paper.li do the same?

Dino Dogan

Global Force for Badassery | Founder of Triberr | Refugee from Bosnia | Writer for Technorati | Speaker | Lousy Martial Artist | Pretty good singer/songwriter | Hi :-)

More Posts - Website - Twitter - Facebook - Google Plus

  • http://semanticantics.com/ Rob Skidmore

    A very interesting post. I have heard the Betty Crocker story before. I wonder if it would have been the same if the product wasn’t launched in the 50’s when a woman’s expected role was that of a homemaker? I feel like an all in one box might be better received today.

    That being said, I agree about paper.li. I have had an account for a while. I used to embed it on my site but, like you, I never looked at it. I think your argument has some merit here. Maybe I need to take a second look at the service.

    • http://twitter.com/dino_dogan Dino Dogan

      ya, things have changed somewhat and we’re all trying to find ways to save time. But the reason revised campaign worked is because it worked on a deeper, more primal level, which is why I think the same principal -if not execution- would work today just the same. 

      Thnx so much for commenting Rob. Much appreciated :-)

  • http://www.pastrychefonline.com/ onlinepastrychef

    Excellent post, Dino! Love your comparison w/the Betty Crocker mixes, esp because I’m a pastry chef! 

    So, to try and answer your questions:

    1)I have started to post more Philosophy posts. They’re a bit harder to get through because it’s not a process-type post (recipe), but they definitely end up w/a higher degree of engagement, comment-wise.  I’ve also tried to shy away a bit from posting standard recipes, because everyone does that. Instead, I post what I call “recipe templates,” which is really just a listing of the techniques employed to make a dish (listed in linear fashion). Then, I’ll provide a “how I made my version” and invite others to use the techniques on their own ingredient list to make their own version.  It is my hope that, by giving permission to make recipes their own, that there will be a higher degree of engagement and that my readers will feel more ownership of their cooking.

    2)I’m totally on board w/your idea of Paper.li as plug in. And the first time I was “featured” in someone’s paper.li, I was Thrilled and thanked them and RTed and drank champagne (ok, maybe not that last). But it took 2 seconds to realize that it was really pretty worthless. Nobody reads them, as far as I can tell, so it really does me no good at all.

    • http://twitter.com/dino_dogan Dino Dogan

      well..thats a very interesting method of sharing recipes. And Im a huge believer in “teach’em how to fish” approach, so keep it up :-)

      • http://www.pastrychefonline.com/ onlinepastrychef

        That’s exactly how I refer to it. Teaching them to fish (cook/bake) instead of handing them a fish (recipe). :)

  • http://twitter.com/jedilost Kerem

    The only time i click on paper.li is when i see my name in of the tweets. 

  • Dédeux

    There is a lot to do on Paper.li to make it something minimally working. This is not an alpha, beta, this is worst than that.

  • http://dinodogan.com/ Dino Dogan

    test