2013, the year of storytelling

By Erin Griffith , written on December 31, 2012

From The News Desk

Since social networking was invented, it has been powered by users. We happily fuel our favorite social networks with the snippets of content that make them so valuable: our photos, check-ins, reviews, likes, hearts and shares. We post status updates about how we feel on Facebook, photos of what we're eating on Instagram, links to what we're reading on Twitter, and the lowbrow gifs we're laughing at on Tumblr.

The result is a fragmented group of social media actions that, as we witnessed with the Twitter-Instagram spat this year, don't care to include content from competing social networks. If Facebook-Instagram/Twitter/Pinterest/Tumblr/Quora don't have to play nice with each other, they won't.

This fragmentation will likely continue. It doesn't appear we've maxed out on social networks. Every time a new social network blows up, we ask if we really need yet another one and eventually learn that yes, we do. We'll all be Snapchatting in no time.

What's more, with each progressive social network, the barrier to contributing content keeps getting lower. The box has shrunk from a big, intimidating blank text box of blog CMS's to a simple one-line bar. Facebook now prompts me with "How are you feeling, Erin?" Twitter's tiny box encourages me to "Compose new Tweet." Tumblr doesn't even have an empty box as on the homepage, just buttons.

So we have small or non-existent boxes on separate, fragmented social networks. And we use them all for the same thing, more or less. To tell our friends about ourselves.

This is why I think some of the most exciting startups in social media are the ones that help us make these small, fragmented pieces of content into richer stories. Every social media action we take contributes to what could be an incredible narrative. We're creating a ton of content, but no one is really taking advantage of it. Until now the best thing we gleaned from social media is flat sentiment analysis, or interesting observations like Facebook's families data that have to be anonymized and generalized. But several startups are beginning to make all this social content into something really valuable.

Mahaya is one. The company is still in beta mode, but has offered a few previews of its product after presenting at New York Tech Meetup earlier this year. Mahaya pulls live event content from all the social media networks and aggregates it into a timeline. It seems obvious and simple but I haven't seen it done like this before. I want every recap I ever read to look like this timeline of the 12-12-12 Hurricane Sandy relief concert.

It follows the mentality behind the summer's Olympics Hub, a realtime site which pulled in Twitter and Facebook feeds from athletes and news organizations. Or Reuters' curated on-the-spot liveblogs for breaking news events like the Newtown shooting and the Fiscal Cliff talks.

Branch is another startup looking to make stories richer with social media content -- the company's embeddable message boards capture online discussions that typically happen off a publisher's site. Urtak, Poptip and Wedges are three others -- they add another layer of interaction and feedback to a piece of content with their polling and survey apps. Social media curator Rebelmouse pulls the bits of social content from one user on many different networks onto one page. And just-launched Backspaces believes it has improved on photo sharing with grouped photo sets that make social content into actual stories.

The volume of content we produce on social networks is staggering. Next year, we'll finally make some sense of it.