Curation: The Lowdown
But all this decentralized content creation has many people thinking… how can I consume all this stuff? Our streams and readers are getting bloated, and we’re all wondering “Am I well informed? Or am I drowning in a content sea?” On top of being overwhelmed, there is a big problem of noise. Finding relevant content and commentary can feel like searching for needles in a haystack.
Don’t fear, a new age of “curation” has been declared. It doesn’t matter if you think this is a revolution or just a new buzzword to describe what was already happening, curation aims to filter the web and serve you only the best, most relevant content.
Where it all began
The term originally refers to the museum curator, selecting the best, contextually related masterpieces and bringing them together into a collection. The museum curator oversees the care of the pieces, and adds her research and captions to tie the whole collection together.
The careful selection and commentary paints a narrative that is more powerful and compelling than each work individually. The best museum curators are such a prized asset that in smaller institutions, they might be the only paid staff members.
How it morphed
The curator profession has connotations for both archival and presentation, which made it a popular metaphor to describe editing and filtering in a very general way. The expansion in meaning hasn’t been taken lightly though, as many people argue that traditionally a curator implies some sort of wisdom and expertise – advanced degrees and many years of experience. Pretty much anyone can edit and filter, but only scholars can curate.
Regardless, the words “curator” and “curation” have already been popularized, and now represent the act of filtering digital information, and more recently – links and social media. There is so much noise, and people – with the help of computers – can bring the best, most relevant information to the surface.
Haven’t we always been doing this?
We’ve all been producing and distributing content on the Internet for a while now, so haven’t we been curating already? Most content flows through Facebook and Twitter, we make things more visible by “liking” and “retweeting” things, or voting things up on Digg or StumbleUpon.
What’s different? The main thing is the volume of information getting blasted around. Now there are 500 million people on Facebook, and over 100 million Twitter users – and each of those people are a yelling voice trying to be heard. It’s no wonder people are calling social media “the firehose”.
The Internet is a newspaper, and it’s hiring an editor
Due to the nature of the “firehose”, there is so much important, relevant information that you simply miss. If the Internet were a newspaper, who would be the editor? Some publications have taken up that mantle – such as the Huffington Post, a popular online news publication. They’ve been sourcing their articles via the Internet for a while now. Freelancers and bloggers contribute their user generated content, and Post editors publish the best, most compelling pieces.
It’s not without controversy though – other publishers often scorn Huffington Post by using amateur and non-expert content. Also, many people dislike how in general, they don’t pay users for contributing their content. Despite this, Forbes has openly gone to a curation model for their editorials, and Yahoo has purchased Associated Content in the range of $100m to contribute to Yahoo News. It seems like Curation is here to stay, and many other publishers might be forced to get on board in order to stay relevant.
Apple and The Guggenheim
Publishers aren’t the only ones curating. Apple has often been tied in with the idea of curation because their App Store applications marketplace has very strict standards for quality and usability. By manually “curating” which applications make the cut to be available for download, the overall user experience is supposedly less noisy and more consistent. This is often contrasted with the Google apps marketplace which is much more lenient and depends more on crowd reviews. I’ll go ahead and ask it – technically they are both curation right? Apple curates from the top, and Google depends on grassroots curation? But Apple gets the credit.
In another example, the infamous Guggenheim museum recently had a contest on YouTube where they called for YouTube video art submissions. It’s an ironic collision between the traditional museum curators and the newer trend of Internet content curation.
A Brave New (Curation) World
Just like a museum curator builds a gallery of masterpieces, can the citizens of the Internet be the collection keepers? As the social sites provide more ways to cancel out the noise, the web can be more relevant for us all! But who has the time and the tools to do all this curation? Will people do the curation manually, or will it mostly be automatic?
Blogging platforms like Posterous and Tumblr make sharing content and editorializing it easier than ever. Digg is transitioning to a new model (which some like and some don’t) that emphasizes sharing your “digged” links with your friends. It’s yet to be seen whether one site will be the killer curation app, or if it will be a more distributed trend.
What are your thoughts on curation? Do you think it’s just a buzzword, or do you think it has real relevance?