Curation. And ants.

Singing together, curating sound :-)

Harmony is curation, curation is harmony.

The curation is king meme is having a day in the sun. This is the kind of article that editors love to publish — it declares a winner in a zero-sum game between the old champion Content and the contender, Curation. The article posits that Old King Content has been ousted “because it isn’t scarce. It’s everywhere, it’s overwhelming, and it’s gone from quality to noise.” Of course there’s too much for any one person to slog through, but if content is of secondary value, then what are we curating?

But Rosenbaum has got it very right on one crucial point:

@sanchezjb I don’t agree – “Context” can be a smart algorithm – but “Curation” requires a human. I think humans are essential -Tue Jun 15 18:17:20 via TweetDeck

He also seems to be saying that this victory of curation is a recent event. I’d take issue with that. The first Yahoo! directory was, at the time, state-of-the-art curation, not particularly scalable, rather unsocial and opaque, but it was curation. And, of course, Google’s revolutionary insight to use inbound links as a fundamental page ranking metric took people-powered curation into new territory.

Or: algorithm-aided human writing will meet human-aided algorithmic curation; quality will rise.Sun Dec 13 21:51:29 via Twitter for iPhone

Right on. Let’s drill down into the humanity angle.

The word curate derives from the Latin curare, meaning “to take care of“, something that we humans do for people and objects that are meaningful to us.

RT @ethpresso: @heathr it was awesome talking to you yesterday. Got great insight discussing r perspective on curation+human relationship :) Sat Jun 12 21:06:23 via Brizzly

The Tummelvision crew (@heathr, @debs and @kevinmarks) have been exploring this human side of how digital communities and conversations are born and thrive. They’ve adopted “Tummel” as their verb of choice. It’s a Yiddish word used to describe the act of catalyzing others to action and I highly recommend tuning in to their show.

Just as Suw Charman-Anderson blogged about this way back in 2006, it still is fresh and true today:

Curators already exist. Some are people: Bloggers who sift through tonnes of stuff in order to highlight what they like, and who, if you have the same taste as them, can be invaluable to discovering new things to like. Some are aggregators: Site that gather lots of little bits of stuff and present them in aggregation and help us find the bits that the majority find to be good. Some are algorithms: recommendation systems and search.

@hrheingold this one by Sviokla on audience curation: which is what @debs @heathr and I call tummelingFri Jun 11 19:19:33 via Seesmic

What would I do without Kevin Marks’ curation?

In Three Tips for Curating Your Audience, John Sviokla writes about taking care of your audience, also known as customers if you happen to be in the business of selling stuff. (I’d take issue with the term audience for these reasons.)

Taking care of your curators means finetuning the curation. In socially-powered services like Facebook and Twitter we curate the people that we choose to friend or follow by keeping them interested in what we have to say and we also adjust our flows by un-friending or un-following in a more or less constant feedback loop.

And now, let’s bring on the ants!

Social bookmarking is stigmergic curationSat Jun 12 05:13:29 via Seesmic

Social bookmarking is a shining example of people-powered curation and was brilliantly executed by the creator of Delicious, Joshua Schachter. But what is stigmeric curation, HUH?

Did you ever wonder how ants manage to organize themselves into those superhighways of efficiency to bring the food back to the colony? Well, that’s stigmergy in action and this survival-oriented curation mechanism is how we create our own superhighways of inter-linked information :-)  I actually wrote about this back on October 16, 2003. Take a look at “What do blogs and ants have in common?” to learn more. It’s a much shorter post than this one!

What are the “economics” of curation?

Clay Shirky from Here Comes Everybody to Cognitive Surplus: Creativity & Generosity in a Connected Age Jun 14 14:05:58 via web

I was talking about this notion of online generosity with my friend ocrampal the other day, and he questioned whether curation was primarily generosity-powered as I was saying. In fact, I think he’s right, the answer is more subtle. Social networks and community-powered curation works not so much from generosity as from the very good deal that participation offers.

Let’s call it fair price curating. In other words, contributing to the system is the price you pay to get value out of the system. More often than not I get more out than I put in. It feels like I am getting my curated information below cost —  that I’m gaining much more than I’m spending in terms of time, effort and satisfaction.

I guess that’s because once everybody contributes their info bits, it costs the system very little to redistribute the information in infinitely variable combinations as requested by huge numbers of people and ever more sophisticated technological tools.

I haven’t yet read Clay Shirky’s new book Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age, but I intend to and would be curious to see how he sees it.

I also think about generosity in the context of personalized Q&A services like Hunch, Quora or Aardvark. Adrian Chan frames the problem this way:

Both questioner and answerer must have a satisfactory experience for the service to work. In fact the service really hangs on the experience of the answerer. The questioner has an immediate and present need or interest — not so the answerer. His or her motives for participation have to be incentivized or contextualized by other means.

Are earning a good reputation and earning increased self-esteem by virtue of knowing the answer sufficient social drivers? Time will tell what the sustaining factors really are as these services grow and evolve.

At the end of the day…

Curation is the central issue of our socially networked culture. This mutual mediating, to riff on Kevin Mark’s coinage, turns the firehose of our collective activity streams into a refreshing drinking fountain.

Call it curating, crowdsourcing, stigmergy, page rank, social networking, lifestreaming or a thousand other terms, its objective is to deliver information and entertainment that may be useful or surprising, silly or serious, funny or annoying — when, where and how we want it.

Thanks also to JP Rangaswami for thoughts that inspired this post:

Curators add to relevance by stripping away the irrelevant and the unneeded and the shoddy.

In order to improve consume-ability and relevance, curators need the tools to do this. There are two ways these tools will come about, the “nice” way and the “nasty” way. In the nice way, the producers and distributors make it easy for people to point to, package and pass on the relevant pieces.

@everybody: stop drinking the Kool-aid

Fail Whale Pale Ale label

Twitter has become a valuable asset to me and a part of my everyday reading and writing. So, I’m a fan. But.

By now you’ve probably read the fawning Time magazine article by Steven Johnson, “How Twitter Will Change the Way We Live“. Now I don’t want to be contrarian just for the hell of it, but enough is enough.

OK, sure the media outlets love the Hollywood story that is Twitter. Of course Twitter’s high profile investors have a vested interest in evangelizing the phenomenon. And who could expect less from the Twitter-addict community? Even I have tasted the holy Kool-aid!

But when Twittermania flavors serious journalism, we need to be more critical.

For starters the article asserts that Facebook’s audience “is still several times as large as Twitter’s”. In fact Facebook’s audience and user base are most likely 20 times larger than Twitter’s, the churn of new users on Facebook is considerably lower than Twitter’s and Facebook is still growing much faster in absolute numbers.  “Several times as large” is just misleading. This is neither pedantic nor picayune.

And why is it that Johnson makes no mention of the Nielsen study about user retention?

Currently, more than 60 percent of U.S. Twitter users fail to return the following month, or in other words, Twitter’s audience retention rate, or the percentage of a given month’s users who come back the following month, is currently about 40 percent… Compare it to the two heavily-touted behemoths of social networking when they were just starting out. Doing so below, we found that even when Facebook and MySpace were emerging networks like Twitter is now, their retention rates were twice as high. When they went through their explosive growth phases, that retention only went up, and both sit at nearly 70 percent today.

The Nielsen study is not perfect and raises more questions than it answers, but it surely merits examination in any discussion of the Twitter phenomenon.

Another recent study (published too late to be included in the Time article), “New Twitter Research: Men Follow Men and Nobody Tweets” by Bill Heil and Mikolaj Piskorski, adds fuel to the fire.

Twitter’s usage patterns are also very different from a typical on-line social network. A typical Twitter user contributes very rarely. Among Twitter users, the median number of lifetime tweets per user is one. This translates into over half of Twitter users tweeting less than once every 74 days.

twitter research 2.jpg

At the same time there is a small contingent of users who are very active. Specifically, the top 10% of prolific Twitter users accounted for over 90% of tweets. On a typical online social network, the top 10% of users account for 30% of all production… This implies that Twitter’s resembles more of a one-way, one-to-many publishing service more than a two-way, peer-to-peer communication network.

Again, a lot more research needs to be done, but as one of those Twitter members in the active 10%, I do get the sensation that we are projecting the value that we get from Twitter onto the greater Twitterverse, without a shred of evidence to support this thesis.

It is paradoxical that the openness that Twitter, the company, says it embraces, from its API’s to its user-generated feature set, is so lacking when it comes to sharing their proprietary statistics, the politics of their suggested follow list or their plans with respect to providing access to their firehose and archives. Twitter is a privately held company and does not owe this to anyone, but then it should stop sending its executives around saying that they want Twitter to be like a public utility. They can’t have it both ways, but it won’t be for lack of trying.

The article correctly points out that Twitter’s deceivingly simple forumla — “the follower structure, link-sharing, real-time searching” — will become part of the fabric of our communication web regardless of how the Twitter the company fares.

They didn’t really invent any of the individual elements that make the service compelling, but they did stumble upon the recipe for mixing them together to create a tasty soufflé. Note that this word means “to blow up” or “puff up” and, of course, once taken out of the oven a soufflé tends to fall rather quickly.

Is this an apt analogy? Discuss.

Everybody’s gone surfin’

I thought I’d take a shot at riffing on Google Wave, “a new tool for communication and collaboration on the web”, according to its creators. But before we get into the details, just to get into the mood, check out this BBC video — a gorgeous slow motion view of a surfer on the perfect wave. Wow:

Or see the high definition (HD) version here. It’s worth it.

That was also my first reaction to Google Wave, well, “wow” in lower case. It’s an evolutionary step that rhymes with so many parallel developments all around the net that it already seems inevitable just a week after its presentation.

I am most interested in watching just how open source the Wave platform will actually be. And just how open the API’s and protocols will be. I think we have good reason to be optimistic that they will remain true to the spirit of openness because it is also in their interest to do so.

Why is that? Well, the more that Wave’s protocols and syntax are open, the faster it will grow with a developer community going out there and building tools, containers and services with wild abandon. Do you think that Google might be positioned rather well to provide search within the Wave universe? Messages, media, documents, location and social graphs all crawlable. This looks to be an, um, a challenge for our privacy protection. Can we get some of you smart developers thinking about that now? Thanks, and please revert soonest!

Compare this scenario to today’s realtime darling Twitter. (Sarcasm? yeah just a little bit, but I am a Twitter member and have gotten a huge amount of value from it.) The Twitterverse consists of a central platform, a basic hosted service on the platform and an extremely active ecosystem of third party clients and applications that make it just barely usable.

In what other environment is there great competition among free client applications? Email comes first to mind and let’s not forget instant messaging. In both cases there is huge value obtained from the fact that the protocol is standard and open. It was not always so in instant messaging land, and still not universally the case, but today I can use Pidgin, Meebo, Digsby, Adium or Trillian to talk to my Jabber, MSN, ICQ, Yahoo, iChat and AOL friends on one roster. So that seems to be where Twitter is headed — to be a protocol, and the biggest platform on the block adhering to that protocol.

I am hoping that Wave will be the catalyst to bring about the birth of a thousand new Twitters, truly open protocol and evolving realtime micro-messaging services, accessible through third party clients. XMPP has worked this way for years and it’s not for nothing that underneath Wave you find the XMPP protocol.