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:
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.
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.
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.
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!
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?
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.
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.