Collecting related content isn’t curation

[Note added later: Please see comments. This post is focused on the use of a word, and even then, it recognizes the ship has already sailed. I don’t disagree with Robert’s call for a better tool to do what he’s talking about.]

When I read a post like the one written by the always-on-and-everywhere Robert Scoble, “The Seven Needs of Real-Time Curators,” I want to say, “Curation just isn’t the right word to describe what we’re doing here.” Believe me, I know I’m guilty of using it, but please, what can I do to help it go away?

Says Robert:

“Look at this post here, I can link to Tweets, and point out good ones, right? That’s curation. Or I can order my links in a particular order. That’s curation. Or I can add my thoughts to those links, just like Techcrunch or VentureBeat do. That’s curation. Or I can do a video like Leo Laporte does and talk about those links. That’s curation. Or I can forward those links to you via email. That’s curation.

No, Robert. All those things are something other than curation.

Rather than explain all the reasons why the word curation is so wrong for a conceptual content collection, organizing and displaying tool that Robert describes (which, by the way, I have nothing against), I’ll just point to Joanne McNeil’s essay rounding-up examples of the bastardization of the term on her blog, Tomorrow Museum.

Quote:

“When did curate stop meaning, as the OED says, “to look after and preserve” and start describing the retweeting of bit.ly links and SEO optimization? The “curation economy” isn’t at Basel, it is happening in office meetings around the country just getting clued in about Twitter and the importance of setting up Facebook fan pages. Socialmediatoday.com instructs readers on “Curating, not moderating, the flow of content and participation” and provides a “Manifesto For The Content Curator.”

On this, I agree with Joanne.

I think it’s time for geeks and new media types (including me) to leave the word alone. We should turn it back over to the art historians and museum keepers. Let them perserve the respect is displays for a person’s willingness to spend decades determining what is good pre-Columbian art examples vs. merely average pre-Columbian art examples so the rest of us won’t have to.

We should stop trying to turn “curation” into the “real-time” activity it has never been, unless, perhaps, the curator was standing next to Picasso in the 1960s.

Curation implies things one can’t do in real-time: things like reflection and research and spending the time necessary to examine complete collections of everything known about a singular topic.

Perhaps one can edit in real time. Or categorize in real time. Or collect and organize examples of what is being said, or is occurring, in real time.

But “curate”? Not really.

That said, I’m always one to look for an opportunity to profit from the latest fad.

So if anyone comes up with Robert’s perfect real-time curation platform, I’ll be happy to entertain offers for the URL I registered in 2007: “CurationMedia.com.

  • I am going to have to disagree:

    1) The usage of a word has no inherent truth or correctness, only the actual use in people's memory banks and verbal/written reproduction is what ultimately matters. And that is known to change over time, hence we don't speak e.g. Middle English anymore. It's all by fleeting agreement/convention.

    So there can absolutely be digital curation, both in a strong sense – as I will argue in a moment, as well as in a loose sense, IF that's what people decide to call their activity. Yes, you can TRY to stop them from using that term and attempt to kill the meme, but this one actually appears to have some legs. Why?

    2) Because we are actually in many ways talking about “look after and preserve”. You are merely arguing about the degree to which this should be the case. A little like arguing that learning should only be called learning if it is capped with a Ph.D.

    Digital remnants can be gathered, looked after, and preserved, just as much as fragments from the bronze age. And different people will do different levels of care-taking, to be sure, but there is not truly a qualitative difference. In fact, one could argue that the fleetingness and relative impermanence of digital media makes it even more important that curators be found that care enough about certain areas to preserve that which will otherwise be swept away in the information economy maelstroem.

    Robert was merely arguing that so far there have been almost no good tools made available that are up to the task. In fact, the better the tools, the higher the quality of the curation will hopefully get. Wikipedia has already proven that it's possible for relatively static topics (by application of massive amounts of “labor of love” by fans of and experts on a given topic), now we need the tools to make it easier for more real-time, quickly evolving ones.

    Will there be a lot of garbage curated? Sure. So what? That doesn't negate the concept, and the underlying value will only ever be in the eye of the beholder. In Robert's birthday picture, etc. curation example, it will mean a lot to that mother, and maybe one day the kids or other friends and relatives. Doesn't mean it all has to happen at Ph.D. level.

    But even for very serious purposes, it may well be useful to have better curation tools to allow for a continuous sifting and refining of the extant information snippets on the subject. Two examples I can think of off hand are the ongoing upheaval in Old Media, as well as the new FTC rules for disclosure and testimonials. Both are topics that are unfolding rapidly, with very little long-held, static knowledge or opinion available.

    We would all be better served if a good curation tool would allow to keep up with these things more in the sense of a mind-map, rather than merely a loose assortment of related blog posts and opinion pieces. In other words, what Google can currently provide.

  • I totally disagree. I have spent 35 years learning the tech industry and I definitely CAN curate in real time. Anyone who says I can't has never really investigated how I work and what I can do and how much of the industry I know. Plus, if there's an earthquake, or other event, we have a lot of tools to let curators work in real time. I can find the USGS Website within a couple of seconds using Google, for instance. This is a new world and it most definitely IS curation.

  • Interesting rebuttal Rex, you're not a subservient fellow are ya – I like that. “Profit” from the latest fad, never heard that one before 😉

    That said good to see you using Apture!!

  • Thanks, Robert. I've read everything you've written for over ten years (but not all the comments people add to anything your write), so I have no doubt you can bring together the elements of a breaking story in a cohesive way that provides context for those trying to understand what is taking place. I have written extensively about the importance of such contextual content here and a very long piece here, for example. If you read those, you'll probably see we're in complete agreement that the current tools and approaches to journalism practiced on the web don't go all the way in providing the kind of understand and explanation that people need. And I even noted that I agree with your feature set.

    My post was not critical of your desire for tools — read it again: it was only critical of the use of the word “Curation”…But I (like Doc Searls) have also been critical of the use of the word “content” as well, but I gave up on that fight long ago.

    From the fact that I registered the domain name “CurationMedia.com” in 2007, it should also be apparent that my love of the precise usage of words is also balanced with the awareness that I realize that no one is going to listen to me on how words should be used: I know that “curation” will come to mean what you mean when you say it.

    Robert, I want you to keep on curating.

    I'll keep on visiting your museum.

  • Thanks for your thoughtful reply. I think if you read added to Robert's comment…and what I've written about contextual content elsewhere…you will discover that ours is an argument among team mates.

  • Thanks. I wrote about Apture in this post: http://www.rexblog.com/2010/03/24/20644 . While I overused it there, I will be using it selectively in posts in the future to provide context (and curation) to items I write about. I think Apture points to the future where both “real-time” and “understanding” can be presented together.

  • As someone who has developed a curated aggregation platform about 2 years ago, I think that both Scoble and Rex are at extreme ends of definitions, but somewhere in-between the 2 extremes lies the greater opportunity. Scoble has merely taken a liberal approach to interpreting what curation means to him, based on his needs, which are somewhat biased towards real-time, social media and a ferocious appetite for consuming tons of content 24×7.
    And “To look after and preserve” is a solid foundational principle, but it might be a bit too narrow for today's fast and furious streaming web.
    Somewhere between this and Scoble expansive vision lies perhaps a broader balance that takes into account the novelties that the Internet has brought.
    My view of Curation is that it plays along 3 dimensions; it's a a) before, b) during and c) after task. In the context of content, a) you need decide what content you'd like to listen to or harvest, b) provide all kinds of added-value & social media on-ramps/off-ramps as things are unraveling (Scoble's focus), c) ensure that what's archived is well preserved and relevant for someone who comes across it for the first time.
    It's basically looking after the complete content lifecycle, not just what's interesting now.

  • An interesting discussion is going on here: http://www.google.com/buzz/louisgray/eTmJm31AfKM/Collecting-related-content-isn-t-curation-Rex and we are talking about the definition there and why my definition of curation fits with older definitions.

  • I like that you think. Thank you for share very much.

  • You are right that curation requires reflection and research and spending the time necessary to examine complete collections of everything known about a singular topic.

    In the online world successful “curators” do specialize in one singular topic. A personal tweet stream with arbitrary links or a delicious profile with arbitrary bookmarks is not curation, it's link collection as per your post. But an individual, much like a museum curator, who specializes and curates on a single topic day in and day out, does in fact become an expert and curator.

    To this end, brands are always experts in a particular topic such as a customer issue or a specific technology issue and can easily become powerful curators. By continuously providing the most relevant and best content to their customers they can build a sustainable relationship with prospects or customers. Our recent eBook “Content Curation: Taming the Flood in B2B Social Media” explores this in the B2B marketing arena: http://www.hivefire.com/ebook

  • Comment from GOOG Buzz:

    The arguments against content curation in social media using the term remind me of the arguments of traditional physicists who considered equilibria in Neoclassical Economics not “really” the same and equilibria as defined by hard natural sciences. Albeit now 110 years since the birth of neo-classical economics, the use of scientific paradigms to describe social science has yielded many benefits…and a few crimes. What about the blogger as journalist? Wasn't this an issue for traditional journalists who considered bloggers not pure journalism professionals? Is there any debate now that bloggers are as much journalists as those who study the science of journalism?

    Most of the criticisms against content curation appear to align with the definition purists who claim that curation is not accessible to those who care for information artifacts. Either information artifacts are not as “precious” as physical ones, or, curators in social media don't have the expertise to be able to make deep judgments about content.

    I think the artifacts should not judge the curator, but the actions of the curator should determine whether they are simply filtering, tagging, or actually curating. I also believe that curating is a term/buzzword, but has a meaning that is invoking a revisit of the once quiet side of museum science. This is good for museum science. Now we can pay attention to this amazing practice that has gone ignored as technology has raced ahead.

    Lastly, why the strong resistance against the inevitable cross pollination of ideas? Isn't there more opportunity for both social media and museum science if we mix the two?

  • I'm convinced. Curation, it is.

  • Comment from GOOG Buzz:

    The arguments against content curation in social media using the term remind me of the arguments of traditional physicists who considered equilibria in Neoclassical Economics not “really” the same and equilibria as defined by hard natural sciences. Albeit now 110 years since the birth of neo-classical economics, the use of scientific paradigms to describe social science has yielded many benefits…and a few crimes. What about the blogger as journalist? Wasn't this an issue for traditional journalists who considered bloggers not pure journalism professionals? Is there any debate now that bloggers are as much journalists as those who study the science of journalism?

    Most of the criticisms against content curation appear to align with the definition purists who claim that curation is not accessible to those who care for information artifacts. Either information artifacts are not as “precious” as physical ones, or, curators in social media don't have the expertise to be able to make deep judgments about content.

    I think the artifacts should not judge the curator, but the actions of the curator should determine whether they are simply filtering, tagging, or actually curating. I also believe that curating is a term/buzzword, but has a meaning that is invoking a revisit of the once quiet side of museum science. This is good for museum science. Now we can pay attention to this amazing practice that has gone ignored as technology has raced ahead.

    Lastly, why the strong resistance against the inevitable cross pollination of ideas? Isn't there more opportunity for both social media and museum science if we mix the two?

  • I'm convinced. Curation, it is.