Curation is now In
I’m sorry. I’m just having a bad buzzword reaction. So it’ll take a whole post to get it off of me. Didn’t the idea of a curator used to have a feel kind of like a musty museum? When I hear the word, I just flashback right to a 5th grade trip to the Museum of Natural History. Not any more! It’s a cool word now. At least in the realm of nouveau information architects and buzzword compliant Internet marketing folks. The rise of the word Curation reminds me of back when marketing folks started pronouncing the word ‘niche’ as “neeesh” instead of “nitch.” It helped identify the truly clued in vs. the riff-raff of Madison Avenue. I’d love to see a graph of word frequency for Curation over the past 5 or 10 years. That would be interesting.
All that is Old is New Again
Curation is editing. Or a form of it anyway. While curation was typically reserved for some form of archiving, now it’s been co-opted to mean more of an organizing function. Leaving aside that most of the new curators likely aren’t trained in classical library science or information resources management, curators are now anyone who can make a list of stuff. Various online services may refer to these folks as Guides or… yes… Editors. This is generally goodness. Organizing things has obvious value. But let’s call things what they are. A curator of digital assets, (i.e. information nuggets of whatever sort), is performing an editorial function. Generally, such lists are not going to have any complex hierarchies, complicated facets to information or anything resembling clean taxonomies. So they’re really neither taxonomists nor info architects. They will create things like “Top 10 Best Ways to Snack While Watching The Biggest Loser,” but could be a bit more useful, “Top 10 Safety Articles for Driving in Snow.”
The Best Rise to the Top of… What?
The Best Curators will rise to the top. Of something. By user ratings, or editorial control of managers somewhere or whatever means, we’ll get some top 10 lists. Ideally, on a per topic basis, these curated lists of stuff, “Top YouTube Videos,” “Top YouTube Videos as Chosen by Whomever,” will surface themselves for those who need them most. They’ll be found via the usual search mechanisms. Some will be created, (sorry, curated), by people, others by automated ranking systems.
I know what you’re thinking. Isn’t this just exactly what we have now? Isn’t this how things have always been? The answer is… “yeah, mostly.”
So Why the New Old Word?
Because editing always had value. It still does. And will continue to. Different people may be doing it, but the function has value. It became very popular a handful of years ago for a fair amount of the cool kids blogging to lament how the “traditional media” just didn’t get it. The big media were and are gatekeeper, holding everything back. Of course, now that blogging per se is all but mainstream, and journalism is now morphing into just who knows what, the fact is everyone does get it. And that’s that nothing has changed. Every time the means of production has lowered the bar for cost of production, from printing press to desktop publishing to blogs, a lot of crap has showed up. First it was yellow journalism, then the “laser crud” of the 80s to what we have now. What we’re coming back to – essentially – are trusted sources. I don’t want to go into the whole “social search” thing, but part of the point is just trusted sources. (Ironically, social search may be quite likely to get you a trusted source that is wrong.)
So How is Gatekeeping Back?
Well, let’s see… Editing is essentially gatekeeping. It’s deciding on who sees what. Trusted sources will garner most of the traffic. Long tail theory is good… in theory. In practice, a short head typically emerges. Call it a Power Law Distribution, call it the 80 / 20 rule (or Pareto Principle), but in any case, there’s going to be winners and losers for traffic. Somehow, some way, the Curators will attain positions of trust and rise to the top of some form of editing platform. That could be as an About.com Guide, a Patch.com city editor, a well-voted-rated up LinkedIn or Quora Answerer; the Mommy Bloggers; whomever. (Some Mommy Bloggers are funny by the way. I’ve met a couple who were early into all this talking about empowerment, but whom years later were angered by how “all these others were trying to copy them!” The really good ones welcomed the newbies though and tried to share the wealth. Funny how that works.) Anyway, the point is all of these folks become gatekeepers. Yes, users still have more choice and can always search for more. But people are out of attention. Out of time. Only so many blogs can be subscribed to and so many people followed. Then that’s it.
So Not Much Has Changed?
Yes. Of course things have changed in the information environment. But for the producers? Not so much. Perhaps Editors / Gatekeepers have become MORE valuable. People have more choice. But most sheeple, I mean people, will revert back to the mass popular areas. And eventually, seek trusted sources by some means. It’s funny how some folks who may have bashed traditional editors as gatekeepers with a pejorative sneer, have chosen to adopt the term Curator. I suppose that makes everything feel newer. Fresher. But it’s really the same. And that’s ok.