The word curation is turning up in new contexts, especially related to online information, where a phrase appears often: content curation. And more people are recognizing the value and power of curation over creation. This emerging idea offers a new perspective on the future of news in two ways. First, it helps broaden the definition of news and news editing by offering an idea that embraces collecting, overseeing, filtering, and linking to content of any sort. Second, it offers a solution for the as yet weakly-governed and filtered world of online information.
We are familiar with what a museum curator is. In part, they select and share what the museum displays, but they also work to identify, interpret, and protect the museum’s holdings. The recent focus on curation draws on this understanding of the word, but puts it in a new context. The curator of information on a website, or the curator of a conference, is the one who makes decisions about what to show, how to organize things, and so on.
So curation implies a service, like that of the editor of a journal, newsletter, or newspaper, who selects and evaluates information before it goes to the reader. That is generally a positive thing, and when you choose an information source, you are choosing, implicitly, an editor or editorial system you trust.
But in the past year or two, there have been more discussions of curation as, in effect, censorship. For example, with the arrival of Apple’s iPad came discussions of how the company is vetting each downloadable iPad app for its worthiness—instead of an open source system where anyone can create an application for a device, Apple is “curating” the app selection it sells via its online app store. So in this case we have “curated computing” and not everyone is happy about it.
At least one new internet place, CurationNation.org, is curation-positive. It aims to be “a web site devoted to the exploration of the concept of curation – and its increasing impact on content, context, and publishing.”
Steve Rosenbaum, the CEO of Magnify.net, a video publishing platform says: “For website content publishers and content creators, there’s a debate raging as to the rights and wrongs of curation. While content aggregation has been around for a while with sites using algorithms to find and link to content, the relatively new practice of editorial curation — human filtering and organizing — has created what I’m dubbing, ‘The Great Creationism Debate.’” See more of his thoughts here. Interestingly, we’ve come full circle. We’ve recognized that the wild and open internet needs the steady hands of editors to help us readers/viewers manage all its offerings. But there's continued debate, because we really don't know how we want to do this work, and who should, and what the equivalent of journalistic ethics are in content curation.
Curation can be a positive response to too much information, especially related to online consumption of information. It recognizes that we are looking for ways to navigate the world of information, and are ready and willing to rely on others to help us do it. Curation is being crowd-sourced—we are relying on large numbers of people to identify interesting things, and show us their relative importance by voting, “liking” them on FaceBook, Buzzing them up, Tweeting and reTweeting about them, and so on.
Social networks have taken up another role in this too. By friending a certain group of people, we hope to hear about things that matter to us, and avoid hearing what the general population—but not our circle—might want to know about. That’s why, for example, across the several hundred people I follow on Twitter, and the dozens I have friended on Facebook, I have never seen a single mention of Justin Bieber, the teen pop star who has regularly dominated Twitter, according to Twitter’s “trending” mechanism. By my selective following of people on Twitter and Facebook, I’ve narrowed the range of information and ideas I will see in a routine way. That gives me an element of curation in my Twitter and Facebook consumption.
We have a lot more to figure out about how to do this well, and what it all means. The new focus on curation is reviving or perhaps mirroring a lot of the debates and long-established ethical perspectives on journalism and editing in the print and other media. What’s different? For one thing, we are all (potentially) curators. Instead of a few grizzled old journalists who paid their dues working up the hierarchy at a newspaper, through social networks and the Internet, millions of people are making the “editorial” choices: what’s linked, what’s not, what’s shared, what’s not. Everyone, to some extent, is a news editor now.
So far so good, but we’re nowhere near finished figuring out what we need to make sense and get value from the abundance of information available to us. Much more to come ….
Earlier posts on the future of news: