Curation Nation

Kristina Halvorson

Curation! O hai, new buzzword.

Content strategists, you’re likely already talking about curation. If you’re not, here’s the general premise:

  1. There’s too much content out there.
  2. ‍Aggregating everything in one place—the “more content =  more information = more value” formula—has been an unmitigated disaster.
  3. Somebody—or something—needs to filter results to ensure that the content that’s being delivered to an individual or audience is relevant, useful, and satisfying.
  4. ‍Enter curation.

Great. We get that. This is a much better formula: curation = something or someone reviews a bunch of content (or apps) and finds the good stuff so I don’t have to.

But is that actually curation? Let us discuss.

Here’s how defines it:

Late 14c., from O.Fr. curacion  from L. curationem , noun of action from curare  "to cure" (see cure)

Oh. Well. That’s not very helpful. Let’s try Oxford Dictionary for the verb, “curate”:

To select, organize, and look after the items in (a collection or exhibition).

Ah. I like where this is headed.

Lots of people have lots of ideas about content curation. Here are a few ideas I've curated (or something) from around the interwebs:

Curation works differently than simple search aggregation.  Through advanced data tracking or human intervention, or both, content can be refined so as to be more pertinent to a given search. Rather than returning all the results, curation helps to build a collection of the most valuable results. – Mike Dilberto,Curation: It’s Not Just for Museums Anymore
If you think, as I do, that the mere act of editing adds value, does Google’s new test of human selection vs. algorithmic feed pass from the realm of “mere” aggregation into curation territory? How much value do we have to add before we call ourselves curators? – Ian Greenleigh, Am I Curating Yet?
The curator is an information chemist. He or she mixes atoms together in a way to build an info-molecule. Then adds value to that molecule. – Robert Scoble, The Seven Needs of Real-Time Curators

(I have no idea what Scoble is talking about, but as I’ve never had the opportunity to quote him in this blog before, I thought I’d jump on it here.)

If you're into curation and you want to make it a regular thing, there are some really interesting platforms in place (and more popping up) to support everything from individual to social media to enterprise content curation. And I understand why: if we’re going to invest time and energy in culling through all this content, we might as well invest money in smart tools to help us do it.

Now. There are some folks who believe that content creation "may not result in measurably better content than content curation.” Still others believe the idea of “curation” is a huge copout that allows us to continue to ignore the content mess we’ve gotten ourselves into. Or, as Mike Kane says in his post, Curation: A Dead Idea of Dead Thinking:

“Curation” and “curator” are the new buzzwords the dying dinosaurs of oldthink print publishing are clinging to just like overboarded Titanic passengers clung to skimpy lifebuoys in the freezing waters of the North Atlantic.

(Mmmmm. Delicious mixed metaphors.) Oh, also? You are not a curator:

You are, at best, a filter. You may make a name for yourself by excelling at some kind of selection process, but you are not a curator. “Curator” does not mean “I have good taste”. That just makes you some kind of fleshy gauze for the rest of us. The good come to us whilst all the pus and snot that came through your information media streams stay on your side. You are a makeshift step before a more advanced algorithm is invented.


As usual, our position here at Brain Traffic is this: we don’t care what you call it. If it’s needed, just do the work. And I think this activity of content curation is much needed.

As content strategists, it is in fact our job to sort through the wasteland of content—both online and within the organizations we serve—to find the really valuable assets, to organize them in meaningful ways, and to ensure they’re properly cared for over time.

That’s my take on this whole curation situation. What’s yours?