When it comes to curation, I think there’s good news and bad news.
Curation is “the art of plucking all the good stuff from a superabundance of crap.” (That’s the Cranky definition actor and dilettante media analyst Joseph Gordon-Levitt gave in a recent Esquire magazine interview.)
Assuming broadcast and cable news organizations survive the shifting sands of media buying, television news could continue to be a source of both timely information and advertising revenue, but it’s possible that a sustainable online news business model never develops. While online editorial content might be a pale imitation of its adequately funded and televised cousin, curated content could ascend as a dominant feature of the Web.
Social objects are the mechanisms that allow social networks to develop (like photos on Flickr and bookmarks on Del.icio.us) and their success online has provided massive volumes of content:
- Tweets: Twitter averages between 600,000 and 1,100,000 tweets an hour
- User-created video: More than 200,000 get posted every day on YouTube
- Blogs: More than 130 million have been indexed by Technorati since 2002
The unprecedented influx of content feeds an unprecedented need for filtering crap and that’s the good news for the emerging Age of Curation.
Some involved in swiftly sinking old media institutions are eyeing online curation as a potential lifeboat (a lifeboat that went largely ignored until long after water started flooding the decks.) Steve Rosenbaum, CEO of video curator Magnify.net, writes:
“Curation is the new role of media professionals.
“Separating the wheat from the chaff, assigning editorial weight, and — most importantly – giving folks who don’t want to spend their lives looking for an editorial needle in a haystack a high-quality collection of content that is contextual and coherent. It’s what we always expected from our media, and now they’ve got the tools to do it better.
“Yes, that’s right, the future of media is better, not worse. It’s more detailed, multi-faceted and nuanced. And, just more.”
But here’s the bad news about the Age of Curation: It’s not going to save old media; not its institutions and not its people.
It doesn’t bring me any joy to say that because I want the news media to find the cure in curation. I cut my teeth in print newsrooms in the late 1980s and I know way too many former co-workers filling out paperwork for unemployment benefits. (I don’t think we’re actually seeing the death of newspapers. The industry is in the middle of a transformation and while I’m not sure what it will transform into, I can just about guarantee it’ll be tiny in scale compared to the behemoth it once was.) I can’t share in Rosenbaum’s optimism about curation for the simple reason that I think trust is wildly overrated.
“As the number of publishers grows dramatically,” Rosenbaum writes in another column, “Content consumers will hunger for new trusted sources. These many creators and consumers on the move will fuel whole new businesses and categories.”
If you want advice on birth control, or which job to take, or what car to buy, you want to be able to trust the person you’re asking, but the less you have personally invested in a thing, the less essential trust gets. And folks, the click of a mouse is the tiniest of investments. When we design online experiences we hope to buy, at most, the user’s next five seconds. If we hold their interest without pissing them off, we buy five more seconds. Again and again, in five-second intervals until they shut down.
A guy playing a violin at the subway may hold our interest, but that doesn’t mean we need to be able to trust him to babysit our kids. Is the Web really anything more than a collection of street performers? We used to be fascinated by a self-tracking soda machine and a fish tank cam. Today it’s Facebook and what our friends had for breakfast. So in the future philosophical discussions about the evolution of man and culture will dominate our online experiences?
Coupon clippers and Dear Abby groupies vastly outnumbered dedicated newshounds back when newspapers only came in paper. Meaningful content has always been an online niche and the people who demand “quality” have always been a vocal minority.
So without trust as an essential ingredient, what will the Age of Curation look like when all is said and done? I wish I knew. Portals were an early form of curation, but that phase of the Web’s evolution was really just six months of invention followed by years of Yahoo! wannabe desperation. Today, YouTube and Slideshare attract millions without qualitative analysis, letting traffic volume serve as their curators. The firehose curation of Alltop.com might be indicative of the future, if for no other reason than the way Guy Kawasaki blends his power smoothie of technology, marketing, and half-starved capitalism.