A critical look at curation

Most thinking people are burdened by information overload. The disintermediation of traditional information gatekeepers (news media, doctors, government institutions, even real estate agents) by  social media has placed too much information at our disposal, and we now have a different relationship to it. We no longer have to look for information; instead we have to sort through it. It’s as bad as looking through that shoebox of receipts at tax time trying to figure out what’s actually useful in filling out the 1040. 

Of course we have made up a word for this sorting: curation.  Editors of newspapers and assignment editors at TV stations are the most familiar traditional sources of curation. They, however, are slowly fading from the scene, victims of social media’s immediacy.

Then who should do our curation for us the way trusted sources used to? Algorithms, like those powering Zite or My6Sense, that purport to “get smarter” as you use them?  Individuals, like Barry Ritholtz of The Big Picture on financial information  or Robert Scoble on new technology? Traditional sources like The New York Times?  Or services that generate a personal newspaper so YOU can be the curator? As Forbes says of Paper.li, the best-known of those services:

In its own simple way Paper.li makes anyone a publisher of news and interesting information, and they don’t have to write a single word. It’s why celebrities and their fans already like the service–newspapers published by celebrities like Stephen Fry can get more than a hundred thousand hits each time, according to Pols. Groups, and even towns are getting in on the act.

So Stephen Fry is now a “curator.” Hmmm. 

Curation opens up a series of questions for us at the same time it solves a perceived problem.  It’s definitely a two-sided coin, especially when we look to our Facebook friends, Twitter followers, or other social media sites for curation.

Here are the questions to consider, and I warn you in advance that the answers are still emerging. For now, it’s sufficient to be aware of the questions. 

1.Do some current curation models prevent discovery, focusing people on those with whom they already agree, or on people they already know? 

2. Where are the most promising experiments in curation taking place?  On Huffington Post, perhaps, or on Red State?

3. How do Twitter and Facebook function as curators for people who use them?

4. And the biggest question of all — does social curation help us or hurt us?

Steve Rubel of Edelman Digital has cited studies that say people are moving away from friends as curators and towards experts once again. But at the same time, he also writes that major curation brands such as the New York Times are struggling to stay abreast of the “upstarts” of social curation.

Are we getting better information than in the good old days of newspapers and doctors as curators, or are we merely lurching wildly from diet to diet, rant to rant, without actually becoming much better informed about anything?  Some of the best writing on this has been done by Brian Solis of the Altimeter Group, who believes that we are all becoming our own curators, for better or for worse.  For myself, I vacillate between allowing my Tweetstream and Facebook feed to curate for me, and making my own decisions. Good luck.