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."
The debate pits creators against curators, asking big questions about the rules and ethical questions around content aggregation. It turns out that lots of smart and passionate people are taking sides and voicing their opinions.
In trying to understand the issue and the new emerging rules, I reached out to some of the experts who are weighing in on how curation could help creators and web users have a better online experience.
The Issues at Hand
Content aggregation (the automated gathering of links) can be seen on sites like Google News. Overall, this type of aggregation has been seen as a positive thing for content creators and publishers, and up until very recently, it was left to technology. Content creation, meanwhile, was a human effort.
But all that changes with curation — the act of human editors adding their work to the machines that gather, organize and filter content.
"Curation comes up when search stops working," says author and NYU Professor Clay Shirky. But it’s more than a human-powered filter. "Curation comes up when people realize that it isn’t just about information seeking, it’s also about synchronizing a community."
Part of the reason that human curation is so critical is simply the vast number of people who are now making and sharing media. "Everyone is a media outlet", says Shirky. "The point of everyone being a media outlet is really not at all complicated. It just means that we can all put things out in the public view now."
Who are curators? What can they gather and re-publish? Do they have the right to get paid for curation? If so, who’s adding the real value, the content makers or the curators/publishers?
For creators — people who’ve spent their careers making content and trying to sort out an economic model — curation can seem like an end-run around hard work. And so the conflict ultimately comes down to this: Is curation about saving money? Or about adding value? The answer, it appears, is "yes" to both.
"A lot of it is economic — doing more with less — and it has crossed every media industry," explains Allen Weiner of Gartner Group. "If you think about the tools you want to give an editor to make him or her more complete, you want to give them curation tools." It could be "something they add to their own content. As more old media companies attempt to do more with less, publishing tools that allow this efficiency without demeaning the product quality … [are] going to be very important."
So certain things are clear — there’s an economic imperative to add curation to the content mix. And from a user perspective, well done curation is a huge value-add in a world where unfiltered signal overwhelms noise by an ever increasing factor.
Where We Stand Now
In March at SXSW in Austin, I took part in a session that delved deeper into the issue of creation vs. curation. In attendance were representatives for people from both sides of the debate. This, in a nutshell, is the conclusion that came out of that discussion:
- We’re living in an era of content abundance.
- Even prolific creators are going to end up mixing their created content with a mix of curated sources.
- Creators, distributors, aggregators, and curators are all economically essential parts of the value chain.
- Advertisers will embrace trusted ‘places’ over trusted sources — large curated collections will achieve higher CPMs.
What is clear to me after these past three months of accelerated change is this: Curation is now part of the content equation. It doesn’t kill anything, rather it adds a powerful new tool that will make content destinations more relevant, more robust, and more likely to attract and retain visitors. Curation is here to say, though creators should have the ability to create boundaries, both editorial and economic, around what they create and how it is repurposed.
Further, the economic models for both creation and curation will continue to evolve. There’s no doubt that economic solutions will emerge around hosts and distributors.
"I don’t know if everything will be always free. The main thing is you shouldn’t be afraid to accept what is happening," says performer and early web denizen Heather Gold of curation. "You should not be afraid of the present moment. That is the essence of being an artist. That’s what makes it exciting."
It’s important to remember that curation can’t exist without creation. Content makers are the essential part of the aggregation/curation solution. So it’s impossible to imagine curators as adding value without a reasonable economic arrangement to content creators. But the ethical issues around attribution, re-purposing, and editorializing around others’ content is far from resolved. Respect and remuneration seem to be reasonable starting places.
Steve Rosenbaum is The CEO of Magnify.net, a NYC-based Web platform that powers content aggregation and curation. He has been building and growing consumer-content businesses since 1992. He was the creator and Executive Producer of MTV UNfiltered, a series that was the first commercial application of user-generated video in commercial TV. He is a documentary director who's film Seven Days in September chronicled life in the week after 9/11 in New York.
Follow Steve on Twitter @Magnify
Originally Published on Mashable.com 5/3/10