Anytime there's a blog post or an article about Curation—someone pipes up in the comments with a weary sigh and says: "Isn't this just a fancy new word for an editor?"
So, let's deal with this in a direct way.
A curator is NOT an editor. Here's why.
Editors come in many shapes and sizes. The flavors include Acquisitions Editor, Articles Editor, Assignment Editor, Assistant Editor, Associate Editor, Contributing Editor/Editor at Large, Department/Features Editor, Executive Editor, Managing Editor, and Editor-in-Chief.
What none of these titles include is curator.
Editors provide a critical skill for refining and improving content that is created by a professional writer to a professional outlet.
Editors assign, review, and help craft finished editorial. But editors don't have a byline, and don't provide their voice or POV in the process of refining the writing. At least in concept—editors work for clarity and accuracy.
"A person responsible for the editorial aspects of publication; the person who determines the final content of a text (especially of a newspaper or magazine" (1)
"An editor is a mediator. She stands between the writer and the reader and helps them to understand each other" says the Writers Helper blog. (2)
Curators are in many ways creators. At least the good ones are. Think of a Disc Jockey at a night club. They all start with the same raw material: songs. Some DJ's create what we can all agree are new works—using the music to create re-mixes, mashups, and new songs. The artist "Girl Talk" certainly goes in that category.
Curators create entirely new editorial experiences by finding sources from diverse and sometimes divergent points of view.
Curators come with an editorial objective, a point of view, and their own editorial voice. Sometimes curators are both writers and gatherers. Other times, curators will use their contextual point of view and perspective to organize material in a way that collectively creates a larger story.
So the editors job is to refine and improve editorial that is authored by others, curators ARE authors in their own right.
So, if editors refine a topic, and curators define a topic—why does it matter now?
Because, we live in an era of editorial abundance. Everyone with a keyboard, a camera, and a phone is creating 'editorial'—bits and pieces of what is often a larger story. Curators who can filter the meaningful content from the firehose of data provide readers with both context and a richer editorial experience.
My conclusion is that editors remain essential, but their role is unchanged. Curators are something new, and needed. Filtering the deluge of data—finding meaning from the maelstrom—is a new and essential role.
Yuri Milner—the Russian Internet investor whose firm has invested in Facebook, Groupon, and Zynga—now says the next space he's looking at is Curation, "With the number of sources, and doubling of information every 18, 24 months. I think the next big thing is curation."
Yuri's made some smart calls, so unless he starts investing in Editors, I'd say Curation is a safe bet.