The Secret, Selfish Side Of Social-Curation Sites

Here’s my beef with social platforms today: I don’t think they’re very social at all.

As much as Google+, Facebook, and Pinterest promise a way to connect, they’ve also promoted a disconnect--sharing on different platforms, proving a fragmented sense of keeping tabs on any social network. We can track our connections’ job promotions on LinkedIn, photos from their new office on Facebook, and hear their celebratory music on Spotify--but what about how these all link together? And what about the platforms themselves? Unfortunately, competition currently drives their existence.

Specifically, these days every startup, brand, journalist, etc. has set out to associate themselves with the craze that is “social curation": What is this Pinterest? Why is it so popular? What industry trend can I tie this to and how can my brand capitalize on it? We’re all so quick to polarize ourselves because we don’t truly understand it. We don’t know why it’s so addicting and that scares us. We don’t know how it got to 10 million users so quickly. Instead, we analyze and we obsess--but no, we still don’t understand it. That might be because we’re not diagnosing it correctly. No one is really looking at the bigger, underlying picture--the fact that social curation isn’t really social at all.

It’s not social, it’s selfish. 

Social curation companies like Pinterest, Storify, and Foodspotting are essentially creating hubs for crowdsourcing interests like wedding ideas, hipsterized photos, and tweets that appear social on the surface. At the core, though, social curation is incredibly self-centered. Pins of things that I want, pictures of food I ate, tweets about stories I read. There’s no sense of community--no we, ours, or us involved. People only post and repin the things with the hope that someone might like it, Tweet it, share it, but essentially we do it in a silo to please ourselves--there is no collaboration integrated into these platforms, yet. Today’s social platforms are innately self-centered because that is how they have been conditioned to be over time and more often than not people are just blindly pushing out content, not actually sharing what we like, bought, saw, need, want with others. We collaborate and work together in the office--so why not with our buddies at Sunday Brunch, compiling videos, photos, tweets, and more from last night’s concert?

Our so called “social” worlds have become flat and one-dimensional, just like the static content we curate on a daily basis. Where’s the collaboration? Wedding photographers cull together separate videos of the bride and groom, so why can’t we? Is it even possible to have an internet ecosystem that is brought on by a collaborative effort--a group of people at a bar or classroom or concert?

Riding social fatigue into next wave of social curation

Being constantly inundated with our social updates tires us out--we’re fatigued and we’re annoyed with each other. Here’s why: while it is true that no one care’s about your trip to Mexico, your weird tastes in music and the dinner that you just made, we still want to be involved. But we hate the self-serving. We’re re-pinning and re-tweeting without context, without collaboration. The Internet will always suffer from social media fatigue until it allows for seamless collaboration among multi-platforms, multi-dimensions, and multi-media. This may be idealistic view but it’s not impossible.

Collaboration has the ability to reduce the selfish nature of social media and transform the act of curation into a more sophisticated action. Collaborative curation has the potential for a brand and a shopper, a group of friends, perhaps even quarreling bloggers to create something relevant together. Imagine a world where Michelle Obama can collaborate on spring styles with Marie Claire magazine and Tim Gunn on Pinterest, Tumblr, Instagram, and Twitter. Or what if MG Siegler and Dan Lyons collaborated on an argument, visually depicting their thoughts. Or what if a musician in Africa and a film student in New York came together to tell a story? What would that look like?  

Social curation has the potential to be more than a wedding Pinboard or a hipsterized photo. My hope that social curation becomes social, becomes collaborative--a dynamic way of sharing multimedia content with others to create results with substance. I believe in a better way to curate, taking the genius behind Storifying, Pinning, and Instagraming and elevating it to create global connections. Now, one question that remains--is technology willing to open itself to collaboration? 

So what's next?

The web is changing daily, and with the advent of each new social platform, it's imperative that humans and technology shift to working together, to create actual curated, collaborative content. Do you think that a collaborative social world even possible?  

--Author Brian Andreas is the CEO and creative architect of tumblecloud, a collaborative digital storytelling platform. He's also the entrepreneur and artist behind StoryPeople

[Image: Flickr user Aftab Uzzaman]

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12 Comments

  • Alexandre Combessie

    Really interesting article. But I think you're a bit too critical on Pinterest. Group boards enable people to collaborate, and on the whole, the process of social curation is a collaborative process of digging the best out of a bunch of data. I agree on the selfish part of these platform though

  • Brian Ellefritz

    Brian, @atimoshenko captured my thoughts best: people collaborate and share when it serves them to do so.  Without going Clinton-esque here, calling the social platforms non-social depends on where you set that bar.  Are they more social than the platforms before them? Without a doubt.  Is there too little opportunities to bind your content/identities/experiences between the platforms?  Surely.  Is a leap to collaboration the answer?  Not in my mind.  The kind of collaboration you hint at will be a relatively rare feat; heck pushing workers together who get paid to collaborate can be tough.  It's worth pursuing but I don't see a goal of collaboration as the "right" outcome solving the other dilemmas you point out.  Still, good post and glad you are working on the opportunity.  

  • Brie Stewart

    I found this article really interesting. As a Social Media professional, these types of silos that are currently emerging between the platforms - is concerning. The collaboration between platforms, people and goals is something we should all aim for. However, selfishness and self obsession is also the dark side of all things 'online social'. This drives our use and our focus, so how do we break it

    ?

  • kelly23

    Today people used social sites only to spend their spare time and just for refreshing their minds.

  • thabomophiring

    Wow! Human Being are selfish - now there is a finding. Even our normal socialness has selfish element. We do not just connect for the sake but because it satisifies an inhererent human need.
    When I 'choose' friends - it is not a selfless act. There are reasons

  • Valerija

    I think that author is totaly right regardind the social media being not social at all. What happened is just being connected on base of ego-centered interests on ego-centered platforms. To make it all interacting seems hard, but is sure the first new social network able to mix the best sides of those networks will be like an "admin platform" for all. Just should give a good base for users in disposing proper content, functionally and taking the best of other platforms. I thought Google could make it, but they are all too "technical", as still persist a problem of not linguistic and not social based technicians inside those social networks! Compliments Brian, you gave a great article!

  • atimoshenko

    People collaborate to the degree it is in their interests/it pleases them to do so. This is true everywhere – online ( – the audience for Wikipedia contributors are other Wikipedia contributors and themselves, just as it is for blog comments) and off. The question is not why Michelle Obama, the editors of Marie Claire and Tim Gunn would not collaborate about spring styles on Twitter, but why on earth would they? Each person only has very few things he or she is passionate about to occasionally collaborate on. Moreover, true, sustained back-and-forth really requires that you trust and like the people you collaborate with – collaboration (that is not self-centred) is no fun if you have no broader relationship with your collaborators.

    The author is right that "social" sites are not really "social" at all, and more about establishing public identities. But it is a terminology problem, not a design problem – the sites are popularly because they are allowing people to do exactly what most of them want to do most of the time.

  • Bryan Seow

    I agree with Michael, I don't think its a secret.
    I think its a vicious cycle.  People's (even mine) perspective are that social should include "me".  The unselfish collaboration or interaction however, is when anonymous people come together to build something through individual contributions, but what shines at the end is not the "me's", but the end product.  The best example I can think of is Wikipedia.  People don't really admire the contributors, they admire the collaborated content.

    But...it's against human nature to not promote ourselves.  Facebook & other networks provide a platform for us to draw attention to ourselves.  It should be the other way round:
    People contributing towards an objective that doesn't serve themselves.

  • Michael Kern

    I am unclear on exactly what was "secret" about this.  We live in a culture of "look at me." It is continuously getting worse. 

  • Bruno Gebarski

    Id like to see the day Mrs. Michelle Obama looks "up" to the French President's wife: that would be "social medias" par excellence!