Content Curators Are The New Superheros Of The Web

Yesterday, the ever-churning machine that is the Internet pumped out more unfiltered digital data.

Yesterday, 250 million photos were uploaded to Facebook, 864,000 hours of video were uploaded to YouTube, and 294 BILLION emails were sent. And that's not counting all the check-ins, friend requests, Yelp reviews and Amazon posts, and pins on Pintrest.

The volume of information being created is growing faster than your software is able to sort it out. As a result, you're often unable to determine the difference between a fake LinkedIn friend request, and a picture from your best friend in college of his new baby. Even with good metadata, it's still all "data"—whether raw unfiltered, or tagged and sourced, it's all treated like another input to your digital inbox.

What's happened is the web has gotten better at making data. Way better, as it turns out. And while algorithms have gotten better at detecting spam, they aren't keeping up with the massive tide of real-time data.

While devices struggle to separate spam from friends, critical information from nonsense, and signal from noise, the amount of data coming at us is increasingly mind-boggling.

In 2010 we frolicked, Googled, waded, and drowned in 1.2 zettabytes of digital bits and bytes. A year later volume was on an exponential growth curve toward 1.8 zettabytes. (A zettabyte is a trillion gigabytes; that’s a 1 with 21 zeros trailing behind it.)

Which means it's time to enlist the web's secret power—humans.

If you want to understand how fast curation is growing on the web, just take a look at Pinterest. The two-year-old visual clipping and publishing platform has now surpassed 10 million users, making it the fastest-growing web service on the web ever, according to Comscore. Comscore reported that Pinterest was the fastest independent site to hit 10 million monthly uniques in the U.S.

Curation is the act of individuals with a passion for a content area to find, contextualize, and organize information. Curators provide a consistent update regarding what's interesting, happening, and cool in their focus. Curators tend to have a unique and consistent point of view—providing a reliable context for the content that they discover and organize. To be clear, Pinterest both creates tools to organize the noisy web and, at the same time, creates more instances of information in a different context. So it's both part of the problem, and a solution. The trick is finding the Pinterest pinboards that you like, and tune out the rest.

Sites like BoingBoing and Brain Pickings are great content curators. And now brands are getting into the act. Harley Davidson's site Ridebook features content in culture, style, music, and travel. And increasingly, curators are emerging as a critical filter that helps niche content consumers find "signal" in noise. Jason Hirschhorn's Media reDEFined newsletter distributes posts on digital media, mobile, gaming, and web content. A barebones newsletter of links, it has become a "must read" curated daily offering for anyone trying to stay in touch with the fast-moving pace of change in media. But curation isn't limited to media. The Haymarket-owned site Clinical Advisor now curates web video for nurse practitioners.

Superheroes are extraordinary humans who dedicate themselves to protecting the public. And anyone who's trying to keep their head above the proverbial "water" of the web, the rising tide of data and information, knows that we need super-help...and fast.

So anyone who steps up and volunteers to curate in their area of knowledge and passion is taking on a Herculean task. They're going to stand between the web and their readers, using all of the tools at their disposal to "listen" to the web, and then pull out of the data stream nuggets of wisdom, breaking news, important new voices, and other salient details. It's real work, and requires a tireless commitment to being engaged and ready to rebroadcast timely material. While there may be an economic benefit for being a "thought leader" and "trusted curator," it's not going to happen overnight. Which is to say, being a superhero is often a thankless job.

The growth in content, both in terms of pure volume and the speed of publishing, has raised some questions about what best practices are in the curation space. Here's where you should start

1.  If you don't add context, or opinion, or voice and simply lift content, it's stealing.
2.  If you don't provide attribution, and a link back to the source, it's stealing.
3.  If you take a large portion of the original content, it's stealing.
4.  If someone asks you not to curate their material, and you don't respect that request, it's stealing.
5.  Respect published rights. If images don't allow creative commons use, reach out to the image creator—don't just grab it and ask questions later.

How will curation evolve? A group of curators led by blogger Maria Popova are promoting a Curators Code. But this new collection of attribution symbols is getting early mixed reviews. New York Times columnist David Carr called the code a useful attempt for "creating visible connections between seemingly disparate pieces of information." But others pointed out that the hyperlink has been providing attribution for years.

One thing I'm sure of—the web is going to keep growing fast. And the solution to making sense of the massive volume is a new engaged partnership between humans and machines. There are a number of companies building cool solutions you can explore if you're looking for curation tools. Among them: Curata, CurationSoft, Scoop.it, Google+, Storify.com, PearlTrees.com, MySyndicaat.com, Curated.by, Storyful,Evri, Paper.li, Pearltrees, and of course Magnify.net (where I hang my hat).

So, if you're ready to be a superhero, now's the time. The web needs you. Your readers need you. All you need is a web browser and a cape. The rest is up to you.

[Image: Flickr user Zach Dischner]

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20 Comments

  • The best journalists have to be both creators and curators in order to do the proper research. Hopefully more people will understand the effort they've been putting in all along to do just this!

  • petetravels

    I think one interesting frontier in content curation will be regional/language-based video curation sites.

    India, for example, creates tons of TV content (outside Bollywood's Hindi movies) and it's based on various national languages. So new startups are cropping up, such PlusFlix.com, which currently focuses on southern Indian TV content.

  • Robert Stevens

    Awesome. So basically we've just found a new job. I think it's called "Librarian".

  • Melissa Breker

    Great points.Thanks for your article.

    As Scott McCloud has indicated in a TED talk about Understanding Comics (http://bit.ly/Z5m5a), being a visionary essentially comes down to four points:

    1.  Learn from Everyone
    2.  Follow No One (Set your own path)
    3.  Watch for Patterns
    4.  Work Like Hell

    I think this is a great way to sum up the approach I take to curation.  As you indicated ... referencing others and adding value through your own specialized "lens" is what makes content curation so powerful.

    I look forward to seeing just how curation will grow - and I'm happy to know that I as a super hero in training ... there are others and a variety of tools that can assist me in my journey.

  • Andrew Simms

    Great article, Steven. Following on from Pawan & Eric's suggestions, here's another. 
    First, thanks for alerting me to Maria Popova. I went to her fantastic blog, Brain Pickings. And I found a Youtube video of a great 1988 Isaac Asimov interview. 
    Then I created searchable highlights using Tagmotion. You can see how it works in this video 'walkthrough'. 
    You can use it to index highlights of any number of Youtube videos, down to the atomic level. Then browse them & share them. 
    So it's a form of hands-on video curation, down to the micro level, using "human intelligence to supplement the algorithms", as Daniel Gray so eloquently wrote above.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v... 

  • Fernando Martinez de la Vega

    Wow Steven, this article lands so much hope in what we are pretending to achieve: visually list what we (our small team) as curators believe is worth discovering.
    Sorry to mention ourselves here, but this post is so in the spot: yellowmonkey.co
    Above all, as curators, we must love doing this, even when "being a superhero is often a thankless job."

  • Matthew Brown

    Mr. Rosenbaum,

    Thank you for the fantastic article! I've been a fan of internet "communities" since the old dial-up days, and am now getting into "curating" for my own website. I had a vague definition of what I was doing, but your article gave me a clear cut definition. 

    Matt

  • Steven Rosenbaum

    David,  actually not true.  Editors didn't gather stories,  they assigned them and then reviewed and polished or spiked them.  They didn't have a voice or a byline.  Curators are an entirely new editorial creature... both organizers and creators.  Good ones take existing elements,  add their own,  and make something unique and useful.  

  • David DePaolo

    In the old days "curators" were called "editors" and they worked at newspapers and magazines. This is nothing new...

  • Nicholas Herold

    Very nice piece. There are two problems with most discovery tools. One is that you keep coming up with the same set of results, mostly. The other is that you end up with lists, the specific value of each requires a lot of looking and reading. What's needed is a system that allows our innate sense of pattern recognition to come into play.

  • Daniel Gray

    Very interesting article - because of its relevance to my world, I see many of Amazon's Mechanical Turk #mturk use cases (i.e. content categorization/moderation, business validation, data augmentation/collection, tagging, etc...) aimed at supporting the "superheroes," by leveraging the crowd's 'human intelligence' to supplement the algorithms, and help curate the web's ever-growing content.

  • sean

    superheroes today and tomorrow in the bread line with all the "SEO specialists" and "social media experts."

  • Sheri Herman

    I'm new school although old enough to not to be. Can't help it. Being an entrepreneur is both blessing and curse. I am rarely as excited as I am about the concept of both curation and co-creation. Seemingly opposites, I'm building a company around it. Call me a bi-bifurcated curation, co-creation, rock star - or not. Either way the two fit together hand and glove in a social media/E-commerce market dominated by women who want their say and are going to have it one way or another!

  • Bruxcat

     Hi Sheri! Although is been a while since you wrote your comment I felt attracted by many things:
    1. You're an entrepreneur (so am I).
    2. You are excited about curation and co-creation (I'm both and also a writer).
    3. The fact that you're building a company around. I can't help but feel curious (and if you need a freelancer curator hand, don't hesitate to write. Email me to bruxcat@gmail.com)

    Cheers!
    Bruxcat

  • cliffclavenjr

    Well written article. I'm a part time employed social media rep and a freelance journalist. I haven't yet checked out the curration tools you suggest, though I will. But I guess I'm old school, trying to find my way in this new school world, and your "article" leaves me with this question. Can anyone explain the difference between a online newspaper article and an online newspaper blog post? Between a blog site (blogger) and a curration tool such as the sites you suggest?

    Thanks.

  • Eric Alterman

    Steve, you missed one.  Power curators need to check out iFlow.com.  RSS aggregation, drag-and-drop curation, automated filters.  There's nothing else like it.

  • Pawan Deshpande

    Steve- You do a
    fantastic job of outlining the key challenges of identifying, organizing and
    sharing online content.  With all of the information available, managing
    content can certainly feel like a task fit for a superhero.  In fact,
    helping marketers succeed under pressure and standout from their peers was the
    very reason that those of us behind Curata chose to issue our eBook,
    “5 Simple Steps to Becoming a Curation Rockstar.”   Offering tips to
    manage content and share the most pertinent information with target audiences,
    this eBook may  help content marketers not only stay afloat, but also rock
    the web.