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]