When Using The "C Word" Is Just Plain Wrong

Curators are the new superheros of the web--here's how to tell if you're the real thing, or just faking it.

Ok, admit it--you've done it more than once. You've said the "C word," probably even in public. A few years ago it wouldn't have been possible. Your friends would have shunned you, your business associates would have looked at you with their jaw hanging open in disbelief.

But in some cases, there is simply no better word. In a world of digital overload and content super-abundance, we're all hungry for it. You know you need it. The "C word" is "curation."

So, rather than be embarrassed, here's a simple 5 step guide to how to use, and how not to use, the word "curation."

A simple guide to tell if you're a curator.

  • There's a editorial story about an event, and you've plunked yourself down in the middle of it. You're reading blog posts, scanning tweets, searching for news on Google, and viewing videos. You're knitting them together into thoughtful story, with your own editorial voice in the mix. Curation? For sure!
  • Your closet is a mess. You dig in, separate shoes from flip flops, put in shelves and pack up your old worn flannel shirts. Are you "curating your closet"? Sorry--if your closet is messy then you should clean it. Not so sexy, but accurate. You're not a curator.
  • You're the host/organizer of a well-regarded and popular conference of thinkers and doers. Each year you set the agenda, scour the earth for speakers who can build a larger narrative, and stage a top flight event. Think something like TED (whose organizer's title is: "Curator," by the way). Is this Curation? You bectcha.
  • Friends are coming over for dinner. You want to wow them with a menu that is remarkable in its variety and culinary breadth. You mix local produce with unique far-flung spices. A sensational hit. Sure, your menu for the dinner party is delicious. But it isn't curated.
  • You've got a gallery and you're ready to put together a stellar show of paintings, photographs, etchings, or any other kind of art. Of course, you're a curator.

So to clear things up, curators don't just put things in nice neat columns, they add their unique voice, point of view, or editorial perspective. They do gather content from multiple sources, but if the result isn't more than a well organized collection then you can't take the title of curator. Curators are a new thing, a hybrid mix of hunter/gatherer and content creator. They create new work by bringing together often diverse and hard to find elements.

Curators are the new superheros of the web. Capturing the massive flow of moving and often missed data in real time, and turning random bits of information into contextual, coherent, meaningful stories. You may not like a curator's point of view, but you'll certainly know there is one.

Since the speed and volume of content has no chance of slowing down, curators are going to be increasingly essential to understand digital information. But if all you want is a list of the most popular restaurants, or most updated headlines, don't look for a human to do that. A robot aggregator will do just fine.

Just don't call them curators.

[Image: Flickr user Melissa Wiese]

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