According to Steve Rosenbaum, author of Curation Nation, “curation is the new way of organizing the web going forward.” And no doubt he’s right. Curious about why new curators like Thrillist and PSFK were thriving while the traditional publishing world floundered, I spent some time with their respective founders, Ben Lerer and Piers Fawkes. These conversations plus one with Eric Alterman, the founder of a new curation engine called iFlow, revealed four insights that could help you too capitalize on the curation phenomenon.
You can’t curate for everyone, so be targeted
In Brian Solis’s recent tribute on FastCompany.com to Rosenbaum’s book, Solis noted, “the social capital of a curator is earned through qualifying, filtering, and refining relevant content.” The key words here being filtering and relevance, something that Thrillist with its focus on urban males 22-30 has done exceptionally well. Explained Lerer, “we’ve zoned in on a niche group that was previously starved for the kind of information we deliver.”
Thrillist, for the uninitiated, started in 2005 with a newsletter to 600 New Yorkers and is now in 18 markets with 2.5 million subscribers. Added Lerer, “our voice is extremely targeted to a very specific part of the male demographic.” Lerer and his fellow curators of newish nightlife have built a highly profitable business during a time when traditional publishing tanked. This was done, according to Lerer, “by zoning in on a small sector of the population and speaking to them in a voice that they trust.”
It’s not curation without a well-defined focus
The New York Times famous line “All the news that’s fit to print,” made sense when newspapers were the primary source of daily information. Now it seems more like a potential epitaph, as newspaper readership plummets in the face of more focused web-based alternatives. One of the up and coming alternatives is PFSK, which founder Fawkes described as “the go to source for new ideas for creative professionals.”
Founded in 2004, PSFK has grown from a trend-spotting website to a hybrid company that publishes content, creates events and provides consulting services to clients like Nike, Target and BMW. When asked if PSFK was in the curation business, Fawkes affirmed, “yes, our job is to find new ideas and we present them up to 50 times a day.” Reflecting on their focused approach, Fawkes added, “every month a million designers, ad folks, digital entrepreneurs and media mavens get inspired by our content.”
If the curation is good enough, it will [almost] market itself
In the new world of curation, “information becomes currency and the ability to repackage something of interest as compelling, consumable and also [as a] sharable social object is an art,” wrote Brian Solis. This perhaps is the fundamental difference between the old world newspaper and the new world of curators. New world curators can connect and engage with other curators, helping to disseminate information quickly and at little to no cost.
Ben Lerer of Thrillist recalled taking this approach out of necessity since, “one of the stipulations with the money we raised was that we couldn’t spend any of it on marketing.” “So we focused all our energy on building something that people actually liked and would want to pass along to their friends,” explained Lerer. By “putting content first and making sure its written for the guy reading it,” Lerer and his team developed a loyal audience that in turn shared the content and or acted upon it demonstrating they too were in the know.
Human curators are smarter than algorithms
No matter how you many words you type into Google, you’re not going to find a recommendation you trust without clicking deep into another site. On the other hand, a quick visit to Thrillist and PSFK provides recommendations and ideas that are trustworthy without fail. When discussing the shortcomings of algorithmic curation, serial entrepreneur Eric Alterman explained, “only human curation can deliver real time content … that consumers are actually seeking.”
Seeing an opportunity in the limitations of algorithmic curation combined with the overwhelming flow of content generated via social media, Alterman is just about to launch a new curation platform called iFlow. Alterman believes that iFlow will address the problem of information overload, enabling “efficient curation into highly contextual aggregate streams [that] include all content types.” Given Alterman’s track record of turning ideas into successful companies like KickApps, his hope “to bring the art of content creation to the widest possible audience,” is anything but a pipe dream.
While admittedly I’m no longer in Thrillist’s demographic, I became a fan in ’08 when one of my clients wanted to connect with their readers. Seeing Lerer’s presentation at a recent PSFK event, I was simply blown away by their success in three short years. It was the quality of the presenters at this conference that got me thinking about curation and led to my conversations with Lerer, Fawkes and Alterman (see their respective interviews onTheDrewBlog.com).