I have been wanting to write about this subject for a while. Curation is a hot and emerging topic and there are new products introduced almost weekly that try to tackle the challenge of curation. The reason for this blog post is to communicate a simple message – Filtering is not curation – Curation by definition is organization and maintenance – A filtering system like Twylah for example is not curation, it is closer to aggregation. This is not to say that Twylah is not valuable and filtering is not a useful activity. This is just to say that the product of curation is maintaining and optimizing research on a topic and streams that are changing at warp speed are simply filters and not curated pages. We use moreover technologies aggregation system as an aggregation service integrated into our tool. Powerful aggregation services like moreover have the capability to surf the entire web and aggregate links based on a multi-level filtering system. If you have ever used one of these systems you know that the results, even though very compelling and useful always include noise. Curation is the human process of taking out the noise. The product of curation always needs a human to add the ultimate value. [ad name=”Post LTB”]
Curation is traditionally defined as “The act of organizing and maintaining a collection of artworks or artifacts”. Curators are knowledgeable about their domain and hence the ability to pick the best work for a collection based on their research and knowledge of the subject matter. Curation has two defined characteristics – organization and maintenance – Organization implies that you can always access the collection and know where things are – Maintenance implies that you can always add or subtract items in time. Many products or activities that are simply filtering – even human filtering are advertised as curation products. For example many call twitter list’s as curation – But is that really curation? How? The list is just a list and the tweets are random. Lists are certainly filters, but can they be identified as curation? Another activity that is being branded as curation is what traditionally has been known as syndication. This article by “Steve Rosenbaum” is branding Huffington Post as a curation site – A content site where editors pick other people’s content for different segments of their publication. Is this really curation or loose syndication? A search on Huffington post on “social media” gives me this. It’s certainly a nice list, but where is the organization? where is the organized context? Let’s compare the same search on KBucket. The search for “social media” gives you this with other related articles organized and accessible in context. I think there is a lot of value in filtering and managing streams – Aggregation with human editorial touch is also very useful and there are great successful models of that like techmeme.com – But these are not new activities, they have been around. What is new with curation are tools and platforms that let users be managers of context and also search for information in context Organization, purpose and maintenance define the value of the curated set. Search defines the value of the curated platform.
Describing curation Rohit Bhargava says – “a content curator is someone who continually finds, groups, organizes and shares the best and most relevant content on a specific issue online”. The most important component of this job is the word – continually. In the real-time world of the Internet, this is critical.” I like Rohit’s description and his emphasis on the word continually. We have practical experience and a real world case study that emphasizes the notion of continual refinement when it comes to curation. Background The vision for our authoring tool Optimal Desktop was conceived by my partner and chief designer Stefan Ritzi when he was working as an IT consultant. Through his consulting practice he recognized a common desire by various groups within organization for personalized information access solutions. The desire was specifically for curated information access solutions. In a white paper based on a 2 year case study (we wrote this paper in 2005 before “Curation” was coined) in a real world environment we describe the problem in this way: “Optimal Access is a software company dedicated to solving the problem of saving and sharing search results. With wider usage of the Internet, individual users and institutions of all size, search, capture and save information from a growing number of sources. Yet, the traditional solution for bookmarking, managing, accessing and sharing a large volume of links fails to satisfy this universal need. Optimal Access products empower project managers and researchers to aggregate and organize information from multiple sources by subject or project making it easy to store and share links in context hence improving the findability of information.” Case Study Over two years, we studied the use of Optimal Desktop (Our Desktop Authoring and Curation solution) for 4 operational groups (70 people) within an information-based organization – FirstAssist in London UK. The subjects worked in 4 functional call centers providing Medical, Travel, Claims and Legal assistance to their clients. Using our products they managed access to an average of 916 links to Intranet pages, web applications, Internet news sources, files and folders. Here is how Geoff Tothill Chief Medical Officer and our chief evangelist describes the problem with traditional solutions and the need for curation (tools that can continuously reformat information access): ” The problem with the traditional concept of a web portal is that structure and direction is ‘designed into’ the portal and the addition of new material, or the personalization of this information for use in a restricted part of an operation can be very time consuming. Using Optimal Desktop as a universal client we have solved many of the traditional problems associated with the structuring of information which is derived from multiple sources. We have built individual cabinets (Panels – The top tabs in a KBucket page) for each of our teams, with information grouped together logically in drawers (Groups – The bottom tabs in a KBucket page). This has allowed a large amount of information to be deployed in a coherent and understandable way.” Process of curation What is critical and the point I want to share in this post is how to create superior value in curation. Curation becomes real valuable when its refined by a group and reflects the needs of the people that are actually using the curated product. Here is how FirstAssit curators explain their process: “Our Curated pages are built by our Project leads and with the input of the entire team. We have found that it takes roughly 2 months to optimize the taxonomy of our Curated pages so our employees can easily find the information they need to do their jobs. The flexibility provided by Optimal Desktop to easily organize and re-organize the taxonomy of our curated pages makes it possible for us to optimize our information access needs.” Value of curation Value of curation can be summed up in time saving and education and that’s exactly what First Assist case study shows: “We have reduced the time to train new employees in our International Call Center division from 8 months to 3 months. Our new employees quickly learn to find the information they need to perform their jobs. Since call center operates in 3 shifts the standardized access to information provided by Optimal Desktop has improved the efficiency of call center employees staying up-to-date with the latest manuals and reports. Using Optimal Desktop, group managers are now able to quickly add content and make it searchable for their staff. Eliminating the need to depend on specialized staff (Programmers and IT staff) has improved our publishing time from 2 days to one hour. Optimal Desktop has empowered those in service provision to actually design client specific portals with specific navigational interfaces targeted at their staff, reducing training and dramatically increasing speed of deployment. This certainly gives us a competitive advantage.“ My 2 cents In general I think we can say that curation tools are there to help people find the information they need faster. As we can see from the value conclusions above, both people who helped create the curated products and new people who came to use them benefited from the curated results. Another important value of curation is editorial control by everyday users, a function that until now was reserved for web developers and magazine editors. In summation I believe that tools that incorporate refinement as part of their philosophy can inevitably offer better curated products. [ad name=”LTB ATF”]
I want to share an example of how Journalist (both mainstream and bloggers) can use curation to validate their arguments. The Example: Recently IMF (International Monetary Fund) came out with a report praising the Iranian government for the implementation of their economic plan (Subsidy Cuts). Now anyone that follows Iranian politics and is familiar with life on the streets would immediately know that this IMF report is extremely flawed. Following is an example of how I would use curated research to point out facts that the writer of the article should have been aware of: ” A recent IMF report praises Iran’s subsidy reforms, seemingly as some kind of an academic exercise without regard to the reality on the ground. The report makes certain claims that any casual observer could refute immidiately. For example it says – “Pre-reform preparations, for good reasons, centered on ensuring social support for the price increases. Without broad public support, the government would not have been able to increase the domestic prices of energy and other products”. A cursory review of the crackdowns, human rights violations and executions in Iran just in the last year easily demonstrates the lack of respect of the Iranian government for its people. To claim that this government needs broad public support to do anything is simply laughable. Furthermore, a quick study of the Iranian economy and the effect of subsidy cuts paint a different picture than what this IMF report tries to project.”. The Conclusion Curating news is and will be an essential part of any journalistic endeavor. By curating news on specific topics everyday Journalist will build valuable assets that will help them draw on existing research to quickly author new articles. Furthermore the curated research itself will be a valuable source of reference for all and will add to the journalists cache. [ad name=”Post LTB”]