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Curators and the Curated at SXSWi

“I feel like such a token…I’m so grateful you guys are here to package and repurpose me.”

The whole crowd listening to the “Curators and the Curated” panel erupted in laughter at SXSW Interactive.

David Carr, reporter and blogger of the New York Times, was the only person on the panel whose job is solely to focus on the creation of content, rather than the gathering, repackaging, and distribution of content (although David Carr is certainly active on Twitter, which many would classify as a curation tool in itself). Carr’s signature sharp wit and representation of the legacy of journalism made tangible the (sometimes playful) tension between those that create content versus those who recapture it. Those platforms that are not under the business model constraints of traditional media are able to create beautifully designed spaces for content, without the taint of paywalls or the ugly appearance of ads. Although, Mia Quagliarello of Flipboard argued that fans of Vogue magazine read for the ads as much as the article.

But, aside from whether or not sites like Longform.org (which re-posts long form non-fiction content on their site and iPad version, and whose editor, Max Linsky, moderated the panel) disrupt traditional media’s ad revenue by pulling content to other sites and platforms for users to discover, an interesting debate emerged on the role of curators and the art of curation.

Is there a distinction between editors and curators?

Mia Quagliarello of Flipboard thought that editors create and “curators make discovery easier.” And admitted the most challenging part of her job at Flipboard was the ability to find curators who uncover the hidden gems lost in the content mine of the Internet, with as much finesse as, say, awesome bloggers.

Maria Popova, creator of Brainpickings, argued that curators were more than just repackagers of content but were, in fact, “framing for people what matters.” Maria was adamant that there is a ‘moral’ lens that curators must employ when choosing content that they’ll bubble to the surface rather than selecting content because it satisfies a niche or drives page views and web traffic. However, this argument is one that many media outlets have mused over for years as the gatekeepers of what issues readers are privy to and audiences pay attention to the most.

Carr said that the curator chooses less according to morals and more according to their own aesthetic values. Maria pushed on about the role of curators as so much more than just aggregators, but rather like brilliant librarians who should deserve as much credit as the creators for their laborious designed discovery. Hence the birth of her newly launched Curator’s Code to “build a culture around attribution of discovery as a way of authorship.” She believes curators are like new knowledge ambassadors, “getting people interested in things they wouldn’t encounter otherwise.” But Carr brought up the fact that “people click in self re-inforcing ways,” meaning that breaking out of our go-to resources and searching beyond our intended curiosities is difficult and not the behavior of most people on the Internet.

Noah Brier, founder of Percolate, wasn’t convinced that people were missing so much because of the overwhelming amount of data on the Internet or their own “filter bubbles.” Of course, Percolate is a tool that uses an algorithm to help bubble up content you're most interested in based on a thread of content you’ve chosen before. It is for curators and community managers working with media companies and brands to help hone their voice.

You are what you link

Carr thought that sharing (a primary role of curators) goes beyond the kindergarten variety and has become somewhat of a competition, which some would say, is driven by narcissism or vanity. This is the idea that we are what we tweet, what we generally give a virtual nod to through links. But perhaps these nods are what give content a new way life, beyond the five-second click through that people do on Google before hitting the back button.

Carr went on to say that Flipboard in particular had a way to make who make “older” content seem new again with its beautiful design and interface.

Public media goes transmedia

The rise of the content curator is nothing new and its precursor, the boom of the creator, hasn’t completely gone away as new communities have access to publishing and online expression. But I wonder: when the continual tidal wave of constant reference--and not necessarily in a remix culture kind of way--will slow down, will there be more room for focused attention on creating new types of meaningful content, with interesting avenues of both analog (think: IRL) and digital distribution that create something with beautiful pause in the flooding stream of data?

In another ‘future of content’ type panel, I was introduced to a new platform that seems to harness this idea of giving old content new meaning and remixing it in a way that makes it one of the most fascinating, thoughtful, an innovative ideas I've seen yet.

Stay Tuned.

Sketchnotes by Craighton Berman summarizing the curation discussion "The Curators and the Curated" at the SXSW 2012.  http://j.mp/wSTJWh via Giuseppe Mauriello

As frog's Content and Community manager, Kristina Loring curates, writes, and edits the design mind platform. When she's not spreading frog's ideas across the Internet and the city, you can find her raving about digital activism, the power to humanize tech, and community-led innovation.