Curating: When Anyone Can Be an Editor

Books have editors. Magazines have editors. Anthologies have editors. These editors decide what goes in–what people who view their content get to see. The internet, on the other hand, does not have an editor in this same manner. What goes onto the internet is equal to what anyone (and everyone) wants to put on the internet. There is no need to get approval from anyone. Click “post,” “tweet,” or “publish,” and boom: your content is now on the web.

As liberating and important as this feature of the internet is, it does create an overabundance of “stuff.” There then becomes a necessity for some sort of organization of what’s on the web–a way of enabling people to find what they want based on their interests. This organization is accomplished when people become editors for what they see as relevant on the web. This is more commonly referred to as “curating.” According to Rohit Bhargava, an online curator is someone who “continually finds, groups, organizes and shares the best and most relevant content on a specific issue online.” He stresses the importance of curating as a way for people to navigate the content on the web.

Just as there is no filter on web content, there is also no filter on who becomes a curator. Here, then, it becomes helpful to think about what constitutes good and useful curating.

Jon Vickers talks a little about curating and notes some important traits that good curators have. The job, he says, of the curator is to filter out “noise.” You want to present your audience with the best of what’s out there that’s relevant to their interests. This mandates that you know your audience, which is another key point with Vickers.

On this topic of knowing your audience, let’s look at a tweet put out by Jay Rosen. He said “the classic formula for success as a blogger: turn a passion into a niche, then dominate that niche. Add personality. Stir.” This sentiment rings true and here’s the reason: someone who’s passionate about whatever their talking about is most likely an expert in that field. They enjoy it, so they learn as much as they can about it. They develop opinions and make judgments about this topic in their own lives. By extending their expertise to their readers, they in effect become curators. They link you to what’s good or upcoming in whatever area they talk about. By focusing on a niche, as Rosen suggests, you ensure that you know your audience. If you’re a movie buff specializing in Japanese horror flicks, your readers will most likely share your interests. You therefore know them, and know that by staying on topic you’re giving your readers what they want.

Vickers also says one must allow for the entry of new audience members. To do this, make at least some of your content easily accessible either in appeal or content to the average person with minor interest in your topic. At the same time, in order to keep things interesting for those audience members you already cater to, he says one must also challenge your readers. There are many ways to do this, such as pulling in alternate or conflicting views on a particular subject into your curation. Doing this allows one’s curating to be more comprehensive and far-reaching than possibly other curators in the same field.

Bhargava also talks about what he sees as being the Five models of content curation. It’s interesting to think about there being different types of curation, but it makes sense to divide them up into the way they go about curating, since not every style of curation is right for every topic or every curator. In short, the five are:

Aggregation– A very economical style, it puts the most relevant information about a topic into a single location. Many times this is accomplished with the use of lists, such as “10 cities you must visit,” etc.

Distillation– This can be thought of as providing the “Reader’s Digest” version of things for your readers. With this type of curation, the curator only provides the relevant information, leaving out the bulk of other, unrelated material.

Elevation– A bit more difficult, this requires analysis and expertise on the part of the curator. It involves looking at the big picture made up of all the little bits of information put on the web to see if there are any trends or patterns that appear.

Mashup– This interesting type of curation uses juxtaposition to tell a different story. Merging contrasting, differing views on any one subject tends to have the effect of producing a whole new side of things–a new point of view.

Chronology– Generally seen as most useful when curating about a topic of which thinking or opinion has changed, chronological curating involves gathering together (many times historical) information and arranging it in chronological order to show the evolving understanding of a particular topic.

So let’s summarize what we’ve learned. Audience is important. Know your audience so you can make the best decisions possible for them. Judgment is important. A good curator must make good judgments about what is worthy and what is not, and again this is based on what your audience is looking for. Presentation is key as well: be clear, be honest, be concise. And in reference to Jay Rosen’s quote up there, having a personality on the web makes one’s readers happy. No one likes dry textbook reading. You’re a person, not a computer… prove it!

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