Content Curation & Cultural Heritage
The social value of selecting and organizing existing content
“When we curate content online, it enhances who we are, both in the sense of… - we learn things, and we help to define ourselves by understanding our own interests — and in a more external way, by allowing other people to better understand who we are.
It becomes part of our ethos, part of our personal brand.”
Our effort to gather, collect and order the information chaos surrounding us, is a critical activity to understand ourselves, to learn more about anything and to make sense of the world we live in.
This is what makes curation such a valuable activity for humankind.
Real-world examples of such valuable curation activity are everywhere around us.
They range from music compilations, to video playlists, galleries of images, directories of tools and resources, to hand-picked lists of experts, custom maps, timelines, guides and in-depth news stories.
Culturally, these curated resources, are not just shortcuts to the “essence” of something, but rather elements that shape and define the character, the perimeter of who we are, of what we are interested in, what we like, give value to and seek. Our culture.
For these reasons curation acts both as
- a cultural portal to discover who we are as well as
- a lighthouse pointing to whatever our culture deems to be relevant and worth of attention and scrutiny.
In turn, content curation shapes and molds our own culture as it promotes the filtering and highlighting of what is identified as being of greater value and interest by experienced scholars, researchers, trendsetters, influencers and passionate information explorers such as content curators are.
Curation & Culture
Curation and culture are two sides of the same coin.
They are deeply connected and rely on each other for survival. One could not exist without the other.
Consider this: if one desires to get a glimpse of a culture, where does one go?
To the top museums preserving and showcasing key records, paintings, writings, and other artifacts defining that culture.
From utensils, to tools, cutlery, clothes, ornaments, jewelry, weapons, to writings, music and paintings, to food, art and architecture. Physical things, but also the ideas, symbols and beliefs.
“Culture is the characteristics and knowledge of a particular group of people, defined by everything from language, religion, cuisine, social habits, music and arts.”
But today, if you think of it, museums are not anymore just those we have come to know in the physical world.
The internet is now full of highly valuable repositories, libraries, catalogs and directories that organize and showcase who we are today.
Without having been labelled as museums, these online collections, directories and catalogs act as true extensions of the classical museum and as live digital galleries of who we are, what we do and what we are interested into.
The content that we curate, publish and share online today, is a reliable mirror of our culture(s) and of who we are, what we like, think and dream of.
According to Smith-Maguire and Matthews, content curators today act as “cultural intermediaries”, helping the layman discover, learn about and appreciate great authors, books, films and ideas he would have never met otherwise.
“[Cultural intermediaries] … construct value, by framing how others (end consumers, as well as other market actors including other cultural intermediaries) engage with goods, affecting and effecting others’ orientations towards those goods as legitimate — with ‘goods’ understood to include material products as well as services, ideas and behaviours.”
Curation As Discovery and Sense-Making Engine
The key contribution that content curation provides to our own culture, is its role as a discovery and sense-making engine for any art, interest or science.
Take music for example.
If you consider that today just by themselves Spotify and Apple Music offer more than 30 million songs and that there are many more music distribution services like Rhapsody, SoundCloud or Deezer, you can start to realize how difficult it becomes to find the music you like, if you do not know who makes it.
“Like music supervisors in film and TV, curators are now industry gatekeepers, approached with reverence. These invisible influencers can break an artist through a choice playlist placement.” (source: The Observer)
With an estimated one fifth of all music streams occurring on curated playlists (source: Forbes) music curators are now very valuable assets at Apple Music, Pandora and Spotify as audiences prefer the value of a human selection over an algorithmic one, while a small army of grassroots music fans does a very similar job on popular platforms like Soundcloud, Blip and 8tracks by curating unique playlists and compilations, without asking anything in return.
How would you be able to discover and learn about new songs and bands, in such an exploding ocean of music, if it wasn’t for music curators online or club DJs searching and listening to thousands of tracks?
How would you learn about the history of many artists if it wasn’t for radio DJs who provide you with context, history, anecdotes and event information about your favorite artists?
The music curation trend, exploded first in the 70’s and 80’s with user-created cassette mixtapes, and then evolved in the mid-‘90s, with innovative DJs and music producers, like Jose Padilla, who started to produce successful commercial curated music compilations that brought together well-known artists with unknown, emergent ones under a common theme or style (think of Cafe del Mar or Buddha Bar CD series and their success over the years).
Many new record labels have then followed, all specializing in well-defined musical genres and driven by the idea to curate and bring together the best of a specific music style.
Lots of private radio stations do the same. They curate the music of our time.
But consider also the specialty, privately-owned bookstore (CityLights in San Francisco) that focuses on your favorite genre and authors, or the online vinyl record store which helps you find old rare gems that cannot be found anymore (MusicStack). They both collect and curate, making it easier for the layman to discover, appreciate and learn about music he would have never otherwise bumped into.
Take Wikipedia. It may not be the most reliable information resource for some topics, but it is hard to deny that this is a great example of collaborative, crowdsourced content curation that many of us have successfully browsed, consulted and referred to.
Consider big international events like TED, LeWeb, SXSW, as well as small, locally organized ones, where event curators, talent scouts and subject-matter experts laboriously find individuals that have great ideas and stories to tell, and bring them together to share and present them publicly.
Look at the work of online curators like Maria Popova (BrainPickings) or Dave Pell (NextDraft) and at how they stimulate our interest and curiosity by uncovering great insights and stories from authors and books of all kinds as well as from the news of the day.
Take independent organizations like TrendHunter or Trendwatching who study and analyze the ocean of data generated by consumers to extrapolate, anticipate and predict what the key changes and innovations around the corner will be.
Consider all e-commerce and online shopping activities. According to a recent Pew Research Center survey of U.S. adults, when it comes to buying online, more than seven-in-ten get advice from people they know (77%), or consider very important to be able to read reviews posted online by others who have purchased the item (74%).
All of these examples show how the trend-makers, those who suggest and advise where to look and what to pay attention to, have moved away from being top appointed officials, celebrities and spokespersons as in the mass media age.
Now, individual curators are our new trusted guides to discovery, insight and knowledge.
Curation as a Cultural Necessity — Curation Defines Who We Are
By curating, we are now all actively (at one level or another) re-defining constantly who we are, what we like, want and live for, in a multitude of different ways.
We do so constantly when we openly explore rather than follow. We do so when we vet and verify instead of taking everything at face value. We do so when we provide “context” and in particular when we add our own viewpoint and commentary instead of just reporting or sharing something “as is” on our preferred social media channels.
It is our own act of filtering, of aggregation, of adding value and of sharing (curation) that allows others to discover, make sense and consider options and viewpoints that were until then, outside their awareness or scanning range.
Think of Pinterest, and its infinite visual collections on just about any topic. Think of Dribbble or Behance for designers and visual artists. Think of Wikipedia. Think of Twitter and its ongoing stream of filtered suggestions of what to read, watch, listen to. Think of Flipboard, Medium or Scoop.it.
All of these “curatorial” publishing platforms, are filtering engines and public exploratory shopping windows of our interests, fears, dreams and desires as a society.
For all of these reasons, in an age where everyone is a curator, a filter for others of what to look, see, explore and learn about, content curation may have become both a personal and a social (cultural) necessity.
A personal necessity because an increasing number of people needs to pick, select, collect and organize the resources, tools and the techniques most needed to carry out their work. While in the recent past these were few and physical, now that we are in the information age, these have exploded in number and have mostly become intangible, digital entities.
A social (cultural) necessity because by curating our most precious, interesting and rare ideas, resources, tools and visions, we are not collecting for our own private interests, but we are helping others discover, learn, comprehend and make new ideas and perspectives part of their own, while preserving the path and signposts that led us there for those who will come after us.
Culture is the cumulative expression of what we see, do, believe into and of what we express through our daily activities, whether commercial, creative or spiritual.
Content curation collects, organizes and preserves the best and most interesting artifacts of our culture, no matter whether these are news stories, paintings, digital videos, 3D panoramas or stories and interviews of street people.
As such curation, is “the” best instrument to hold, preserve and let others discover what our, or any other specific culture, is all about. It allows us to transmit the value of our culture to others across time.
Today, content curators are all around us and help society identify and discover what is relevant, interesting, innovative, rare, by actively separating the wheat from the chaff.
And as traditional brands, and institutional spokespersons lose their trustworthiness, content curators replace them by becoming our new trusted guides.
By continuously selecting, archiving and presenting the best resources and information available, content curators define who we are, and the perimeter and depth of our interests.
Curation is the live, updating museum of our culture.
To support it we must find and devise more effective ways to preserve the digital collections we publish and share online.
If the Internet is ever censored, goes down or it is blocked by unforeseeable events that we cannot anticipate now, we should not let our culture disappear in a few milliseconds. We need to be able to find out how to preserve this content safely and for the long haul.
This is our challenge for the future.
If you have found this content useful and would recommend it as a reading resource, please let other discover it by clicking the heart icon below.