Content Curator Identikit: 1) General Traits
key skills, character traits, attitudes and abilities of professional content curators
Which are the general traits, character-based attitudes, skills and abilities of great content curators?
What differentiates them from the rest?
Based on my personal experience, I have identified three groups of elements that characterize the profile of great digital content curators:
In these sections I analyze each one of these three groups, by highlighting key elements in each group by defining what they mean (DEF), why they are important for a curator to have (WHY) and how they can be cultivated (HOW).
Here I analyze the key General Traits that make up the profile of a professional content curator.
- Subject-Matter Expertise
- Strong Ethics
- Transparency — Disclosure
- Personal Voice
- Pattern Recognition
- Attention to Details
- Being Systematic
a1) Curiosity — An Inquisitive, Investigative Mind
DEF: The drive to know more, to look beyond the surface, to ask questions.
WHY: Curation is all about learning and discovering more of what interests us. When not driven by true curiosity and interest, it is called schooling.
Talented content curators are always question-askers. They do not take things for granted. They question official sources and they personally check for the validity of any information without blindingly trusting “expert” sources and authorities.
Also in the day-to-day work, the curator needs to be asking questions constantly.
For example, it may happen that during a search to find information on a specific topic, a curator runs into apparently unrelated materials which could be useful later for other projects.
In such situations he must not simply bookmark the newly found content and save it aside. He must critically evaluate what he has found and consider its significance relative to the audience he is communicating to. Is it worth keeping it? What does it connect to? Where do I store it and to what else is this similar to?
- by acting as an investigator, a detective, searching for clues and insight amidst lots of contradictory info and differing viewpoints.
- by becoming an expert at Crap Detection.
- by nurturing an open-minded, supportive environment. Working with passionate friends and colleagues to explore a specific issue, place or event that connects to your interests while agreeing not to judge each other in the process. Put yourself in a situation where others are not going to judge you for asking questions and where actually who asks more and better questions gets rewarded.
- by being skeptical. By not taking news and information at face value, simply because they come from an apparently “trusted” source.
- by cultivating curiosity and a true interest for the topics a curator works on.
a2) Subject-Matter Expertise
DEF: Deep, experiential knowledge (based on physical experiences) of a specific matter.
WHY: Just like for wines, unless you have explored, studied and done a lot of tasting, it is very hard to credibly evaluate and suggest a wine over another.
Unless one has a good experience and familiarity with a topic, it is very hard to distinguish what is good, interesting and of value, from what is not.
Learning increases resolution. The more I know about something, the more I can sense and appreciate its traits, qualities and weaknesses.
Thus, a significant amount of experience with the topic or issue at hand, is the first critical requirement needed for someone who wants to find, pick and recommend selected items over other ones.
Experience can’t be substituted or replaced by passion, though passion can certainly help to gain more of it, more rapidly.
- by reading and studying the work of others on the subject
- by interviewing established experts in the field
- by researching, collecting and organizing relevant resources on the topic
- by analyzing research data, trends, statistics
- by comparing differing viewpoints
- by discussing the topic with other passionate scholars
- by questioning established assumptions and memes
- by writing about the subject
a3) Strong Ethics
DEF: A set of values that a person strives to adhere to and which he utilizes to filter, make choices and evaluate reality.
WHY: A curator without ethics is like a fireman without a water hose.
Without a well defined set of reference values it is much harder to filter, pick and select information artifacts to use inside collections, sets or news streams.
The curator’s values define the filtering net through which rare gems are discovered and caught. That is: an information artifact is not intrinsically valuable. The value arises from what a curator allows me to see through it.
- by traveling a lot to see different cultures and traditions
- by asking oneself periodically why one does what he does
- by asking oneself periodically what one stands for
- by doing practical things to support the preceding points.
a4) Transparency — Disclosure
DEF: Not keeping secrets, not hiding info for personal benefit and prestige. Conscious, willful choice to publicly share information about one’s own motives, interests, partnerships that may be interpreted as a conflict of interest.
WHY: Curators thrive on credibility and trust.
But unless readers can easily see, read, verify and check who you are, what is your background, why you do what you do and who is associated with you or sponsoring you, it is much more difficult to gain their trust and support.
Unless readers know the curator real motives, what drives and rewards him, their level of trust will only be very superficial.
In other words, without transparency the audience cannot easily understand whether a specific curator selections are based on true value or on personal whims, interests or economic benefits.
by disclosing / making public one’s own:
- commercial interests, partnerships
- motives for doing what one does
- communication objective(s)
- prejudices, preferences
- ideals, ethics, values, personal credo /
- what he/she stands for
- focus, topic/issue/theme
- evaluation criteria utilized.
DEF: Ability to deeply identify with another individual or group of people.
WHY: The objective of a curator is to help others make sense, learn or stay informed about a specific interest area, by finding, organizing and presenting key information artifacts while adding his personal viewpoint.
Knowing well who those “others” are and “what specifically they want to make sense of” within that interest, is essential for the curator to achieve his mission.
It is the curator’s duty to develop a strong ability to closely identify with his audience, to fully understand its language, needs, interests and expectations relative to the topic, theme or issue being curated.
HOW: Empathy and close understanding of one’s own audience can be developed by:
- by getting to know personally people who are part of that audience
- by having been part of the audience one curates for
- by interacting with that audience frequently and
- by listening for feedback, criticism, suggestions, ideas
- by openly listening to their key questions and needs within that context
- by trying to practically solve that audience typical issues and problems
a6) Personal Voice. Opinion
DEF: A personal, publicly shared view on a specific issue, event, topic or person.
WHY: A specific viewpoint helps readers better understand and interpret a curated item or a collection. Unless a curator has a strong personal, unique, editorial “voice”, he has no real reason to exist.
The more viewpoints one has access to relative to any topic, the easier it will be to understand and make-sense of it.
Thus, a curator having a strong viewpoint and perspective and the courage to publicly share it, provides greater value to those interested in that topic.
The curator does not attempt to be “objective”. The curator works at the opposite end of the spectrum: he does not try to keep distance with the artifacts and collections he designs, nor to be detached or objective about them.
The curator brings in to view all of his prejudices, bias, viewpoint and opinion to any piece of the collections he creates. He puts perspective, insight, opinion and evaluation in everything he curates. And that’s where, for the reader, the value lies.
- by getting highly involved with the content/information being curated
- by actively questioning the value of any information artifact within a specific context
- by developing the ability to rationally analyze and dissect any information artifact in its key building elements and rapidly identifying its key strengths and weaknesses
- by always contributing a personal viewpoint, commentary, opinion on what is being curated.
a7) Pattern Recognition
DEF: The ability to spot and easily recognize similar information patterns across completely different contexts and appearances.
WHY: The ability to recognize patterns allows the curator to see trends and the emergence of new ideas before others can.
Hence, it can be a highly valuable asset in the task of helping other understand, make-sense and keep themselves up-to-date on a specific topic.
For example when a curator sees several bloggers in his niche starting to write about a certain topic, or multiple startups starting to build similar tools that address a common problem, he can detect ahead of time, upcoming trends and changes which are not immediately evident to all those operating in that field.
- by curating more. The more experience within a specific information field and the easier it becomes to start noticing trends and patterns.
- by devoting more time to study and explore new and old information artifacts.
- by paying increasing attention to details, subtle traits, features and nuances that may otherwise pass by unnoticed.
a8) Organization. Categorizing
DEF: Ability to easily recognize similar items, to logically group and label them in order to facilitate archiving, findability, discovery and re-use.
WHY: Curation is all about organizing. Without order it is not possible to understand, learn, make sense of something.
Curation makes sensible order out of chaos.
Organizing information allows others to more easily find and discover what they may be looking for.
By imposing order and organization the curator can start to appreciate details, subtle traits and differences that in turn, help in pattern identification.
- by systematically saving and categorizing information items being found
- by ordering them into relevant categories
- by assigning relevant tags to information items
- by adding relevant or missing metadata.
a9) Attention to Details
DEF: The awareness of, the sensitivity to, the care and interest for small and often not immediately noticeable items that make up something.
WHY: Details determine the difference between artworks, innovative ideas, and shallow content.
Attention to details empowers the curator to appreciate first and before others the traits and patterns of outstanding work.
Attention to details is a form of love, of respect and care, for what is being curated. That is the essence of what a curator does.
- by providing ample time and undistracted attention to the curation process.
- by having others review, comment and provide feedback to it.
- by double-reviewing and checking curated work before releasing it to the public
- by avoiding to work under tight time constraints and quantity-driven production goals.
a10) Being Systematic & Being Thorough
DEF: Analyzing things by following a systematic procedure and executing tasks with high precision, without leaving anything to chance.
WHY: Being systematic and thorough allows the curator to find out more about a subject than the normal average person does. To discover more info about something and to develop a larger perspective and understanding of it.
A content curator is like an investigator who systematically needs to verify, check and vet any information received without drawing early conclusions, or making superficial assessments and evaluations.
The more he does so, the more readers will find him credible and worth of their trust.
- by going in-depth into everything that is evaluated
- by not looking just at appearances but at substance and details as well
- by being skeptical, asking questions, and by being extremely curious
- by being driven by the desire to know, discover and share what is not readily apparent, visible or known.
DEF: Ability to wait for significant amounts of time without losing sight of the objective being pursued.
WHY: Investigating, researching and verifying are all time consuming tasks that cannot be shortcut. Their value is in the time spent doing them not in being faster in completing them.
To curate is similar to fishing. You need to wait, while doing everything you can to pave the way for the perfect catch.
- by allowing ample time for curated sets to fully develop
- by not imposing on the curator goals that are quantity-oriented
- by saving and placing aside potentially relevant information items way before they become actual key components of a published collection.
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