Why To Curate Information
The true purpose, motivation and rewards behind searching, collecting, adding value and sharing great collections of information.
“Curation is using your expertise in a field to gather great content around a specific theme and present that content in a way that will educate others.”
Hatch Leishman, Stephanie.
“Curated Content about Curated Content.”
MIT Connect, March 1, 2013.
Whether you realize it or not, the fact that we are living in the age of information is not just a pretty phrase, referring to the Internet and to the ubiquitous presence of communication and computing devices.
Living in the information age actually means that our economy, and your ability to succeed and thrive in your lifetime are increasingly connected to your ability to manage and efficiently deal with information.
Today, your success and opportunities are not determined anymore by your physical force or by what you physically own, but by:
- what you know,
- how skilled you are in finding and managing the information you need
- who is in your network of contacts.
In an information economy, the ability to search/find, analyze, evaluate, deal with, absorb, learn from, manage, share and leverage useful information with, from and to others are the strategically valuable skills.
“Separating the wheat from the chaff, assigning editorial weight, and — most importantly — giving folks who don’t want to spend their lives looking for an editorial needle in a haystack a high-quality collection of content that is contextual and coherent.”
Rosenbaum, Steve. “Can ‘Curation’ Save Media?” Business Insider, April 3, 2009. http://www.businessinsider.com/can-curation-save-media-2009-4
Fact: Information resources online exist in a disorganized status.
Unless someone verifies, organizes and curates an information resource, it has little value because it is disconnected from other relevant resources in the same information space. There’s no context.
It’s like having an ingredient but not the recipe. Or like having the name of a place but no map to reference it.
Curation provides context to any information item, value and a specific perspective and story to look and appreciate it.
Any information resource gains greater value and usefulness when curated and contextualized.
This is why, in the context of the Internet, curation purpose and role is both to give value and context to quality information resources by identifying, preserving and organizing them in ways that they can be discovered and appreciated by others as well as to help an audience better understand, make sense, explore and comprehend a specific topic by providing it with the best resources available and a guiding viewpoint through which to navigate them.
Curation Natural Drivers
Which are then the key motives justifying a curatorial approach to publishing content online?
Why to pay attention to a discipline that concerns itself more with what has been already written than to what needs to written and given attention to yet?
Which are the true key benefits of curating a specific subject matter for others? Is it worthwhile? Useful? Beneficial?
When I looked closely at why some people spontaneously curate content it did strike me that most of them do not curate their stuff for the direct purpose to save time, to appear more authoritative or to gain more customers. They curate their resources because they can produce better and more satisfying results for themselves, and when they share them, they can automatically extend these benefits to their customers, contacts, friends.
So, if these people are not organizing, collecting, verifying, adding value and presenting these resources for the sake of saving time, becoming more authoritative or being seen as the expert, go-to-person in their niche, why do they do so?
They curate because they care.
Information curators are personally interested in what they do, and curating is the only reliable mean they have to deeply learn about their resources, to vet bad ones, to uncover true gems and to organize them in ways that allows them to find, pinpoint and to share important, unique ones, easily among thousands of other ones.
They curate because it is useful for them, and because when they share their curated collections they can help other people as well.
Content curation is a natural solution to a natural phenomenon: resource abundance.
When there is a lot of something, our natural, spontaneous instinct is to organize it, group it and to separate the wheat from the chaff (the bad from the good, the wet from the dry, the memorable from the irrelevant).
We do it with the wood to burn, with books we buy, with records, CDs, DVDs, films, photographs, foods, websites. With anything that has value to us.
It is a natural, spontaneous phenomenon.
Similarly, digital curation is a phenomenon born out of the need to store, preserve and make accessible a set of information artifacts that can be of great help in understanding, making-sense, finding, identifying something specific that you need or that you are interested in learning more about.
Curation helps you save time by providing easy and organized access to information and resources otherwise difficult to find and verify.
Curation is a human instinct, connected to our desire to select, organize and share the best of what we have, when we have it in excess.
Given the above, I would still want to ask:
“What are some good reasons why I would want to consider curating information in my interest areas?
Why not just write like everyone else does?”
To curate is a more challenging and difficult activity than simply writing.
Curation requires vetting, verification, resource-finding, providing a viewpoint and an ability to synthesize and illustrate what is of value in what is presented, while crediting systematically your sources.
Most of these qualities and skills are not required to write and publish most of the content you see on the web.
- To curate it takes a lot more time and effort than to write.
- To curate it takes a lot more competence, experience and skill than to write.
- To curate it takes for you to be a subject matter expert or to become one.
- To curate you need to dive and immerse yourself completely into a subject.
- To curate effectively you must be driven by more than just compensation.
In fact some of the very best written non-fiction content, is actually curated content.
So, given that curating information is a much harder and time consuming task than writing why would someone choose to curate rather than write?
From my own experience I have identified many good reasons that motivate people to curate information spaces:
1) The desire to “take care” of an information space, to organize it, and make it easy for others to extract immediate value from it.
If you are passionate about something, highly interested in a certain topic, it becomes a natural necessity to research, gather and explore new resources and information that allow you to understand and make better sense of it.
Why? Because you want to know more about the subject, and the only way to “own it” is to keep exploring it.
This is why this drive to research, investigate, explore, collect and verify is such a strong, visceral motivator for scholars of any subject.
2) The desire to share and inform, to educate, to entertain a specific audience.
Such desire is generally motivated by a will to help, support, and cultivate a community of people interested in the same topic.
It is in fact in the act of sharing that the selfish act of collecting, becomes a social good: curation.
3) The need to put order and organization in the information mess that the Internet offers. It is not enough to have a powerful search engine that can instantly find most any specific information, person, product, image or place, if we cannot also find and understand the context and value that each one of these billion of information items contributes to the whole picture.
In other words: we have indexed and keep indexing every single information item published on the web, but besides search results lists (generated by a secret algorithm for which we are not given to know the sorting criteria) we have no maps of the territories we would like to navigate.
4) The need to make sense of a certain subject by exploring, collecting and bringing together all of the relevant information connected to it.
5) The need to rapidly find specific information resources when needed.
6) The desire to archive and preserve valuable information resources that risk to be lost or tampered with.
7) The will to create something meaningful, of lasting value, even if for a limited amount of interested people.
8) The desire, similar to the one of an artist or of a classic art curator,
to help others discover what is not self-evident, obvious, accepted.
Curation Key Benefits
There are also many good, beneficial reasons that motivate individuals and organizations to take on curation as a key activity. These include:
- Curation helps people understand and learn better any subject.
- Curation guides interested individuals to discover and learn about a subject in greater depth by gathering and contextualizing the best information available on it and not just a single-expert viewpoint.
- Curation saves people time by bringing right into focus key stories, resources, information and tools that have already been vetted, sorted and organized by subject-matter experts.
- Curation is a spontaneous and vital information management activity of any overabundant information ecosystem like the Internet, that generates tons of new content that is disorganized, unverified, hard to find and more often than not published and distributed out of context and disconnected from other relevant and complementary information.
- Curation helps individuals learn any subject better and in greater depth than any other approach as it provides the perfect pathway to truly dive, question, immerse and interact with whatever issue or subject.
- Curation facilitates discovery of new, rare to find, unknown valuable resources that could otherwise go unnoticed.
- Curation helps to uncover and identify patterns and relationships between information resources that are generally not immediately evident.
- Curation promotes a critical thinking attitude and a more comprehensive-holistic-organic view on any subject, instead of the simplistic black / white, true / false perspective adopted in most situations today.
- Curation puts the human individual back in the driver seat, electing him/her as the preferred guide to discover, investigate and learn any subject not by way of referring, passing on, or refining what reported by others but by actually questioning, vetting, gathering diverse voices and viewpoints into a cohesive whole.
- Curation takes to heart the preservation of quality, valuable and rare information artifacts, acknowledging the flimsiness and ephemeral nature of the Internet and of its publishers.
- Public, non-commercial digital curation provides a social good, a commons that everyone can benefit from.
- Curation is not finite, definitive, static, complete. Rather curation promotes and invites questioning, participation, contributions, improvements and revisions in a never-ending process.
“Curation’s purpose is to identify and preserve what is important and then share that knowledge back with society.”
Graft, Kris. “As Definition of ‘Curator’ Evolves, Traditional Curation Still Crucial for Games.” Gamasutra, November 11, 2014
Think of it, by curating something there is also another great benefit.
It becomes much easier to perform any task.
If you curate your closet and your drawers, organizing and vetting the different clothes and garments you have available, it becomes much easier and more enjoyable to dress yourself up or to put together the best outfit for the next appointment.
If you curate your favorite tools and instruments, by studying and organizing them for different purposes and applications, when the need strikes or there’s a sudden emergency you are ready to pick the toolset you need and get to work right away.
If you curate your favorite music into mixtapes, playlists and compilations you not only have ready-made quality music ready to be played at any moment, but you have built a valuable set of resources that can help others discover music they actually did not know about.
Same for books, films, articles, guides, videos and tutorials.
Curators help themselves and others by bringing to light the very best of what they have discovered, vetted and added value to.
“…the art of curation isn’t about the individual pieces of content, but about how these pieces fit together, what story they tell by being placed next to each other, and what statement the context they create makes about culture and the world at large.”
“Great curation is also about pattern-recognition — seeing various pieces of culture and spotting similarities across them that paint a cohesive picture of a larger trend.”
Allison, Chris. “The Art of Curation: An Interview with Maria Popova from BrainPickings.” The Nebo Blog: Interactive Marketing, Design & Ramblings, April 20, 2010.