Curation Curation Curation

I originally wrote this article earlier in 2015 (around May?), before my blog got deleted. Now I’m re-posting it from a draft I found.

Today while not paying attention in a lecture I watched the person in front of me relentlessly try to structure his Twitter feeds. First tirelessly scrolling through his following list, opening tab after tab and evaluating what each of his subscriptions offered him. An unfollow here, an “add to list” there. After what seemed to be twenty minutes of trying to use Twitter’s awful list manager, he gave up, deleted all of his lists, and closed Twitter. But that wasn’t the end of this fight with the written internet, he opened an Excel spreadsheet and began writing categorized lists of news sources —then the flurry of tabs started again.

This battle of trying to self-curate an infinite amount of content is something any person who spends a lot of time reading online knows well. There is simply too much content — there will always be something left unread. This I think will create a conflict between content creators and consumers.

For content creators, especially small-time bloggers, getting read is going to get exponentially harder than it already is (really). The traditional advice of “write good content” simply will not be good enough when there will certainly be another billion people also writing. There is the off chance that you find a real niche, something that is particularly SEO friendly that you are able to monopolize on and build an audience on but if you’re “another tech blogger”, unless you have a name (i.e you’re a celebrity in some circle), your future reality will be a very small number of platforms. Why?

1.) SEO and search engines will be irrelevant for discovering content.

To put it aptly, Google will give you what you knew you wanted but not what you don’t know you want. You don’t query Google looking for the hottest new app, you read about it on a “channel”, be it Hacker News, Product Hunt, or (if the app is successful enough) a mainstream news channel.

Curation will lead how content is discovered, for better or worse (probably better). The nature of curation means you will always have a partial list. But then how do you know you have the best content? What if there’s something out there that is especially relevant for you? That one blog article, that one song, that app. Some will try to solve these problems by way of algorithms using all sorts of variables (page rank, views, shares, your own preferences, etc.) or through a community (think Reddit) — or a combination of both like big news companies do — in the end however, no matter how good the algorithms or human editors are, a leap of faith will be needed to accept that what’s been given to you is the best the internet has to offer.

2.) As discovery moves to channels, channels will consolidate to platforms.

Channels right now act as the best attempt to curate the internet. These channels are the popular websites like the New York Times, Reddit, Medium, etc. They have human (or AI) editors dedicating their careers to both creating new content and curating what the rest of the internet has to offer. But as content continues to increase so will the amount of channels. Take for instance just tech channels: Engadget, The Verge, Ars, Re/code, every big newspaper’s tech sections — if there are even say 100 popular sources of tech news, how would one individual curate the curators? Through platforms.

RSS 2.0: Algorithms galore

I remember when RSS was the first attempt to personally curate the internet. It was a universal way to create lists of sources ranging from small blogs you fancied to following big news outlets for daily updates. But then the internet happened and your list went from 20–25 feeds to over 100 and you had thousands of unread items in your feed. As the numbers of channels continues to increase there needs to be a better way to get the most relevant* content without having to check 10–20 different websites — enter the platform.

Platforms I think will be the end-game of the internet. They will be the curators of the curators, and ultimately the primary source for the majority of content consumed on the internet. The platform will most likely be algorithm heavy, driven by social indicators (ex. “likes”, shares) — although it’s not out of the realm of possibility that there could be a human factor involved too.

Flipboard is an example of such a platform, and what I think is the future of discovery on the internet. It acts as the curator for the curators, using carefully tuned algorithms and curated lists to pull the most relevant of content from the channels of the content creators — who in turn, have done their job of curating the best of the internet for their respective niche. The end result is as close as an individual can reasonably get to reading what is most relevant for them**. But not everyone will win.

Traditional publishing will face an existential crisis

Will people say “I read that on WSJ” or “I read that on Flipboard”? It makes a big difference to publishers.

The role of traditional publishers and content creators will have to be re-evaluated. If the majority of content is read through carefully curated platforms, friction for the user will have to be minimized. A practical example is the Flipboard model: when I click on an article I remain within the app, viewing a native rendering of the article — no going to an external website. This I suspect will cause all sorts of issues relating to branding (although Flipboard and Facebook Instant has a very elegant solution to this) and monetization (ads and subscription models). But one problem I suspect will the greatest will be simple control: how much will channels fight to keep their independence from being a prisoner to someone else’s platform? Can they even fight if a sizable portion of the internet is on these platforms and their competitors see the opportunity and are less worried about ideas of control? And at what point do we agree that it is okay for the internet to merge into a very centralized and controlled state, the antithesis to what it was supposed to be? Facebook will most likely come out as the leading platform thanks to their install base (they just have to get the UX right for news) and there will be most likely a few other platforms that develop from those that command a high degree of control over their install base (Apple) or even Google with their expertise in the field and Android.

I’m not entirely sure how these problems will be solved or what will come out of them, I am very confident however that the great internet consolidation will occur, and sooner than you think.

**discounting of course for the fallibility of algorithms and inherit human biases when it comes to curation.

All of the above could be applied to video and music discovery as well. Where do you “see” the video? YouTube? Maybe it’s hosted there, but you saw it on Facebook. Music is a bit more interesting, curation is around us (TV, radio, DJs at clubs) so it will be interesting to see how/if Spotify for example develops into a platform or just a host like YouTube.