In 2009, Rohit Bhargava wrote a “Manifesto for the Content Curator.” He wondered in his blog post title that this role might be “The Next Big Social Media Job of the Future.”
Bhargava’s reasoning was that social media content was exploding on the Internet, and it would take a human touch to sift through all that noise to find the signals.
He predicted that skilled humans who hand-pick one story over another “will bring more utility and order to the social web.”
“Social bookmarking and social news have been around for some time (ie — sites like Digg or delicious), and new models of aggregation like Alltop are springing up to help us navigate all this content as well,” he wrote. “To satisfy the people’s hunger for great content on any topic imaginable, there will need to be a new category of individual working online. Someone whose job it is not to create more content, but to make sense of all the content that others are creating.”
Six years later, I don’t know a single person with the job title “Content Curator.” I do know that something like this must exist, because when I search “content curator” on LinkedIn I get 6,700 results. But by comparison, I get 42,200 results for “content creator.”
At the very least, you could say it’s not the Next Big Social Media Job of the Future.
And this week, content curation tool Storify unceremoniously announced it was shutting down. I think that announcement marks the end of the “content curation” era of the Internet.
According to Google Trends, the term “content curation” originated in 2009, as Twitter was experiencing its hockey stick growth. Twitter was originally an ever-growing firehose of information without much organization, and it did feel like we needed new systems to wrangle all these incoming messages.
I think the idea that the human touch was necessary for this process seemed especially attractive to traditional gatekeepers who found their roles suddenly bypassed or extraneous in social media.
For me, it gave me optimism after my job in journalism was eliminated, and I found a new role in social media. My judgement still had value! If there wasn’t a paid role in me simply creating content, at least I could gather it from others. The term “curator” hearkened back to those who picked art exhibits for museums, which displays education and a refined taste.
Over time, the rise of the idea of “curation” and Storify’s success was intertwined.
But by September 2014, the term “content curation” peaked. It’s plateaued or dropped since then.
This summer, Google searches for Storify — which have been slowly declining the last few years — dropped to their lowest levels since July 2011. It’s no wonder they’re shutting down.
It could be that we simply just don’t use the term “content curation” much anymore. It does sound as dated today as saying “social web” or references to Digg and delicious. There still is plenty of curation from social media, including Buzzfeed editors or Twitter moments. Hand-curation will never go away entirely.
But I think it’s time to admit that the algorithms won. Or if they haven’t won yet, they will soon, as buggy and fraught as they may be. Since Bhargava’s prediction in 2009, Instagram and Twitter have instituted algorithmic timelines. And despite periodic outcries, there’s no going back. The thought of humans curating the content on the Internet now seems as quaint as human curating the results of Google.
But if we think of the Internet as “content” meant to be gathered and consumed, it almost doesn’t matter if it’s being done by a human or an algorithm. It’s just a quantity of stuff to fill between ads.
For me, the algorithms can take content. I don’t want it.
The human touch does still matter, but not for cheap, disposable Internet content.
When we talk about curation, let’s get back to what has real meaning. Let’s curate art, and not mere content.