Curated Stash Sites. Please, Make It Stop.

Or, start making them better.

The words “stash”, ”curation”, ”list”, ”collection” and “board” are used interchangeably in this article.

If you’ve been on Product Hunt lately, you’ve undoubtedly come across one of the many “stash” sites inspired by Bram Kanstein’s original Startup Stash.

Bram recently posted about how he started this accidental revival of the startpage directory. In the last year or so, there have been many more “curated” stash sites launched.

These curation sites target various niches like design, marketing, startups, tech, hipsters, and even newsletters. The curations are self-described with adjectives like “best”, “ultimate”, “essential” and “hand-picked”. There’s also the obvious “stash of stashes” (A.K.A. “curation of curations”). Sites that have been recently introduced __ TheStacks, ToolBird, and that was featured on Product Hunt yesterday.

Good intentions.

Don’t get me wrong. These curated collections are started with good intentions. Their creator gets inspired by something interesting, and they want to remember, share, and organize it in a way that will make it useful and more discoverable.

When you think about it, “organized lists” (collections, curations, stashes, etc..) are really behind everything that is socialized on the Web. Reddits, Pinterest boards, Hacker News and Product Hunt are really just curated lists. Similarly, many blog articles and news sites are nothing more than timely curations.

My concern is that all these curations are adding to the firehose of clutter, and in the end are not useful. Done right, a curated list can be useful, but take some careful considerations before launching your own curated stash site.

Some of the problems.

Here are the issues I see with many curated lists:

  • Stale or Closed — This one is obvious. This is that curation of broken links, and out-of-date resources. These curations are often published once, never maintained, don’t accept edits and the comments are closed.
  • Partial or Unfair — This one is a double-edged sword. Sometimes the best curations are very selective. These “hand-picked” curations are moderated by an individual, or selected group of individuals. These individuals are not necessarily experts in the relevant subject matter, but they do have the authority to decide on what belongs in the list. How do they determine what belongs in the list? How do they choose what’s “best” and worthy of inclusion? The methodology is sort of a mystery. The curations are often incomplete, or include resources that the broader community doesn’t find useful.
  • Duplicated and/or Disorderly — This is the hard to search, disorganized, catch-all clutter that has become so abundant. The curation firehose. These lists are overwhelming, and have ambiguous categories that are far from concise. Try searching Reddit for “responsive design”. You’ll get about 20 overlapping results, some more useful than others, but you don’t know where to begin. A similar search of Pinterest boards yields even more unwieldy results. Wow. Lots of cool pictures, but where do I start?

Make better curations.

There are several factors that make a good list. Most of them I learned from what Joel Spolsky implemented with the awesome StackExchange model. Imagine curated collections that are as useful as the many Questions & Answers on StackOverflow. So, how do you overcome those out-dated, partial and/or unruly curations?

  • Community-sourced contribution & classification
  • Reputation-based ranking (voting) & moderation
  • Maintainability (easy to update)
  • Set boundaries on user reactions (comments are too open-ended!)
  • Aging (demote list items over time)
  • Prevent duplication via moderation and business logic

It’s my belief that curations with these attributes provide the most discoverability, relevancy and collective value. When I created Template Stash I implemented some of these improvements, but there is still work to be done.

There is no silver bullet. I realize that taxonomy and information architecture are complex sciences. But, when you consider what StackExchange has done for Q&A lists, you realize that a better “curation” is possible.

How would you make a better curated list?