After lunch at #confab12: Panel: Content Curation Grows Up

For me, a panel about content curation, moderated by Erin Kissane followed lunch at #confab12. The panel included Mia Quagliarello, Margot Bloomstein, and Aaron Lammer. A very rich discussion is summarized here.

Erin kicked things off by describing content curation as a subject of some early controversy. She said that now that we understand curation as a real thing, we know it is not a buzz word; instead, it is a force within the discipline of content strategy.

Erin then asked each panelist to define curation.

Summarizing Margot’s response: It is a means of filtering the flood of all the possible stuff that’s out there and demanding our attention. This is nothing new. Filtering content for a specific audience, time, context, perspective and brand has always been of value. Curation is not just selection, it’s emphasis and persuasion and organization. It’s saying, “Hey, this is what you should look at first.”

Summarizing Aaron’s response: Content is a big river that splits into little streams and tributaries with a human hand that creates the dams. Each body of water has a different quality; each operates differently. The human hand is guiding the information. Curation is under the hood of what we’re doing on the web.

Summarizing Mia’s response: Curation means having a point of view but it can also be a simple way to share. Editors and curators are different; the editor is creating and molding content and the curator is promoting content.

Now on to aggregation. What are the uses of aggregation? Is it more than the automated sifting and machine logic to define elements? What about their artificial intelligence?

Summarizing Aaron’s response: Five years ago, you could read a New Yorker article on the New Yorker website. Now you can read that article in many different places besides the New Yorker site. Where does an article live? I think curators are the ones putting as much value back into the ecosystem as they are taking out. 

Summarizing Mia’s response: There is a value of curation to the reader and a value of curation to the creators. Packaging other people’s content can influence. You can use the armies of millions to help spread your content. 

Summarizing Margo’s response: It is good to automate some of the process of gathering; but there is a human need to review what is gathered for consistency with communication goals. Sometimes aggregators juxtapose items in a way that creates a new meaning that isn’t intentional.

Summarizing Aaron’s response: Aggregators solve a problem for a reader. If you looked at the GQ website you would think it was about breasts and menswear. If you were to export all 2,000+ word articles from their CMS, you’d find some of the best writing of the year. My point is we shouldn’t accept the filters we are given. 

Summarzing Erin’s response: I read longform, and I find great things I would not ever have read (from those sources) and what’s surprising is that it’s content that’s old. We need ways to bring back a catalog of awesome old stuff to the forefront (use aggregation). 

Summarizing Margot’s response: Curation means we can look at how this old thing informs this new thing. Curation creates meaning, intentionally.

Summarizing Aaron’s response: After two years of longform, we know that the age of the story has no bearing on the clickthru rate. This flies in the face of the way people think the Internet works. When you strip away the context, the chrome, the website extras...people are equally interested in anything. Pure content democratizes people’s impressions. When we remove the symbols that surround the writing, we can look at it in a more profound way.

What about the fundamental shifts in business models. What do publishers think about our ability to curate content and remove it from it’s original source?

Summarizing Aaron’s response: Ask people what they want. Design the experience that readers want. This is an exciting new frontier. Putting ads into the curated experiences won’t necessarily be unacceptable for those who want the minimalist reading experiences.

Is there an ethical code for curation? What are the foundational ethical points that respect readers, clients, and writers?

Summarizing Margo’s response: Ethical curation is a responsible representation of a brand and is consistent with organizational communication goals. The curator shouldn’t subvert the original author’s message. Accountability to the original source and responsible representation matters. We need to make it fair to artist or author’s original intent.

Summarizing Aaron’s response: Online reading will be completely different in two years. Things are moving quickly and you have to make certain sacrifices during the transition. Ethics should look at where you are right now not what you want to be later on.

Two books were referenced by Erin:

  • The Filter Bubble - About the social dangers that come from narrowing our scope as readers and citizens to a view of the world that is too narrow (only showing us more of what we want to see through auto aggregation). 
  • The Information Diet - About the fact that the flood is a problem. We need to narrow our field of information responsibly. When we build platforms for curation and semi-automated tools, we need to be careful.

Is that okay? To give people what they want more easily?

Summarizing Aaron’s response: We need to expose people to strange and awesome stuff they wouldn’t have been interested in otherwise by pairing things - what they like with what they didn’t know they were interested in. This will stretch people out of their comfort zones.

Summarizing Mia’s response: We can offer a tailored reading experience by allowing them to mute certain kinds of content. (Like they mute certain friends on Facebook.) 

Summarizing Aaron’s response: But tools like muting blank out portions of the world, don’t they allow you to create an experience that you like? And is that a good thing? We have this “what is happening right now?” frenzy and we need to move to an approach that is more focused on “What do I want to know about?”

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Susan T. Evans