There are many forms of content curation. I’m experimenting with the idea that curation activities can be divided into two primary categories:
- Network mapping. Curating a set of sources relevant to a topic or event.
- Stream simplification. Filtering, organizing, ranking, summarizing a stream of information.
In this post, I’m going to focus on the network mapping mode of curation. Many avid Twitter users may forget the amount of work, thought, and skill that’s required to get value out of an ecosystem like Twitter. As Howard Rheingold describes in his article on Twitter Literacy,
“… successful use of Twitter means knowing how to tune the network of people you follow …”
For example, if one of your primary interests is digital journalism, Twitter will teach you nothing about digital journalism unless you connect to digital journalism thinkers (e.g, @hrheingold or @jayrosen_nyu). This extends beyond Twitter and is fundamental to the Web since its beginning — the Web has little utility unless you find compelling web sites, publishers, and communities to connect with. However, if you can build a network of trusted and insightful sources, you have something powerful in your hands. In the era of information networks, as George Siemens writes,
“The capacity to stay current is more important than any individual content element.”
When you have a personal learning network, you have a team of teachers and co-learners to interpret the world as it evolves and point you to relevant information as it becomes available. While there can be great value in reading a good news article, there is even more value in connecting to a new source that will feed you relevant news articles and analysis on an ongoing basis.
The importance of personal learning networks will be amplified as people become increasingly able to bring their portable identities with them wherever they go, either in the form of web sites recognizing social context or through mobile devices (see The Future of the Social Web). One can imagine that building a network of trusted information sources will become one of the chief goals of university education and it will be a chief function of the teacher to curate the networks that will make these connections possible. Graduating with (e.g.) a degree in sociology will entail that one has a connected to a highly developed network of sociology thinkers that one can rely upon for knowledge and feedback. In fact, building and establishing one’s self in this type of network may even become the explicit end of an education process.
So given the vast array of sources that one can connect to throughout the Web, a curator can bring tremendous value to society through helping people navigate and understand the expansive regions of the social graph. This role of the Curator is that of a Connector, one who can connect people to sources who will feed them information and help them understand the ever-changing world. See, for example, the New York Times, who curates a set of twitter lists that users can connect with to stay current on a variety of topics. Also, there are services that provide this form of curation in an automated fashion; e.g., Klout or Google Page Rank.
While there is a long arch to the reward of building a personal learning network, this network mapping form of curation can be invaluable in helping people interpret breaking news in realtime. A clear example of this was the Huffington Post’s live twitter coverage of the Fort Hood Shootings. Soon after news started to break, they mapped the area of the social graph that was nearest to the event, local residents and local news stations. The result was a pertinent realtime stream of information (although, the flow would likely benefit from additional stream simplification methods of curation, like filtering).
In a narrow sense, the network mapping mode of curation is a type of stream simplification — it helps people filter the noise of the Web through a trusted network of topically relevant sources. But network mapping has power beyond stream simplification; it does more than allow people to passively view a stream of information — it situates them within a community that they can learn, share, converse, and evolve with.