“Draw the art you want to see, start the business you want to run, play the music you want to hear, write the books you want to read, build the products you want to use, do the work you want to see done.” Austin Kleon

the curation conundrum

I was trawling through my usual channels of content this morning and came across these posts on curation. Certainly a lot of conversation in the bloggersphere has been stimulated by the posting of the curator’s code. The code states that we should “keep the rabbit hole of the Internet open by honouring discovery”.

Not only should we be honouring original sources, but we should be honouring the people who find interesting stuff and re-tweet or re-post it. We should celebrate not only the creators and authors, but those that distribute, magnify and amplify their work. The connectors, so to speak.

This concept of curation is being bandied about a lot lately. We talk about websites and brands curating content; using third party content as a jump point for new conversation. We talk about brands and retailers curating product, filtering out the rubbish and selectively choosing niche or narrow channel products that are centred around a particular interest or cultural space.

In my other life at Eco Outdoor we talk about curation being one of our key focuses and we’re in the stone business. When we say that we’re talking about curation in the most traditional definition of the word – we select the most interesting and unique product (sometimes you don’t know why its interesting or unique unless you’re in the stone game), and we organise it in a way that inspires people to use it differently or create really unique design form or pairings. We tell the story of the product, how it fits into the world from whence it came and why we think its important or significant or special. The focus here is that we travel the world looking for and selectively choosing what we present and how we put it together.

I guess you could say that Innovation Feeder curates content, although really it’s just sharing what takes my fancy. I started it when I was working in the social trends / innovation space as a way of collating data, organising other people’s thoughts that I would want to refer back to and even organising my own. It was like an online memory and imagination bank.

So when is a blog not curating? When it writes all its own content I guess. There are some that believe it better to write original content than re-post, and there are scales and a spectrum in re-posting itself that differentiate between gathering tidbits like a bountiful bowerbird and scattering them amongst the pages, versus your classic “Look what I found mamma” straight re-post of content. Is there a hierarchy of one over the other? I think in this age, conversation flows on many different levels and if the content is relevant and engaging, who cares on what level of the spectrum it falls? And as Matt Langer points out, is it curation or simply sharing our thoughts and discoveries online? Is curation merely the act of sharing and distributing (albeit selectively)? or must it have some  ontology or semantic continuity?

Traditionally curation has been used in the realm of ‘art curation’ where art is selected by an art historian who selects significant pieces and places them in context to identify why they are significant and to what extent. Who ‘places’ the art in context and helps us understand the story and content surrounding it. The term curation has long (well long in online terms) been used outside of the realm of art, but the question remains > What do we define as curation in the online space? By identifying our act of sharing as selective, by filtering (with our own self supposed good taste) the good from the bad – is that curation?

Some other links to check out:

Curation is the New Search is the New Curation

The Curator’s code

Stop calling it curation

Anyway, as usual online, I digress. Here’s a great collation of opinions on the topic by Neil Perkin. Regardless of whether you agree with the definition or not, I love Percolate‘s idea of stock and flow of content. The flow of ideas and conversation being the currency by which we remind people that we exist versus the stock we create from the realms of our own minds and imaginations. It gives credence to these different modes of conversation and the ways in which they operate uniquely for different purposes. Following here is Neil’s collection of opinions and ideas, re-posted.

Content Curation, Stock and Flow  > Neil Perkin Only the Dead Fish

What is Curation? from Percolate on Vimeo.

A lovely short video here from the guys at Percolate featuring some of their favourite curators (including Swissmiss, Maria Popova, Anthony De Rosa) ruminating on the subject. Says Noah Brier:

“Obviously it’s been a big subject of discussion over the last week, but we think there’s something bigger and more important about curation. It’s a way to create content in a very lightweight way and start to hone a voice and understand what works and what doesn’t. In hearing from these folks you get the real sense that most of them started doing what they do to satisfy their own curiosity. For most of them that curiosity transformed into full-fledged publishing as their simple act of sharing morphed into a hybrid publishing model: Combining third party content with their own original thinking to create something bigger.”

It follows hot on the heels of another smart post by Percolate founder James Gross on the stock and flow of content, building on a theme originated by Robin Sloan, and expounded upon before by Noah. James describes ‘stock’ content as that which is timeless, durable, has a long shelf-life, is more expensive to create and is based on slow moving trends. Channels that lend themselves to publishing original stock content might be owned media assets such as a brand domain, YouTube channel or Instagram. ‘Flow’ content on the other hand lives in the moment, is inexpensive to produce, and is (to quote Robin Sloan) the “stream of daily and sub-daily updates that remind people that you exist”, suited to channels such as Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest that can curate content that lives somewhere else.

Regular readers will know that I am a fan of this view on the world. James goes on to make some interesting points. First about how Tumblr is a channel that facilitates both stock content (own domain, permalinks to house content) and the flow of curating 1st and 3rd party content. And then about the positioning of content beyond reverse chronology and how if Facebook focused on creating value through permalinks it could get interesting.

For me, the big challenge that sits within this is the shift from embedded processes, thinking and resources that are established firmly around campaigning, towards the kind of always-on strategies that capitalise on both stock and flow content, as James describes. This requires different skills, different processes, different approaches. Not least of these is brands getting their heads around the idea of properly curating third party content, and managing the compex relationship between content which potentially has huge longevity, and the kind that exists in continously updated streams.

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