Going Beyond The ‘Curator’s Code:’ Context is as Vital as Attribution

Posted by: in Social Media Insights & Trends on April 12, 2012

My first job in journalism was working on what we called the “speed desk” at a wire service. In addition to jumping onto whatever breaking news was happening, I awoke at 4:30 a.m. to produce summaries of news that other publications had written but that my outfit hadn’t yet covered. The summaries were written with two very specific rules: the original source had to receive full credit, and our summary had to — in some way — advance the story by adding some sort of context or additional detail. Simply re-writing someone else’s scoop was unacceptable.

We didn’t have a good name for that process, but it was similar to the effort now known as “curation”: the collection, organization and re-broadcast of the ideas of others. In 2012, curation is a key part of the information-processing cycle as we come to terms with the fact that there will be more devices connected to the Internet by the middle of the decade than there are people in the world. All of those devices are spitting out gobs of information, and sifting through that information has become a calling unto itself.

My colleague Aaron Strout outlined why curation is so important to companies last year, and there seems to be little chance that trend will diminish (a fact that the rise of Pinterest demonstrates).

As a result of the growing need for — and market for — curation, there have been increasing efforts to develop rules for making sure that the process of curation is ethical. The most recent is the “Curator’s Code,” a thoughtful way for bloggers and others to signal both the source of a story (in Twitter parlance, the “via”) as well as the person who brought it to the attention of the curator (the “hat tip”). The ethics is straightforward: as we collect and re-broadcast information, understanding where the information came from (and how it traveled) is critical in establishing credibility.

But for all of the attention the Curator’s Code has received — it was a SXSW highlight and was featured in the New York Times, among others — it set an unfortunately low bar for curation. Proper attribution is a noble goal, but it doesn’t solve one of the fundamental issues of content sharing in the brave new social world: it actually increases the volume of information we’re exposed to, because yesterday’s hot story on Mashable isn’t being published just by Mashable. It’s being RTed and Facebooked and G+ed by thousands and thousands of people, often with no additional context.

Which brings me back to that first job, curating for hours before the sun even rose. The fundamental rule that guided me then — add something of value — seems every bit as important as the “Curator’s Code” in ensuring that the benefits of curation (organizing information, broadening the reach of information) don’t degrade into just more noise.

By: Brian Reid

Brian Reid is a managing director at W2O Group, where he oversees influencer relations. He is a former journalist who believes content really is king.

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3 Responses

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  1. Brian, your take on the down-side of curation really got me thinking. I must confess that I hadn’t thought about the concept from this angle before. And while I understand the potential for generating noise in the system, I don’t think that the problem necessarily looks the way you’ve painted it – at least not where it matters. Here’s why:

    While the source of the story finds it easy to look out over the interwebs to see all of the fascinating places that her story has gone, I as the reader am more likely to receive it through a friend or two on twitter or facebook. Because my facebook and twitter friends act as my “filter” for information (after all, I am connected with them online because we have some kind of real-life affinity), I’m actually really pleased to see it coming from them – because it’s likely that if it was interesting to them, it’ll be interesting to me, too. Thus, what looks like noise “from the top of the chain” looks like a nicely personalized delivery to me on the bottom of the chain.

    I’m going to syndicate this article to my friends on facebook and twitter and see if they complain. šŸ˜‰ Thanks for being thought-provoking – as usual.

  2. I’d love to start a flame war with you, but I don’t disagree. I think that the attribution *is* important. But my worry is that as sharing becomes more popular and more frictionless, the benefits of curation have a potential to decline if the volume ramps up with little context behind it. Getting a dozen RTs of a New York Times story from my friends does me little good *unless* each of those friends adds a bit of context: what they liked, what they didn’t, how that meshes with their understanding of the subject. Getting the attribution right is a fundamental part of the ethics, but adding value should be just as prized.

  3. Therese Torris said

    I fully agree with you Brian. I curate content on Scoop.it. I often find it difficult to retrace the original source of articles because of multiple layers of curation by curators who do not care for pointing to the original author. I also find a lot of too extensive quotes that kill the need to read more. Careful curation, the way you practice it, is a lot of work. Too much for most people, I’m afraid…

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