Am I curating yet? Drawing the lines between creation, aggregation and curation

The tweet below sums up what I suspect many of us feel about the debate surrounding creation, aggregation, and curation.

I think the word "curate" needs some curation.... RT @: CEO of @: "Content is king" is dead. Now, "curation is king." #iwny
This might sound strange, but I know I’m a fan of curation even though I’m not quite sure what it means—anymore. I thought I knew, until I started digging deeper and deeper, trying to locate the line in the sand between what I thought was curation, and the ostensibly less creative/valuable/fair (take your pick) process of aggregation. So where is the line? Can there ever be a standard, accepted definition for curation? I think it’s close to universally recognized that Google News, for instance,  has been in the aggregation box. But is that still true given this latest development (see tweet below)?

Love this GNews -- it's not curation by select few, recommendation, crowdsourced aggregation -- but combo of all those: http://bit.ly/dqee2U
Vanity Fair Wayfarer
If you think, as I do, that the mere act of editing adds value, does Google’s new test of human selection vs. algorithmic feed pass from the realm of “mere” aggregation into curation territory? How much value do we have to add before we call ourselves curators?

Brian Solis thinks that filtering for relevance is one of the best ways we can pare down the constant flux of our real-time social streams into digestible, attention-worthy content packages:

But relatively simple ways of meeting these basic filtering requirements have been around since social media came into the mainstream. Brian seems to be saying that it takes something else, an additional element, to make that leap from aggregation to curation. And when even Brian struggles to articulate what that secret sauce is, it’s safe to say that the question is nowhere near resolution.

Robert Scoble defines the curator as

… an information chemist. He or she mixes atoms together in a way to build an info-molecule. Then adds value to that molecule.

Even if we don’t quite know what it is, we know we want it.

Consider this:

Throughout this post, I’ve featured what I see as germane bits of conversations from around the Web. I’ve used them to illustrate the questions I’m asking, and I’ve added my personal take or reaction to each. It’s pretty clear, to me at least, that I’m therefore engaging in curation.

But what if I did this? (Click here and come right back)

Would I then be a curator or an aggregator? Was the act of selecting this particular grouping of content and then presenting it all in one place enough to clear the gap between the two? I don’t have the answer.

But my point—yeah, I have one—is that we seem to be staggeringly far from the answer, despite our best attempts. Maybe it’s one of the core issues we are trying to address with curation, exponential information growth, that is ultimately keeping us from agreeing on its definition.

Special thanks to @robinsloan for creating Blackbird Pie. The tool was exactly what I needed for this post.

Ian Greenleigh
Author | Turning data into stories | Sr Mgr, Content & Social Strategy, Bazaarvoice | Former baby
  • http://www.content-ment.com Clinton Forry

    Nice post! This is a favorite topic of mine, for certain.

    I don’t think we are too far off when it comes to settling on a definition. I think what makes the situation a bit blurry is the infinite ways that the final product of curation manifests itself. [e.g. a Twitter feed, blog, podcast, YouTube playlist, etc.]

    Crowning things as kings or having them pining for the fjords is a bit too exclusive. It is more of a symbiotic relationship. Curation needs content. Sometimes content needs the things that only curation can provide [context, comment, and corollaries] to fully come to life. Those very actions qualify as all three: creation, aggregation and curation.

    Here is a blog post I wrote about this very topic last November: http://www.content-ment.com/2009/11/curation-versus-aggregation.html
    .-= Clinton Forry´s last blog ..Attack of the Rotten Content =-.

  • Ian Greenleigh

    All three? Uh-oh. I think you just blew my mind. In any case, you bring up a good point: We may be dealing with an artificially-imposed set of distinctions.

    Throughout writing this, I kept thinking of modern art. Every once in a while, even the most cultured art lover comes across something that they question as to whether it fits in the art “bucket”. But why not just say it’s all art and call it a day? This still leaves room for bad art, just as there certainly can be bad curation, creation and aggregation.

    Really appreciate you lending your two cents here, Clinton. Cheers.

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  • Catherine Shteynberg

    Curating isn’t merely about choosing what items are important or deciding as Ian mentions what you deem “good” art–curating, at least in my own definition, means bringing new things to light about an idea, re-framing ideas in a way that people haven’t yet broadly. Curating typically takes a lot of time and research. So, telling someone that an article, exhibit, or cool thing exists doesn’t = curating. And in fact, even adding a bit of context isn’t necessarily curating in my book–RT a NYT article and for example, saying it’s interesting or relevant to folks interested in current politics in Iraq doesn’t do it. In an art context, hanging a bunch of Van Gogh paintings on the wall isn’t curating for me either (that’s more like organizing an exhibit)–you have to build upon big ideas about that artists, the paintings themselves. Perhaps it seems like a nitpicky distinction, but otherwise the verb “curate” seems pretty meaningless to me.

    I’m sure I’m biased by my art/museum background, though I don’t believe that “curating” only belongs in the art realm. I found this article enlightening, though it does come from an art background:

    That’s why I don’t really consider the type of sharing and aggregating that goes on within Twitter or Facebook streams “curating”. Perhaps they are the “research” that precedes curating.

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