Curation is a web concept that’s exploding! Formerly reserved for folks in dusty museums and art galleries, the job of curator has spread across the digital media world and may already have replaced “editor” and “publisher” in the minds of marketeers and social media mavens. Steven Rosenbaum takes a whack at clarifying the concept and the curator’s role in his recent book Curation Nation. The Amazon reviews are mixed.

Some people feel he missed the mark:

Curation Nation could use some curation itself.

K. Evans

Others think Rosenbaum’s passionate intensity and experience deliver some killer content:

Steve’s been banging the curation drum for years now, way before many people realized how important it is. What’s important about Curation Nation is that it will open your eyes to a whole new world of consumers as content creators, and in my opinion, once your eyes are open to that, you can begin to learn how to exploit it for your own business gain.

James Kukral

I’m late to the game of curation. I’ve been a blogger forever and I’m an early adopter of social media products from Twitter to Facebook to Google+, but the intentionality that goes with the curator’s mindset has escaped my grasp. My blog is eclectic. I lack a niche. And that grasp and control of a niche is, according to Rosenbaum, critical for a successful curation effort. My experiment with Paper.li so far shows me that I’m more “foodie” than political, at least as far as the filters I’ve set for my paper. But Paper.li allows me to tweak my filters, and now with access to the Google+ stream, and with a little discipline, I should be able to throttle down that firehose of information and share like a proper curator. I’ll let you know how that works out for me.

Steve Rosenbaum, photo by eiriksoThere are as many curatorial niches carved out of the internet as there are things that people talk about. A lot of curation is done manually on blogs. More and more of this work is being offloaded to software tools like Paper.li or the recently released scoop.it. Bloggers, twitterers, and social media users of all kinds are narrowing their focus to provide specific points of view on topics that inspire their passion. It’s not always an easy path to follow, and the more successful one becomes the greater the risks one assumes. With Curation Nation, Steve Rosenbaum attempts to carve his own niche. He wants to be the guy who owns “curation.” But there are real curators in the wild who through their work have already staked out that niche.

For example, last week Jim Romenesko ended a twelve year run blogging for Poynter Institute. The Romenesko blog sets a standard for aggregation and curation in the world of digital journalism. Jim’s reasons for leaving Poynter are explained on his new blog, JimRomenesko.com. Last Spring, when Julie Moos, his editor, had to stand in for him for a week or so she said:

In the eight-plus years I’ve worked with Jim Romenesko, I’ve spent some time talking with him, more time emailing with him, and — most of all — I’ve admired and observed how he does what he does. But last week, for the first time, I experienced it firsthand when Jim took some well-deserved and unprecedented time off.

In the process I learned three things about content curation:

The balance between the obligatory and the original is critical.
What you exclude is as important as what you include.
Speed kills, but slowness is a painful death of its own.

The lessons Moos learned as a short-time curator in the world of journalism seem a little mundane, and they don’t appear to address the high visibility problem she faced with Romenesko’s departure. That problem boiled down to appropriate editorial oversight. Editors and publishers are filters too. They can help the curator solve problems he doesn’t know he has. For example, a questionable approach to attribution can be corrected or defended by the editor as appropriate. But editors and publishers require a new Web-journo perspective or they won’t be able to function properly to remove obstacles from the path of the new breed of curators.

Andrew Keen, photo by Brian SolisAndrew Keen, in his 2007 book The Cult of the Amateur, takes a position that’s quite orthogonal to Rosenbaum’s. Keen advocates for professional standards that Rosenbaum sees as roadblocks to an unfettered sharing of information. Keen wrote about Web 2.0 five years ago, and “curation” doesn’t appear in his book. Nevertheless, Rosenbaum, aware of the conflict between his own perspective and Keen’s, writes:

Content is no longer king. Curation is king. And having a curator see your video and deciding to value it with attention means that you are being paid in the economy of the new Web content world.

I’m interested in curation. I believe that if we continue to nurture curators of the quality of Jim Romenesko, then we’ll be on the path to getting and giving good value in the attention economy; but nothing in Steve Rosenbaum’s Curation Nation illuminates that path. On the contrary, Andrew Keen’s passion for professionalism and expertise outshines Rosenbaum’s leveling communitarianism. Old school editors and publishers handed the journalist a copy of the AP style-book and said “Have at it.” The new breed of publisher, whether Arianna Huffington or the Poynter Institute, requires a new approach–an approach that filters, aggregates and empowers talent in order to deliver the best curated content.

Photo credits: Steve Rosenbaum by eirikso; Andrew Keen by Brian Solis

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5 Responses to “Steven Rosenbaum’s Curation Nation”

  1. tishgrier

    Hi Frank,

    I’m with you re curation: it’s a great thing, but there needs to be standards. I don’t know if you recall but Michael Wolff and someone I can’t remember got into a big one re curation last year (the argument was really about attribution, not curation.) I was going to do a piece for it for Poynter, but it got nixed. As a blogger who’s done a whole lot of curation, I’m very careful how much content I take, as well as how I attribute it. And I still see no reason for Romenesko to have had such a hissy fit (IMO.) Saying there were no standards to me is a total cop-out. Had he actually watched and learned from other bloggers, he would have been able to figure out, and set, the standard. He missed a golden opportunity on that one.

    Reply
    • fpaynter

      Hi Tish,

      You might be referring to a tiff Michael Wolff had with Sharon Waxman. Rosenbaum covers this briefly in Chapter 3, “Curators on the Rise.” He calls Newser (Wolff’s site) a HuffPost knock-off, which may or may not be fair. I don’t often read Newser and I only tune in to HuffPo when somebody links to some soft-core story about starlets or politicians.

      What I gather Waxman wanted was control over what Wolff linked. Rosenbaum quotes her as saying, “We have asked that they stop using our material or sign a syndication agreement.” Rosenbaum says that Waxman wants to be able to tell Wolff to take down content. In my opinion, fair use trumps hurt feelings and to the best of my knowledge Wolff hasn’t been sued yet. Wikipedia says, “Wolff elicits strong feelings of dislike.” The article continues with some very unflattering comments. This sort of makes Wolff the “anti-Romenesko.” Everybody admires and respects Jim. Too bad he was sloppy about his use of quotation marks in the articles he aggregated and scrupulously attributed for twelve years. Your point, that Romenesko could have set the standard for curatorial attribution, is a good one. But in a way, I think, he did. None of his sources have ever complained regarding how he formatted his posts. And he was doing it for 12 years.

      I have a ten year old spiral bound copy of the AP style guide here, and while information on “fair use” is hard to find, the punctuation guide has a clear page and a half on how quotation marks should be used. I think if Poynter cared, then some editorial supervision could have guided Jim on the right track back in the days before the first Internet bubble burst and before the blogging boom began! But Jim was doing something new, something we have come to call “aggregation” and more recently “curation.” People to whose work he pointed were almost universally happy for the attention and not likely to quibble over the punctuation. (That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.)

      fp

      Reply
  2. StevenRosenbaum

    Hey Frank,

    I agree with most of the piece, except of course the final paragraph. Keen’s view is exclusionary, that professionals (ie: paid, authorized, educated, etc) need to tell the great masses what to read, watch, do. I instead belive in the need for high quality curation, but I suggest that quality is defined by the audience. IE; if I read your blog, agree with your work, and find it valuable, than you’re filters are useful curatorial lenses for me.

    In terms of the ‘how to curate’ portion – very much thinnk there’s a book in that topic. Perhaps my next one. But this one was meant to explore the idea of curation, and its importance. I hope you feel I did that well – certainly a moving target given the importance and growing complexity of web content.

    Keen -btw – has backed off on his criticism of the ‘amateur’, and Huffington is evolving from a pure curation solution to a mix of professional and contributed content.

    The path isn’t well lit yet, because it isn’t yet a ‘path’ as much as it’s a direction, with navigation by starlight.

    In two years – we’ll have some agreed upon practices, and an emerging class of curators. Today, it’s a work in progress. Sounds as if you’re likely to be one of the architects. If so, bravo. We need lots of smart hands.

    Bst,

    Steve

    Reply
    • fpaynter

      Steve, I like your observation that the “path isn’t well lit yet, because it isn’t yet a ‘path’ as much as it’s a direction, with navigation by starlight” and I’ll look forward to reading a “how to curate” volume should you decide to publish one.

      I see your point about quality being defined by the audience, and I think that curation is a valuable service for researchers who may not have any experience with a particular curator’s work until they find it in a search result. A good curator could open a door for that researcher and dazzle her with relevance. At the end of her project, the researcher may never return so the social networking goal of attracting a member to the curator’s community might not be achieved. Even so, the word of mouth buzz from the researcher in the larger community of interest might kick up the reputation of the curator.

      There’s a lot to think about!

      Reply

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