Gerrit Visser has been digitally curating content since “just after the internet was invented” in 1996. Curation has come a long way and today he’s curating on Paper.li using smart knowledge networks — people in the know who can be trusted.
There are many faces to Gerrit Visser: digital curator, blogger at SmartMobs and thinker at Brainstorms (virtual communities set up by Howard Rheingold), expert on knowledge management and learning, and nomadic worker. He has a breadth of insight and experience that can’t be captured in one interview. So when he talked to Paper.li from home in Drenthe, the Netherlands, it was mostly about the future of curation… although other topics sneaked in.
To kick off, what do you find most exciting and inspiring about the internet today?
Exciting: the growth of ‘social search’ where people look for what their peers think, rather than marketing messages. This will more and more influence major decisions — especially buying decisions. And the explosion of the mobile internet, which is going to happen in 2012 despite the financial crisis.
Inspiring: The breakdown of counter-productive hierarchies, the ability to connect and interact, and access to information by all.
What do you do as a digital curator?
Rohit Bhargava defined a curator as someone who continually finds, groups, organizes and shares information resources. The arab-revolution Daily is an example: I collate breaking news on the Egyptian revolution through finding trusted eyewitness tweeps (Twitter users) on the ground and distribute it daily through Paper.li.
You were curating long before it became a trend…
It started in 1996 shortly after the internet was invented!
At the time, I was a researcher at KPN, the main Dutch telecom operator, working on developing internet services. My job title was ‘Industry Watcher’. We studied press announcements and the market introductions of internet services from competing international providers. By filtering the news, we learned about enabling technologies and business models. We archived these newsbits in a database called the Lego Box and they were eventually used to bring new internet services to market. Several colleagues told me I had a special ability to filter industry news… to this very day I am grateful to them because that work provided the basis for my digital curation skills.
What do you see as the potential for digital curation?
- the strategist who defines the digital ecosystem and long-term plan
- the curator who actively grows the content, harvesting from what is created by their team and the community.
I think the curator (not the strategist) will have four main roles:
- Searching, filtering and selecting content to become a taste-maker for the target audience.
- Providing curatorial leadership to help other workers within an organization understand what makes valuable content for the brand — so they can be enlisted to create and maintain content based on these evolving criteria.
- Spotting trends, and feeding these to the strategists who will use them to help define future direction.
- Distributing — identifying channels and fine-tuning them.
Steve says “we are all curators” but I am a bit skeptical that just anyone can call themselves a professional digital curator.
Interviewer’s note: I am not sure I agree with this. Can’t people learn to curate? Readers, have your say!
Where do automation and human filters meet?
The human element is key. Our major decisions are often based on the opinions of people we trust. This means social networks and human curation will grow in importance.
That said, today’s tools facilitate how we interact and become mutually supportive. They give the curator the means to become a true specialist through organizing streams of information in a way that can be easily filtered and distributed.
Instead of being worried for their jobs, information workers should embrace the tools’ capabilities and become thought leaders in how to make them productive. It is the intelligent use of modern tools that help us to do a better job.
I believe that the most refined filter is not the individual but the network they are engaged with. Knowledge resides in the network.
According to Robin Good, the future of the social web will be driven by content curators, often acting as citizen editors, publishing highly valuable compilations of content created by others.
In time, they will bring more utility and order to the social web. They will help give organizations and companies a point of view that can connect them with customers – creating an entirely new dialogue based on valued content rather than just brand-created marketing messages.
I can relate to the conviction of the Paper.li staff that people (and not machines) are the ones qualified to curate the content that matters most.
What do you find useful about Paper.li?
Being able to identify whose knowledge is most useful to you. The ability to sort out the most knowledge-productive tweets in Twitter streams, and to read them as a personalized newspaper, is especially useful. It enables me to curate all these papers from the best human resources in a specialized field:
- The arab-revolution Daily
- The Gerrit Visser Daily
- Content Curator
- Occupy Wall Street and Social Media
Where should someone begin curating?
First step is to decide on the boundaries of your topic. From there search for the thought leaders — authors or other trusted sources. Follow their suggested tweeps. The curated lists that specialists share on Twitter are great sources of knowledge-productive streams. Filter them and be critical.
Also use already existing Paper.lis and the search function on the Paper.li website — these can surface good resources. This way you build a list of the people to follow. The ranking of news I entrust to the clever algorithm behind the Paper.li technology from SmallRivers. They do a great job.
What value does curation add to breaking news?
Curators may add to the democratization of the news where traditional media can be very biased. By systematically monitoring the tweets of influential Egyptians involved in the revolution and publishing them in The arab-revolution Daily I found a powerful way to distribute the reports as developments occurred and as the revolution evolved in Tahrir Square. This was mentioned in Trouw, a leading Dutch newspaper.
On the curation site Scoop.it I curate daily news about the Occupy Wall Street movement. I don’t take a personal stand on this and objectively aim to balance the pros and cons.
Let’s talk about your other passions. First: coworking
Fundamental notions of coworking and collaboration have become institutionalized in business models. I believe that such participation-based models have the potential to change the business world forever as long as trust and respect are maintained as the most important values. A slogan on The CoWorking Institute site, where I work with my good friend Bernie DeKoven, puts it this way: “Profit from each others’ success and work together as equals.”
You’re also passionate about nomadic working
Nomadic computing is a new paradigm in the use of computer and communications. It gives users independence of location, of motion and of platform, with widespread access to remote files, systems and services. I’m a nomadic worker because I can work and live just about anywhere I am connected to the Internet.
I can access and create information across different devices, networks, and locations, and that makes me a happy member of a workforce without space or time boundaries –efficient and effective.
Where are you heading now in your nomadic life?
It would be great to be able to make a living as a professional content curator. That could be in different roles, like assignments to keep track of developments in a specific field or to train and mentor others in how to apply practical curation skills.
I have learned that the most important things that happened in my life were not the things I planned or grabbed, but rather the things that occurred in relationship to others. Losing my job for economic reasons taught me to avoid the pitfalls of living in the past or trying to live in the future. I am grateful for every day and the opportunities that arise. Positive thinking and good faith help me to move forward and enjoy the things that sometimes occur totally unexpectedly. It is about the people. I am thankful for the friends I have in the physical realm as well as in the virtual world.
Gerrit on the ten people who inspire him
- Howard Rheingold more or less invented online communities and explored this experience in his seminal book, Tools for Thought. He described early on what revolutionary impact participatory technologies and especially mobile communication would have in Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution.
- Bernie DeKoven, founder of The CoWorking Institute, whom I’ve already talked about.
- George Siemens: I appreciate his thoughts in Connectivism: Learning as Network-Creation. Connections are the key to network learning. Yet not every connection has equal weight and influence in the entire structure
- Peter Senge, in The Fifth Discipline, introduced me to the work of Chris Argyris, which deepened my understanding of experiential learning.
- Ikujiro Nonaka led me to explore the process that transfers tacit knowledge in one person to tacit knowledge in another person (tacit knowledge is to know how and explicit knowledge is to know what).
- Robin Good confirmed about 15 years ago my beliefs about the role of the professional newsmaster and the potential relevance of newsradar services.
- Arnaud Leene was a programme manager at KPN Research. He described the evolution of micro-content long before others were aware of its impact in a world where information is shared.
- I met Teemu Arina in 2005 and we are very close in our fundamental ideas about smartmobs’ technologies, as well as good friends.
- Management professor and sociologist Peter Drucker coined the term ‘knowledge worker’ in 1959 and described it in Post-Capitalist Society. In the 1990s, I could relate to how Drucker saw a bright future for information professionals in the business world as long as they embraced evolving tools and modern views of knowledge management — still true today.
- Warren Bennis is a management guru whom I credit for my fundamental beliefs about good leadership and social relations.
Gerrit, thanks for sharing your ‘gurus’! Readers, who inspires you? We would love to hear.
Photo credit: Ton Zijlstra (Gerrit on the boat) and Rocky DeKoven (Bernie and Gerrit)