If the authors of this blog are lucky, someone on the internet has recommended this post to you. One might say, we hope it was curated amongst the other 500,000 wordpress blog posts each day. The topic of web curation has been explored extensively in the past year, and as social networks and applications continue to lower the entry-point of what is perceived to be curation, we wanted to explore the future of where this form of activity will go in the very near future.
Even with incredible filters, are we still exposed to far more information that we can/should consume?
Francesca: For the first time people can access more information than they can consume. And every time people face complexity, they turn to ‘experts’ for simplification. I don’t see curators as necessarily ‘filters’, I actually believe that the art of curation implies knowledge, expertise and the conveyance of a point of view. The most successful curation- whether of information, entertainment, or simply retailing are the once that express a perspective, and select content (or commerce) in accordance. The shopping element is particularly interesting. As the internet as opened access to virtually any merchandise with a one-click stop, successful formats are relying on curated selection: think of Opening Ceremony, la Garconne, or The Coveteur- that merges content and commerce through imagery.
Len: What’s starting to dissolve from our knowledge consumption experience is deep thought and analysis. We’re skimming through articles and on the rare occasion we read a piece word for word, we’re not generally stopping to think about what we just were exposed to. Because almost every article is filled with links to other sources, and the next article is always waiting to be read, we’re getting a more superficial form of exposure to other people’s knowledge, opinion, and creativity. With the added “pressure” of feeling like we all need to be our own sharers and curators of information, many of us certainly are only spending enough time to understand web content enough to recommend it, but not personally benefit from it as much as possible.
Gunther: I’m not sure if it’s a matter of exposure so much as it is a matter of choice, relevance and the ability to expand. In a world of rigged feeds (“We, platform X, are going to give you what we think you want…”), it seems like we’re headed towards a very refined, very rigid form of programming that harks back to the 50s, when you had just a few channels of media, and limited means for conducting a conversation outside of what you thought was going on in the world around you. In some respects, I think the filtering mechanisms we have now almost make things worse, because the grab-bag is often light, biased and largely superficial, and you’re not really prompted to think about what you’re consuming or sharing. It still takes a good amount of effort to curate feeds and process information, filters or not.
Is paying for a filter the next form of subscription?
Francesca: Isn’t it always been? Isn’t New York Times a curator of news, and paying for it a form of subscribing to its curation? I don’t necessarily think that all successful form of curation will attach a fee to it. There are different ways of monetizing curation- actually Hearst invented the advertising model. If I think of individual-curators, they can monetize their influence through consultancy, in the end they feed their own brand by attracting an audience. Or, less tangibly, measuring the success of curation can improve one’s status in the influence score- that will possibly become the new currency. I also find interesting that ‘curator’ could becoming a profession in itself. The MIT Media Lab people define themselves as ‘curators of innovation’, meaning that they bring together experts of problems and experts of solutions. Digital convergence is creating so much complexity for businesses, and at the same time it offers so much room for innovative solutions, that ‘curators’ are necessary to advise industries and direct research and innovation.
Len: I can see there being a small number of individuals who would pay for curation the same way there is a small group willing to pay for online news subscriptions (when so much “free” news is available elsewhere.) Ultimately, the majority of information seekers will be willing to sift through the piles of data out there, but the few who appreciate the luxury of a quality filter, one that can be trusted to deliver unique but also critical news, will pay for the service of saving time.
Gunther: I look at filters as licenses — licenses to access specific information (perhaps of “higher quality”) and those in which you have access to specific people (perhaps of “higher stature”). It’s all very hegemonic. If you look at the UK’s efforts to impose journalistic licenses for pretty much anyone who wants to write a story or an editorial, you have an interesting paradigm here, because now you’re looking at subscriptions as filters that impose limited access to stories and the people who write them, as well as the communities that converge around them (think if HuffPo “removed the waste”), and I’m not sure that this is even a bad thing (did I just say that?). We’re all wrestling with the quality versus quantity dynamic, and we can’t seem to move away from scarcity-led distribution, so how else are we going to monetize? One thought I’ve had along the lines of a curated subscription model is “build-your-own-community”, which comprises writers, editorials and commentors, using, among other things, filters. HuffPo is kinda-sorta doing something like this through social network integrations in an ad model, and frankly, I’m amazed that the NYT isn’t already doing this through its own subs…
Will filtering ability begin to surpass reach in terms of “influence?”
Francesca: I don’t think it’s possible to answer this, as we all use curation for some aspects of our life and we curate our own content for others- when we feel we have more expertise. So the balance between intelligent filtering and wide ‘inventory’ is always personal, and I believe everybody needs both. In the end we need freedom of access to ideas, information and services. I dread a world where everything’s curated. I dread a world where nothing’s curated. Also it’s not just about the ability of filtering, but also the ability to understand supply and demand of the element you are curating, bring them together in an intelligent way, and establish the curator’s point of view without diminishing the value of the other parties- readers/users and content/offer. It’s a rare combination, very powerful when successful, but difficult to accomplish.
Len: Influence will likely continue to focus on getting as many people as possible to think, click, or do a certain action. That said, I look at people like Maria Popova, Scott Beale, and even Ben Huh who have been able to take their ability to filter and turn it into influence. In a world of retweets, repins, and rehashed news stories, people appreciate deeply thoughtful curation and individuals who paint context around otherwise disparate pieces of media. Ultimately, the curators doing this consistently well grow an audience, get listed by aggregators (think Zite and Flipboard) and become authors in their own right.
Gunther: We’re just beginning to understand “influence”, and I don’t think filtering per se has that kind of impact. This may sound hypocritical, but the interesting part to me is that this actually has very little to do with semantics or media-based systems — those are indicators of behavioral shifts tied to influence, but not proxies or markers for them. For one, interpretations of language are ever-expanding, making it harder to gauge where influences come from and why, and for another, we haven’t yet correlated exactly how digital interactions influence our behavior IRL (and every situation is unique). What you need are less filters and better ways to establish connections from the ground up. Instead of reducing the amount of information you receive through filters, you use things like APIs to write protocols that get you to the “right” information at the “right” time, and in a way that enables you to make more comfortable decisions. And while it’s really cute to score people and brands (I have a platform that does it), I don’t see filtering making a play on reach in the same way that influence does in, say, spawning revolts. One example is how online communities struggle with innovation; you have all the opinions and inspiration (i.e. “influence”) you need, but taking things to task is incredibly difficult — and I would think that’s a true measure of influence. Personally, I may connect with someone through a feed (and a filter), but my decisions to act are based on me meeting with them, getting to know them, reading their expressions, knowing their disposition and then taking action. It’s an analog thing, at least for now.