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Who are your content curators?

by Jeff Cobb

I had already planned to write a post about “curators” today when I noticed that Jeff De Cagna has posted about the “content challenge” over on SmartBlog. He sees “content curation” as one of the most significant innovation opportunities available to organizations. We’re in agreement on that and have spoken together about it before. Here on Mission to Learn, though, I’d like to focus on it as one of the most significant innovation opportunities for individual lifelong learners.

First things first: What is a Curator?

The idea behind curators and content curation is that there is such a flood of new content pouring through the Internet pipes these days that being aware of all of it and sorting it out in meaningful ways is simply not possible. Curators are people or organizations that do the hard work of sifting through the content within a particular topic area or “meme” and pulling out the things that seem to make most sense. This effort involves significantly more than finding and regurgitating links, though. A good curator must be skilled at:

  • locating and evaluating valuable content
  • organizing and connecting content so that it is as accessible as possible
  • creating and re-purposing content when it adds to the underlying value
  • capitalizing on the Social Web to build connections and context
  • building trusted relationships with learners and other curators
  • design learning experiences (in a much broader sense than traditional approaches)

Bottom line: A curator is an individual or organization who excels at helping others make sense.

For the individual lifelong learner, I see (at least) two powerful opportunities here.

The first is to find great curators.

If you want to combat information overload, I see this as one of the surest ways – find people who are already doing a great job making sense of the areas you care about. Follow them. Engage with them. Encourage them. And don’t just pick ones who seem to always be towing the same old line, that “simply pick and choose information that fits with their existing worldview,” as Jeff puts it. Find ones that are willing to mix it up some and fight off homophily. Do this well and I can guarantee you will transform your learning efforts and open up new vistas.

This, by the way, is an area to which the curators themselves – whether associations, other nonprofits, companies, or individuals – need to pay careful attention. I think most stakeholders are still a long ways from understanding how to find and use good curators. (Yes, I will definitely be writing more on that.)

The second is to be a curator.

If you really want to learn a body of knowledge or skills (or whatever other learning area you define), it is really hard to beat becoming a curator for that area. In a sense, this is what academics have always done. They focus in on a particular discipline and spend their lives researching, writing about, and (less and less) teaching it. The good curator does much the same, though typically in a less formal way and with no promise of tenure. (The only “job security” for a curator is in continually providing high value to the learning community.)

It’s not an exaggeration to say that people have reinvented their lives through this sort of effort. I saw my colleague David Houle do this with his focus on becoming a futurist. (Notably, David is the son of Cy Houle, one of the pioneers of lifelong learning.) Certainly Leo has done this over at Zen Habits. The Web/World is packed with examples.

So what about you? Who are your curators and/or what are you curating? Please comment and share.


P.S. – Many people have written about the concept of the “content curator” or “digital curator” over the past few years, but I am pretty certain I first came across it in George Siemens thoughts on curatorial  teaching. Just want to give credit where credit is due.

See also: More on the Digital Curator


posted on March 2, 2010

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