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Who are your 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.

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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.

Jeff

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. Also, be sure to vote for Jeff De Cagna’s content challenge post on Wild Apricot.

See also: More on the Digital Curator

 

posted on March 2, 2010

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Janet Clarey March 3, 2010 at 7:35 pm

I think being a curator is the most interesting and rewarding part of my job. Now if I could just find a way to get paid (well) to do it.

Jeff Cobb March 5, 2010 at 4:17 pm

Amen to that, Janet! Curation generates a lot of value, but at least for the time being, that doesn’t necessarily translate (directly) into cash in the bank. Thanks for commenting. – Jeff

Joe Rominiecki March 8, 2010 at 1:09 pm

One great (and really simple) example of how to turn content curation into a potential money maker is Harvard Business Review’s “Daily Stat.”

See http://web.hbr.org/email/archive/dailystat.php

Every day, they quickly summarize an interesting piece of new research or data and link to it. Then, immediately below it, they highlight a related resource from HBR that readers can purchase. Below that, there’s an advertisement (an in-house ad in this example, but it certainly could be sold to an outside advertiser).

The “get traffic on our site” model isn’t very complicated or innovative, but it works.

Jeff Cobb March 10, 2010 at 8:10 pm

Joe – Thanks for the comment and the example. I think this model definitely has legs for any org or individual that has a good enough e-mail database or site traffic – and/or dedicated fans. One of the other models I’ve seen crop up – and I think you have noted this before over on ASAE’s blog – is membership sites that pull together intensive learning/content experiences in a focused topic area and charge for people to join the community. Of course, there is also a lot of value simply in staying in ongoing contact with your community/ customers by providing quality content and interaction around. I think ASAE does a good job of that on Acronym. – Jeff

Eric Wilbanks March 12, 2010 at 2:45 pm

I could be missing the point a bit, but I personally have found that both Twitter and Facebook are excellent “crowdsource” curators so long as your connections are qualified (and by that I mean no “auto-follow” or “auto-friending”). Because of the way I carefully choose my connections on both those platforms (two completely different groups, very little overlap), I get exposed to some really unique and quality items from around the interwebs.

Luise Barnikel March 16, 2010 at 1:54 pm

Hello Jeff!

Interesting article, and I agree with Eric above. A favorite curation tool of mine is the “share” functionality on Google Reader. I can follow people who I know share good information, and then I have a complete feed of new blog posts and sites which have been vetted by the folks I follow. It’s how I found THIS post! :)

I also curate my own info stream on nonprofit marketing, knowledge sharing and information management via Google Reader, and anybody is welcome to follow or subscribe: http://www.google.com/reader/shared/luise.barnikel

We at IssueLab definitely agree (although sometimes grapple) with the importance of content curation. Indeed, we are an online archive (aggregator) of nonprofit research, but we see so much more value and effectiveness in our projects and special collections that are much more geared toward curation. It truly is about contextualization and, in our instance, making research available and digestible to a broad readership.

Paul Kidner June 2, 2010 at 11:02 am

Hi Jeff, thanks for a thought-provoking post. I like the definition of a curator as someone who “makes sense” of the content he organises, filters, edits and distributes. I would add that in today’s Web world the importance lies not only who your curators are, but the tools they have to curate this information. You could say that Blogs are static/long form curation, but that we need tools to allow individuals to create real-time curation, quickly and easily. The question “What are you curating?” then becomes a lot easier to answer as a good tool could mean that you are curating on multiple topics that are of interest to a myriad of your networks. So my question would be not only who are your curators and what are they curating, but how are they curating?

Brett October 11, 2010 at 2:11 pm

Imagine if mainstream media, especially newspapers, actually became curators instead of bemoaning their fate at the hands of new media.

Mark Moran June 13, 2011 at 7:19 pm

Drew Neisser, blogging at FastCompany, adds another characteristic of a good curator: “You can’t curate for everyone, so be targeted.” A targeted approach not only allows you to focus on a particular audience, but also makes you a better curator of your chosen subject, and adds credibility.

I launched findingDulcinea nearly four years ago, as one of the first Internet curators (we reserved the URL “CuratorOfTheInternet”). We created Web Guides for 18 categories, such as health, travel, sports, finance, etc. While most of the content we’ve published is solid, it was difficult to build credibility in 18 categories. Thus, two years ago, we began to focus on education, and we’ve since curated the best information online about thousands of topics of interest to educators and students. All of it is searchable via SweetSearch, A Search Engine for Students – and educators.

Going forward, educators themselves must become the curators for the topics they teach. Particularly in social studies and English, there is a vast array of content available for free online that, if curated and presented effectively, would be vastly superior to textbooks. Additionally, the role of a qualified library media specialist is more essential than ever, and must be filled by people willing to transform themselves and stay ahead of the needs of their teachers and students.

Clara September 30, 2011 at 2:14 am

Seems the biggest benefit is the high level of content. I see more interested and well researched content lately from more sources than ever.

temo November 10, 2011 at 8:31 am

Hi Jeff,
I’m wondering how organizations that want to maintain a social presence go about recruiting content curators? Are there known practices / channels through which this happens presently?

A.O. November 11, 2011 at 3:32 pm

All human civilization was enourmously accellerated by three smudges of charcoal on a flat rock in Central Africa between 70,000 and 50,000 years ago. Yet, Western historians are not willing to take suggestions from African oral historians. That’s the homophily of Western culture!

So, how can I find a web curator who knows about this?

Syed Amjad Ali March 26, 2013 at 1:38 am

Thanks Jeff, Good writing with Good examples.

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