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“Who wants yesterday’s papers?

Who wants yesterday’s girl?

Who wants yesterday’s paper ?

Nobody in the world” 

Rolling Stones 1967

We are besieged by information, knee deep and beyond.  If you have a smart mobile device it comes at you from all directions, in almost all circumstances.  Like the Sorcerer’s Apprentice we are drowning in a flood of communications freed by the spell of inexpensive ubiquitous technology, and try as we might we know of no counter spell to stem the tide.

This image was selected as a picture of the we...

This image was selected as a picture of the week on the Farsi Wikipedia for the 13th week, 2011. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The consequences of this growing tsunami are multifold, many as yet unsuspected or undetected, but the only sure thing is that life now is very different from what is was before.

The Shallows – What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains” by Nicholas Carr provides an insightful examination of some of the effects. One of his most important points is that we are becoming increasingly distracted.  Our attention span is decreasing, as is our ability to digest information and commit  information to long term memory.  Since the well of known information, the internet, is always available, recovering information that we have consumed but not digested is only a simple search string away.

There is an argument that suggests that this frees up our brains for different and possibly more productive activities, and there is some evidence that this may be the case.

But the issue remains that we are constantly encouraged to deal more and more with the present and less and less with the future and past.  Brevity is key, as any person on Twitter will attest; yet it seems to apply to all of our communications.  Short, pithy soundbites or images, moving or otherwise, are the order of the day. Content is king, or so I am told; and those that excel at amplifying these messages, whether their own or others, are quickly harnessed by marketeers to prime the pump for their brand(s) content.

Over the last year there has been a sea change in this approach, and while content seemingly remains supreme, some are beginning to recognize the value of context.  Now it’s not just content, but related content that brings value.  Sites that “curate” content,  that is collecting and displaying additional content that augments the value of the original content, are seeing factorial increases in year on year traffic, see Greg Bardwell’s post on Content Curation Sweetspot.  Content remains king, and though context is queen, curation has become a pawn close to being promoted to queen as well.

But that is not exactly the way I see it.  I have a slightly different perspective:

Firstly information has value beyond the present, depending on its relevancy.  Over time that value can and will change according to the quality of the information; the lower the quality the lower the value. Information created in the past can be critical to knowledge and understanding in both the present and future.  At the same time ephemeral information will only have transient value, usually its 15 seconds in the spotlight.

Secondly the role of curation is not just to assemble topical and stylish content.  While that may be the purpose and goals of stimulating appetites for fashion and consumables, greater depth is required by those in search of deeper knowledge, usually provided by a context made wider with the dimension of time.  My definition of curation more closely resembles the profession as practiced in museums and galleries.  It requires a knowledge of history and an understanding of influences, qualities and intentions that produced the thoughts and artifacts under custody.

We have a duty to future generations to ensure that quality content is preserved, including the context that contributed to and proceeded from its publication.  In the face of the rising flood we need to curate responsibly, identifying the quality contributions and marking the relationships to authors and content that define their contexts.  And we have to do this is a uniform and open manner so that we have common access to riches of the past that help navigate our present and future.

Open Linked Data might be one of the more viable approaches afforded by technology, however it is in our interests to collaborate on the framework and standards that will enables us to preserve contextual relationships in content. Making curated content consistent and optimally shareable helps us all.

Nobody wants yesterday’s papers, but yesterday’s girls grew up to become Joan of Arc, Hidlegard of Bingen, Marie Curie and Marie Stopes, and the world would be a poorer place without them.

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Photo from New Exhibit! Native American Cultural Objects at the CHP – Contributed by Francisca Ugalde and Cathy Faye.

A recent post by Brian SolisThe Curation Economy and the 3 C’s of Information Commerce” neatly deconstructed the information flow within the Social Network.  The 3 C’s are creation, curation and consumption, and while consumption remains the largest activity he correctly identified curation as a vital part of the social information chain, as it is the intermediary and often principle connecting service between the authors and readers of content

There are many curation tools available (@williampearl Shirley Williams’ blog post references 40).  Most serious Social Media participants use one or several of them to save interesting content discovered or referenced in their daily pursuit of engagement.

Though the name curation is applied to such tools as Pinterest and others all too often these tools act as nothing more than scrapbooks, with photos and articles appended to pages because they caught our imagination, piqued our interest or satisfied our desire to be seen as a member of a community of interest.

It is true that many curating users perform a rudimentary evaluation to classify the curated content and to position it within a relevant category;  an even smaller number provide some commentary on the content.  But like a scrapbook these collections remain static with a last-in first-presented view of the collection that has been assembled.  Content that was first collected generally remains buried under more recent entries, and interactive commentary is almost non existent.  As a result the value of such collections is greatly diminished and the prime activity of social media curators appears to be browsing the curated pages of others in search of new content to display on their own.

This observation may be harsh, yet I believe that there are many curators who do far more than I have indicated here, however the current tools have limitations. Furthermore to raise curation to the level required to act as the intermediary between creation and consumption, as indicated by Brian Solis, we need to bring aspects of Information Lifecycle Management disciplines and processes to bear on the problem.   In a previous post on the network weaver I had already identified curation as one of the 5 major components of the social networking architecture.  It is notable that it takes up to 2 years for a post graduate to obtain an MFA in curatorial studies or a Curation Diploma from the British Museum.   I have used the British Museum course curriculum as a basis for identifying  the sub components of Social Media Information Curation.

Information Lifecycle Management concept applied to Social Media Curation

  1. Attribution – The first step on receiving any new content it to examine its provenance, determining source and history (journey) to the curation site.  Part of this is validation, in social media terms checking that is not spam or spoofing,  and part of it is ensuring the links and references are still active and, if not, refreshing them or marking them inactive.  Once validated it is important to attribute the content to the author (direct) or those who have shared the content (indirect).  The reason for doing this extends beyond mere politeness as it promotes the contributors and increases their relevance as possible collaborators in this or any related collection.
  2. Evaluation – the analytical step in the process and one that should not be embarked upon lightly, as it takes a high level of expertise to properly evaluate content.  It is not just determining classification and category, it involves going several layers deeper to ascertain the nature and value of the content.  Is the content authoritative, supportive, contrary, derivative, anecdotal or coincidental for example and, as a lead in to the next step, what is the etiology of the content and how is it related to other content entities?
  3. Organization – as with any information repository the key to consistent value is the way the content is organized, and the flexibility of the structures that support it.  The value of content is greatly increased if the relationships between entities can be indicated and that links are flexible enough to be easily orchestrated when new content or understanding modifies the relationship.
  4. Commentary – Curators are also creators of content, a slight divergence from the Solis model which limits the curation role to an intermediary who is not part of the digirati (his description of the authoring elite).  Commentary is an essential part of curation as it explains and amplifies the content and the relationships of content in any collection.  However in an open collaborative environment commentary is not limited to just the curator or curation team.  It can and should be as interactive as comment sections on blogs or message boards, with the curator as the default moderator.  This is the activity that augments the content and extends the knowledge and value of the information.
  5. Exhibition – First and foremost the purpose of curation is to care for and promote the collected content and bring it to the attention of the consuming public.  This is more than just broadcast and communication it is preparing and mounting a rich and informative display of connected artifacts, which illustrate the themes, dimensions and complexities of the subject at hand.  Successful exhibitions are compelling,  relevant and often topical.  They also do not last forever, but can be dismantled and recreated with fresh insight and perspective at a later date.
  6. Disposition – unlike transactional data that needs to be aged and archived, social data is more like the objects in a museum, they are never destroyed or deleted, and rarely put into forgotten repositories.  They are stored and maintained as objects with variable value and possibly potential future reuse, they are out of immediate sight but always available for reference or inclusion in other contemporary collections.

As can be seen from the diagram the information lifecyle has no end.  Disposed (ie stored) information still needs to be maintained and re-evaluated and this is the task I have described as  Collaborative Husbandry or collective farming.  This is equivalent to the constant reexamination of requirements in The Open Group Architecture Framework (TOGAF), as current and new information can change curated landscape very quickly, and  skilled curators should be able to adjust the curated content to accommodate this.   The more sophisticated and comprehensive the collection the more curating resources are needed to maintain the information quality, which leads me to believe that enterprises will seek and appoint skilled curators and possibly even a Chief Curation Officer as they become increasingly dependent on external information and resources.

I would be interested to hear of additional requirements for Social Media Curation, as I believe we are still in discovery mode on what is needed to better identify, collect, discuss and exhibit the knowledge that is cascading  through the global Social Media.

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