Freda Kahlo, personal judgement and content curation

Posted on August 2, 2011 1:38 pm by | Content Curation

I was taken aback by a statement in an Editors Weblog piece about Storify, my tool of choice (so far) for curating coneftent. The post asserts…

Storify’s main flaw lies in the fact that it is intensely reliant on the curator, the Storify account user, who ultimately makes judgments about what information is valid and appropriate to be included, like any standard blogging process. As there is no way of enforcing any idea of balanced, objective journalism on Spotify, this could, potentially, klead to very subjective accounts of global events. It falls to individuals and news organizations to enforce journalistc standards upon themselves.

We’ll set aside the fact that the author of this post referenced Spotify, the music service, instead of Storify, suggesting that the article itself wasn’t subjected to the journalistic standard of fact-checking or editing. Far more important is clarifying what it means to curate.

Freda Kahlo self portraitFreda Kahlo is my wife’s favorite artist. Has been since Michele was a little girl. A year or so ago, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art ran a Kahlo exhibit. It was magnificent. It didn’t contain everything Kahlo had ever done. It featured a selection of her work that, as it was presented, offered insight into the artist’s phases, how events in her life informed her work and how she worked in various media. It also featured carefully selected photographs, letters and other material that supplemented and enhanced the exhibit.

It was the work of a curator that resulted in the intense experience. Gathering up all of Kahlo’s paintings isn’t curating anything. Online, including all possible links is aggregation, which is distinctly different from curation, although it may often serve as a first step.

Curation is all about context. When selecting the articles to appear in a curated resource, the curator exercises judgment to pick the best of the best. As someone already intensely interested in the topic, the curator represents the audience based on the fact that he knows what the audience is interested in. It’s that judgment, that scrutiny and selection process that makes a curated collection interesting.

Over time, based on the contents of a collection, the audience develops a sense of trust in the curator’s judgment. That is, the curator becomes a trusted guide to solid, useful content.

Editors Weblog is clearly interested in the curation of content by news organizations. Plenty of news organizations are using paid curation tools like Loud3r that start by aggregating content. But I find the curation efforts of NPR’s Andy Carvin on Storify more interesting than a lot of mainstream media aggregation efforts. He has cultivated resources over his years as a journalist, and shares the tweets, posts, photos, videos and other content he finds from those with whom he has built a bond of trust. He exercises his judgment about which material to share. No, there’s no enforcement of balanced, objective journalism other than the professionalism Carvin brings to the effort. But his Jasmine Revolution collection has been viewed nearly 20,000 times. It’s up to readers to assess whether meets standards.

Even in journalism, personal judgment is at the heart of curating content.

The fact that Storify is “intensely reliant on the curator” is exactly what makes it great. It’s also what will make or break the individual curators. Anything less just isn’t curation at all.

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