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Content Curation is king

When asked about the worst words of 2013, The Atlantic’s Richard Lawson responded that he hated the usage of curation. His objection to the word was that it has shifted far from its original high-art meaning:

"It's a reappropriated term that used to mean something good - putting lovely and interesting things in a museum! - but now denotes a technique of cobbling together preexisting web content and sharing it with readers/followers/whomever. In other words, linking to things.”

And he’s got a point. Social media means we’re all curators now. Anyone who signs up for a Twitter account is curating a stream of links and cat videos for their followers and friends. 

But personalised curation is a response to the information overblown that the web has created. Social media has given many users a way to make sense of this by looking to trusted curators: their friends. Learnist is a good example of social media curating lessons as users learn from their friends about topics that interest them because searching for themselves is just too hard. 

You are a channel

By sharing something on LinkedIn you’re showing off your influences and interests. And most of us have diverse interests - rather than a single interest obsessive we’re made up of different facets. This blog, for example, wanders through my various interests from travel to literature to food to word nerdery to AC/DC

Most readers will be interested in only some of these topics and will surf in and out of this channel based on their interests, but there may be a niche that enjoys all of them. Good content knows its niche and its audience. But a good curator knows how to put together a diverse mix that will inspire, inform or entertain.

Effective curation

So get to know your audience. Dig through analytics to find what they’re clicking on, what they’re reading and how quickly they’re leaving your site. Some content strategists say it’s as simple as chasing traffic, repeating what has worked in the past and feeding the trolls.

But some content is not going bring big stats. It might be informative. Rather than the long tail (which starts with popularity) it may just persist as users return to it very gradually over time. Some content has a longer tail than others. One of the most popular pieces posts on this blog is about how to become a Lonely Planet author – a generic post about what the guidebook publisher is looking for when they get you to write a sample chapter. It did okay at first push, but there’s always a steady group of people wanting to become travel writers so this post continues to get readers 3 years later.

Curate for Topicality?

What’s interesting about this how-to post is that it gets new peaks when there’s a recruitment drive or a travel writing festival. Some content is durable enough that it can be surfaced again to find a new audience when the zeitgeist comes around again. Amazeballs inclusion in the Collins dictionary meant that my post got a few more readers. Oddly, it also found spammy comments about dentists (at the risk of being targetted by dental associations I’ve left them up there for your reference), because the Amazeballs breakfast cereal sounded like a tooth rotter.

On a large website curation for topicality means looking at what’s making the news or what’s happening seasonally and putting it on your homepage. It can also mean looking at what your users are searching for and finding ways to surface it. In Twitter it means watching the hashtags for debate de jour and finding your content that advances the discussion. Beware of bumbling into social media trying to push your years-old content that wasn’t worth reading in the first place. Content needs to be durable to get a second, third or fourth run.

Disposable content

This doesn’t mean that all content has to be eternal. Many people argue that news often makes a big splash and then sinks to the bottom of a website never to be heard of again. You can’t curate beyond that moment. But then again there is the “first draft of history” approach to news? Doesn’t some news have a long tail?

In truth no content should be disposable. It can be refreshed and re-worked to be given a new lease of life or a new angle. It should be maintained to add new details or events that have happened since the original posting. Sometimes just the addition of new comments to blog post can be interesting enough to curate it to the surface again - think of those Twitter posts that say “Our post on breakfast cereals sure is creating debate from dentists.” Create content to last and think of how it could be re-used and brought back to life.

But isn’t a curator just a high-falutin editor?

Yes and no. Old-style news editors can be great curators because they have the sense of a story, the antennae up to see what’s happening in the world and how their story will find a readership or create a debate. Good print editors should are able to curate a home page because a magazine front page has the same competing priorities and need to appeal to users. Good editors also influence their publications with their personalities and peccadilloes – just like a social media account that holds your attention.

But editors may not get the need to classify using metadata. Or the need for longevity of content when you're chasing topicality. Curation is about aggregation, knowing when to source content from elsewhere and blending it with your own content. And, as Lawson says, the tools are now available to all which creates more competition for eyeballs and means curation is becoming a basic skill on the web.


  1. Nice piece. The evolution of the meaning of curation is simply a consequence of everyone's newfound ability to find an audience - those complaining about it fail to consider the consequences of low-friction publication by individuals - another long tail, this one of publishers, each with their own niche defined by their personal interests.

    Excuse the plug, but you might find NewsWhip Spike interesting, both for content curation and general interest. It sources the news being shared around the social web fastest in real time, interesting for trendspotting, and to get an idea of what drives the share online. You should check it out.



  2. Thanks for your great post - I've actually curated it on I wanted to share an asset I created for folks who are getting started with content curation and are looking for examples of people doing it well - thanks and keep curating!

  3. Thanks for the comments (and plugs), Tom. Newswhip looks like a perfect example of curation Agree with "We humans have an instinct for good stories, and we know the news stories worth sharing with our friends."

    Jessie, will download the look book and give it a read. Looks like it has some great examples - Adobe, Intel and more. Thanks for sending it on.


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