Monday, 31 March 2008

Defining Digital Curation: It's Them Not Us

Grant McCracken has a thoughtful post on the usage of the term curation which has become one of the latest blogosphere buzz words (a blogosphruzz perhaps?).

Grant specifically mentions Steve Rubel, who alongside many others in the marketing world, has been using the term to refer to a 'new' approach towards content and community. In his post "Digital Curator in Your Future" Rubel states:

"Museum curators, like web users, are faced with choices. They can't put every work of art in a museum. They acquire pieces that fit within the tone, direction and - above all - the purpose of the institution. They travel the corners of the world looking for "finds." Then, once located, clean them up and make sure they are presentable and offer the patron a high quality experience.

Much the same, the digital realm too needs curators. Information overload makes it difficult to separate junk from art. It requires a certain finesse and expertise - a fine tuned, perhaps trained eye….

Brands, media companies and dedicated individuals can all become curators. Further, they don't even need to create their own content, just as a museum curator rarely hangs his/her own work next to a Da Vinci. They do, however, need to be subject matter experts.”

Interestingly, I never put too much thought to the notion of curation although I likely have used the term as much as anyone (ah marketers, we are such a shallow bunch sometimes). But looking into it, I have a serious issue with the entire issue of curation and particularly as defined by Rubel.

It continues the myth that brands can 'manage' digital networks. While it's not as bad as the top down approaches of the past, as I've gone into detail on my presentation on an ecosystem approach to marketing, I don't believe 'management' is any more successful. As a believer in emergence and harnessing the power of the network, I'm not sure curation is anything more than a new fancy term for experts (in marketing terms that would be the brand, brand champions or other subject matter experts) attempting to manage the community/network.

At the end of his post, Grant takes a cut at redefining what curation could mean.

"Real curators think with their collections. The collections are intelligence, memory, conceptual architecture made manifest."

And this comes to what is at the heart of the matter. WE are not the curators. As brands and marketers what we can do is help create architectures that enable a community to curate as the networked whole. A difference in semantics but it’s important. The expert and curator are the harnessed intelligence and power of the network. Once again, it’s not about US, it's about THEM, and understanding that will make all the difference.

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