The word "curate" entered the popular vocabulary a few years back.
I think it was a New York Times article in the fall of 2009 that really cemented the word in daily language. In the opening paragraph of that story, they discussed a particular clothing store that didn't stock merchandise, but rather "curated" it. The next time I saw the word being tossed around was at a hotel that I like that has a very lively lobby. On a wall there was a selection of CDs, claiming that a particular local record store "curated the music played."
The word, of course, is not totally new. It's just that it was always in the realm of museums and galleries. It was not a commercial word. It meant that someone expressed a particular idea or concept through a careful set of chosen and displayed items. A museum wanted to show what life was like during the Civil War or the evolution of painting in the 1400s, they would gather up a bunch of elements and display them.
The challenge, of course, is that we needed a word to describe what it was that people were doing on sites like Tumblr or Pinterest. People are creating meaningful collections out of the things they find on the Internet. These could be based on an interest or a hobby or a project. "Curating" is a perfectly reasonable thing to call this activity, although it is sometimes a bit of a stretch. A Tumblr about the Civil War is one thing. A Tumblr about "Stuff I Like" is another. There has to be some bigger idea.
Now that curate has officially entered into the world of commerce, I think it is time that we see if it has anything to offer us, in terms of, well…making money. I had to be crass about this. I was perfectly happy to leave "curate" alone in the museum where it simply made the world a better place. But now that it has decided to see if it can apply its liberal arts degree to the (so-called) real world, I think we should if it can become (ahem) monetized.
And you know what? I think maybe it can.
Thread.com: Personal, Curated Fashion
I've come across a site recently called simply Thread.
Actually, I didn't come across it. I saw it in an ad on my Facebook wall. And, actually, it isn't really a site. It's a service that happens to use the Internet.
This is a different twist on the clothing approach that has become so popular lately: luxury and styled goods made available on the cheap to members. Thread is different in that you get a weekly email from a stylist who is assigned to finding clothes for you.
The first experience you have is to answer a series of questions about your personal style, as well as the sorts of things that you might need (like work shirts or something). Then, each week, a particular stylist puts together a handful of options and sends you an email. The email links you to a page that is customized for you, along with comments from the stylist and (perhaps most importantly) a space for you to leave your comments.
The stylist I was paired with is someone named Zack Repko. A quick Google search on his name turns up a good number of links - enough for me to believe that he has some credibility here. I have to admit, I haven't purchased anything yet, but I think it is just a matter of time.
More broadly, though, I think there is a great lesson to be learned here about the way that sites can shift their focus away from their stuff and more to their consumers. Nothing creates connections more than an actual person. I don't know where Thread gets its inventory - it may hold it or it may simply be another interface to an existing store. Or it could be operating entirely upon an affiliate model. I could see all three being worthwhile.
But the idea is that with a small amount of effort, Thread has created a clear connection between the consumer and the product through the work of a curator - someone with a voice and an informed opinion who provides a small set of selections directly to the consumer.
Thanks to digital technology, this is a business model that actually can be done. Certainly there are personal shoppers in the world, but engaging one is time-consuming and expensive (either for the consumer or the store). But this kind of lightweight engagement is perfect. I can think of many other categories where this approach could apply.
This is where this curating idea can take off: finding a way to serve the consumer and the brand in a way that takes advantage of the ability to quickly gather a collection and present it in a way that is compelling.
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Gary Stein is SVP, strategy and planning in iCrossing's San Francisco office. He has been working in marketing for more than a decade. Gary lives in San Francisco with his family. Follow him on Twitter: @garyst3in. The opinions expressed in Gary's columns are his alone.