Web 2.0 ushered in a new world of social media and web applications that facilitate participatory information sharing and collaboration. What followed was a myriad of web-based tools, applications, and platforms, most famously Facebook and Twitter, that allowed people to easily update, share, and access news and information in real time.
The connections within our social graph allow both brands and consumers the opportunity to leverage on the relationships between individuals to offer a richer online experience. At the same time, these tools changed the way people create and consumed media; suddenly everyone could become a media outlet, able to easily create, edit, and share information not just with their online connections but with literally anyone in the digital space.
The access to so much information almost instantaneously has led to information overload; most of the time, users are unable to ascertain validity and more often than not, there is a severe lack of both relevance and a personal context.
It used to be the daily task of newspapers and TV news to select and condense massive amounts of information into digestible and finite units of news. However, in the digital world of almost infinite information, the constant flow of articles, updates, and random hellos from friends and acquaintances contributes to the already threatening sickness of information fatigue.
There is simply too much to read.
The implication for brands and businesses is the prevailing threat of attention shortage. In a recent interview, Mark Zuckerberg espoused his "Law of Information Sharing" where the amount of content shared on the Internet doubles every year. As of July 2011, Facebook has 750 million users who share 4 billion pieces of content daily (status updates, images, links, etc.).
In other words, the social web has become messy and hard to navigate. People start to tune out from traditional forms of media and look at other sources for information, leveraging on friends and connections to pre-screen, filter, and curate content instead.
Content curation is different from content aggregation, which is simply pulling pieces of content together and collecting as many things as possible that can be found related to a topic. Curation refers to the careful selection and pruning of content and presenting them in a form that helps users navigate and select. Curation involves real people that are engaged in the careful selection and presentation of content (e.g., social bookmarking, Twitter) whereas aggregation can simply be done through machine (e.g., Google Search or RSS feeds).
Essentially, curation cuts through noise and amplifies quality content.
When users curate content, they add a personal interpretation to the piece of content shared, providing that added layer of filter through the lens of the curator, much like what a museum curator does by planning and cataloguing art displays through their own personal interpretation of the artefacts within the collection.
Curation is a self-sustained ecosystem because users who consume the content in return share the information with others after adding their own personal filter and interpretation to it as they pass it along.
Think of how you currently use social media. What is your Twitter feed if not a socially curated media platform?
As every person in the digital industry knows, there are massive amounts of information within this space that continues to grow at a breath-taking rate. Using carefully filtered columns on Hootsuite, I have painstakingly curated a list of Twitter users that I follow almost religiously spanning various topics of interest but primarily within the advertising, digital marketing, and social media space. This allows me to bypass traditional media outlets (which I still refer to occasionally) and just focus on the important, interesting, and relevant pieces of content.
There have also been an influx of specialised curation tools that help people make more sense of the Internet at large as both curators and content consumers; giving them a way to discover, organise, and share new pieces of information. These include sites like Storify and Pearltrees and visual curation platforms like Pinterest and Svpply.
From a business point of view, content curation facilitates the way brands engage with consumers. In the age of an 'always on' conversation, brands constantly struggle to find new and innovative ways to sustain dialogue.
Through content curation, they can choose to do this in two ways; by aggregating content from around the web; collating bits of information that would be value to the brand community and then curating the 'best of the best' pieces of content and featuring it to the community. The second more holistic way is to involve consumers as part of the content creation and storytelling process. Through co-creation, brands can invite people into dialogue, either related to the brand or their own experience of something that inspires them to participate and create their own forms of media. Brands can then subsequently curate and showcase the best pieces as branded content.
Co-creation and social curation build community because they bring like-minded people together; people who share an interest or have something in common. This is the exact premise for every social experience online.
At the end of it all, content curation is simply about making information meaningful again. Whether as a brand or an individual curator, the key to content curation is always about quality and relevance. Users demand the best. The individual content elements you choose therefore should represent the utmost level of quality and relevance to the intended audience.
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Vincent is the co-founder and partner at C//IQUE, a product development studio and incubator that focuses on developing digital products and services that disrupt traditional business models and empower consumers. He has over a decade of experience both on the client and agency side, most recently as a digital planning director at BBDO/Proximity and lead digital strategist at Publicis. Prior to that, he started-up and managed the Hong Kong office of Splash Interactive Group and built the online business at Citibank and HSBC. Connect with him on Twitter @intersphere.
March 19, 2014