Curation is becoming an increasingly important term and for good reason: the online world is increasingly messy, muddled and full of blind alleys.
Search used to be the best way to navigate online but today it is only one part of an Internet user's dashboard. Finding things is fine if you know what to look for, but search is increasingly less effective in judging the quality of links, or putting those links into a context.
Blekko, the recently launched search engine tries to provide a context for search terms but it's still not curation but aggregation
So what is curation?
Here is my definition:
Curation is a person or persons, engaged in the act of choosing and presenting things related to a specific topic and context.
Aggregation is the collection of as many things that can be found related to a topic.
Aggregation would be a collection of any or all, post-impressionist masterpieces from Musée d'Orsay's permanent collection.
Curation is about choosing what's in a collection. Aggregation is just collecting.
On the Internet we see lots of examples of aggregation e.g. Google News aggregates all the news stories around a topic.
There is "smart" aggregation or "social" aggregation in which the algorithms for aggregation try to get clues from groups of humans about what to collect and how to present it.
- Google search is an example of smart aggregation in that the PageRank algorithm uses links on web pages to determine the importance of any link.
- Flipboard, the popular iPad based magazine, gets its clues from your social network about what content to present in its "Flip" format. This aggregation isn't about any topic or context, it is a miscellaneous collection - it's not curation.
Curation can use aggregation tools to uncover/discover things but aggregation is not curation.
There are lots of online curation tools out there and each one is good for certain things. Some blog posts can be examples of curation: presenting a list of links around a topic.
For much of this year I've been working with Pearltrees and its team of developers, as a consulting client, because it is the most comprehensive curation tool/service I've found so far.
- Pearltrees provides a visual "mind-map" metaphor that links relevant web pages, Tweets, videos, photos -- it works with any and all online content unlike other tools.
- Pearltrees is sharable and embeddable. You can grab my "Patti Smith in Golden Gate Park" Pearltree and add it to your Pearltree collection. I can't do that with any other curation tool.
- Pearltrees is dynamic. If I add new content to my "Patti Smith" Pearltree it automatically updates the same Pearltree in your collection.
- Pearltrees has a powerful algorithm for discovering similar Pearltrees, which is great for uncovering great content that you might have missed.
- Pearltrees can't be spammed. You make the selections, you control your Pearltree.
(There is some big news coming out from Pearltrees later this month that will take it to another level.)
Curation, as a topic isn't going to go away, it will be one of the most important subjects of 2011.
Curation is about the "human web" while aggregation is about the "machine web." Come back for more on this topic.