Ever wonder how Wikipedia maintains such a high degree of quality material on any given subject? They have an army of unpaid content curators. They also have you.
The all-volunteer team of curators is constantly checking new submissions to ensure they meet the rules that Wikipedia established that were designed to prevent self-promotion, that articles only reference reliable sources, and establish levels of ‘notability’ for things that get their own article. Those that don’t meet the guidelines, they improve or remove.
Wikipedia visitors (the crowd – and maybe you) help the Digital curation process by updating, tagging and categorizing content. They may also link from one internal article to another thus increasing an articles notability. Many users flag articles to help the official curators determine whether articles meet Wikipedia guidelines.
There are actually two simultaneous curation events occurring with Wikipedia articles. One internally and the other externally. The internal are the unpaid volunteers weeding out the spam or irrelevant articles (level one). The external are the thousands of people curating the best articles simply by organizing, categorizing and linking to them from external sites (level two).
If you’ve ever linked to a Wikipedia article, Dugg an article, or Tweeted about it you’re micro-curating those articles. Why? Because in aggregate those links, tweets, bookmarks and tags are categorizing the best content into buckets of information to be consumed by other people.
Then the categorized or popular content is display on leaderboards where a content consumer can simply click on the most popular/relevant articles. In theory, this leads visitors to the best most relevant content as curated by the crowd. So instead of one curator, you have thousands (Wisdom of the Curators).
Most Level One (A single domain website) content is not curated while Level Two (external sites that link to your content) content is being curated. Level two content is curated by social bookmarking and linking sites.
A valid argument could be made that Google/Bing/Yahoo search is a level three content curation tool due to the automatic algorithmic curation (like Page Rank) and subsequent search results displayed by relevancy.
The content curation debate
Some curation purists will argue that true curation can only occur if the curator has been trained in the specific field she is curating. I disagree. In fact, if that were true, then sites like Digg, Stumbleupon, Reddit, Slashdot and Twitter would never have been successful.
Why? Because we would have gone to the experts to find and consume the best content and not the crowd.
Why did we go to the crowd? Because there are either not enough experts to curate the content or the experts aren’t very good at curating for the masses. Especially when addressing the long tale of online content.
Steve Rubel wrote about the The Digital Curator in Your Future where he predicts the current century to be remembered as the Digital Renaissance. I couldn’t agree more. But what to do with all that content? Enter the digital curators. Like Wikipedia, these are unpaid individuals and companies that are curating the web to unearth and package high quality content.
Since there is not an expert test for the millions of subjects being curated today, the task must fall to the crowd for news content and companies for their brands. Either through an approach similar to Rubel’s or an approach based on popularity of the content (or both).
In the latter scenario, some of the content can automatically be curated by applying a curation formula (like Google Page Rank) or by the likes and dislikes of people consuming the content (think Facebook Like feature)
What’s missing in content curation today
Robert Scoble wrote a thought provoking article The Seven Needs of Real-Time Curators where he examines seven key needs for real time curators. The tools don’t exist yet, but they are right around the corner.
You’ll see Google Buzz, Google Reader, Facebook, and Twitter bring to market tools in the near future that help curate, bundle and distribute the best content into organized categories and subject matter. That’s good for the individual but what about an organization’s documentation about their products and services?
Why should that matter? Curating the web is hard enough right? It matters because the same information overload phenomenon is happening around your organization’s products/services. Whether you’ve built a community around your organization or someone else has, the amount of quality information exists in numerous silos around the internet.
Who then is curating the best and most relevant content for your customers and prospects?
Technical Communicators Take Note
If you’re a technical communicator you need to develop a strategy to curate your organization’s Level One and Two content. Have you considered it? If you don’t who will (or is)?
So what you may be thinking, why should I care? It’s my contention that as the tools for user generated content become easier and more widely used, the online content about your brand will be overwhelming. So overwhelming that you’ll lose control (I’d argue you already have) to search engines and social networks.
You’ll have your very own Wikipedia problem of curating the content related to your organization.
Your job and value to the organization then shifts from simply creating product documentation and content, to aggregating, curating and editorializing the crowd’s contributions about your organization’s products/services.
In fact, you should be encouraging your online visitors to contribute content directly on your site. Make it easy. Your job then becomes curating the best of the contributions in order to provide the best experience possible for your potential and current customers.
The benefits to your organization and to you personally are numerous and important. I’ve highlighted a few really powerful benefits in a recent article I wrote. I promise it’s worth your time to examine (especially the infographic). Give it a shot.
P.S. Are you sold on the idea of curation? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.
(Cross-posted @ Seek Omega )