The Rise of Crowd-Curation?

Here’s to 2012. A year that will bring… well, what exactly?

If I knew that, I’d be playing the lottery. But my friend Faruk has an idea:

 

Let’s think about that for a minute. Crowd-curation. It really only means that many people (the crowd) contribute to the task of selecting, organizing, and looking after the items in a collection or exhibition. Because that’s what curation means, according to the dictionary. Leave aside, for now, that most people’s interest – or attention span – will not actually extend to “organizing” and “looking after” any items. But the crowd will happily come together in selecting things. Sounds like it could be fun, right?
And we already do this: When we hit that +1 or Like button or the little star to favorite (is that even a verb?) each others’ pictures, videos, sounds or tweets then we are actively participating in crowd-curation by expressing to others what we thought was noteworthy or even: good.

More fundamentally, by sharing a link to content made available by someone else we’re curating the entire web: Our followers are pointed to something we think they should pay attention to.

And don’t we all enjoy funny dog pictures? So, yeah. Fun, right?

Well, not necessarily. What’s one crowd’s fun can be another one’s “holy crap” moment. Professional curators and editors will not be happy, once they realize what Faruk’s tweet really means. They might even be scared shitless — because this feels like it might endanger their livelihood. Not today and likely not this year. And as a manager of a crack team of professional journalists, I know that The Crowd will not be able to rival what “my” photo editors do anytime soon. But we also can’t turn a blind eye to simple facts of life. Often, good enough is just that: good enough. And if recent history has taught us anything, it is that changes in technology and the associated behavior patterns have impacted every profession that they touched. Manufacturing, photojournalism and everything in between has changed when technology enabled new ways of production or gave rise to new consumption patterns. Amateur photographers suddenly had technology in their hands that replaced decades of a professional photographer’s experience. Travelers suddenly booked their trips without the help of professional travel agents on websites. (But boy, do we miss them already!) Let’s not kid ourselves: There is no reason to believe editors and curators will be an exception in the long term — unless Faruk is wrong.

(But he’s right.)

Obviously, there are downsides to crowd-curation. While it has all the attributes of a good buzzword that might get your startup funded by venture capitalists, it has its limits for a society: crowds prefer what they already like and that doesn’t necessarily give rise to high quality content. (If you’ve ever tried to use Twitter’s trending topics you know what I mean.) To know if I like something I must first know that it exists. Consequently crowd-curation doesn’t necessarily ease the dissemination of new and unusual content. There is a good chance that sticking to one’s interests and surrounding oneself with people that share these interests will result in an echo-chamber that doesn’t leave room for growth. I’m sure we’ve all seen examples of this at one point or another.

And semantics matter: curation is probably a misleading term for what we’re discussing here because curation, to most people, implies authoritative selection of the best from a known set of items. What we’re talking about here is making decisions about individual items: do I like this picture or not? Do I share that link or not? Those singular decisions about singular items then combine to give rise to what’s most liked and most shared on the web, giving an illusion of crowd-curation.

Not to speak of the business interests who will want in on the game…

 

But those downsides, provided you even agree and see them as downsides, will neither keep crowd-curation from happening nor from becoming an integral part of modern life.

Of course businesses will try to use crowd-curation to their advantage. We’ll see more of what’s called viral marketing today and curation system providers will find ways to charge for sponsored upranking. Ultimately, it is too promising to rely on an unpaid crowd of consumers to exactly say what they like (== what they might be willing to spend their money on) to not be exploited.

So what’s my point, you ask?

It is to help me focus my own thoughts and to maybe encourage you to share your own. What application of crowd-curation are you looking forward to and what aspects not so much? Maybe I’m way off? Do you have a good idea for a better term? Other thoughts? Objections? Ideas?
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