I was sitting at home this morning, drinking a chocolate and peanut butter smoothie (Is there a more superior combination of flavors than chocolate and peanut butter?) when an email from a colleague popped up in my inbox.
I hesitated to read it at first. I was still in my boxers and about twenty minutes out from any real actual work. Plus, I already had a lot on my mind with the peanut butter and the chocolate and such. But the subject line, “This is WTF We Mean By Curation,” compelled me.
The email contained a link to an article in the Columbia Journalism Review by Steven Rosenbaum. You can read the piece in its entirety here. If you’re pressed for time, here’s the gist:
Rosenbaum takes exception to an online 2012 Year in Review article published by The Atlantic. In it, writer Jen Doll lists 20 words, or phrases, she recommends be forever banished from your vocabulary. I agree wholeheartedly with Doll when she says we should nix the word “hipster.” That’s a word I always struggled to comprehend. To my credit—and yours, I hope—the phrase “butt-chugging” was never truly a part of conversational vernacular, and thus easy to discard. “Fiscal Cliff,” could be understandably banished. So, too, could “Artisanal,” which only worked as a marketing gimmick when it was exclusive to cheese. And “Brogrammer,” whatever the heck that is.
But, hold it right there. Does the word “curate” really belong alongside “Hehehe” (not a word, by the way) and “Glocal” (I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone with a brain say this out loud) as one of the 20 “words we’d just as soon never write or see or hear spoken again?” Here’s where Rosenbaum objects. And I can understand why.
In an age where content and information is everywhere—on our computers, our phones, written into QR codes on the outside of cereal boxes, in our heads, and leaking, quite figuratively, from our ears—I’d go as far as to say the word “curate” is more relevant than, well, ever.
As content creators, our readers rely on us to help them cut through the white noise of the Internet. Good content requires more than the simple assemblage of information—any fool with an RSS feed can do that. It’s the ability to evaluate, parse, package, and share intelligently that makes what we do stand apart.
“Curating is in many ways harder than writing (at least good curating),” writes Rosenbaum. “It’s far easier for me to write 500 words from my head than to find themes and sources and tie them into a broader narrative.”
If you’re looking to kill off meaningless or overused words or phrases, start with “game-change” or “incentivize,” or “jump the shark,” for Pete’s sake, but leave “curate” alone. You’ll sound smarter for it.
So what’s the secret to good curation? A critical mind, for one. Beyond that, in his email my colleague offers this advice, which I plan to implement just as soon as I get to work.
1. Scan everything.
(The sheer volume of unfiltered content that’s flooding the online commons without any gatekeeper or objective organizer begs for thoughtful curation.)
(The world is awash in meaningless data. Don’t waste your time recycling crap. Let your competition do that.)
3. Evaluate what remains.
(Call this the “science of understanding.” Take a hard look at the best information you can find and decide how, or if, it benefits your readers.)
4. Contextualize for your audience.
(Present the information in terms people will understand. Seek to answer the question every reader will inevitably ask: What does any of this have to with me?)
5. Finally, share, get feedback, and improve your filter.
(Most readers are not shy. They’ll tell you exactly what they want, if you let them. Take their cues and adjust accordingly.)
If you want, you can read the rest of his rant here.