Content Curation Needs Humans After All!

Man and MachineAs I ponder my forthcoming session on the topic of “Content Curation” at the CILIP Conference in Liverpool this Friday 3rd July, I’m aware that the slides I was asked to prepare and submit to the organisers last month are already out of date. Unsurprising I guess given the rapidly changing business environment that underpins this discipline.  My notes did include mention of the emergent growth of fully automated content curation tools and platforms, and the inherent problems (as I see them) in thinking that technology alone will help us to make sense of the relentless streams of raw, unfiltered, context-free, data and information that pervades our senses during our working days.

I was therefore both surprised and encouraged by the recent announcements, coming hot off the heels from the likes of Facebook, Apple, Twitter, Google and Yahoo! that humans are in fact better than machines for sense-making and finding relevance. Facebook has announced a return to what Chris Cox, its chief product officer, calls “the qualitative”. This is an acknowledgement that real artificial intelligence needs humans at both ends of the input-output spectrum.

Facebook has hired several hundred people to rate the content that appears on its users’ news feeds. The music services offered by Apple and Google now offer their customers playlists assembled by human beings. Apple is also hiring a team of editors to work on the Apple News app unveiled during the company’s recent WWDC event, before the app’s launch as part of its iOS 9 software later in the year.

Twitter announced details of “Project Lightening”, which will provide collections of tweets curated from key events and trending discussions. They are recruiting a new team of editors who will use data tools to comb through events and recognise emerging trends, and pluck the best content for republishing from the ocean of updates flowing across Twitter’s servers.

So what does all of this tell us? I think it’s the dawning realisation that algorithmic systems (including AI) are not sufficiently advanced (and will they ever be?) to be able to understand the realities of modern life, its politics, its rapidly changing cliques, boundaries, rules and religions. The basic qualities of thought and reflection still elude the logic gates of even the smartest computers.

Though I started this post with a concern that maybe my month-old slides were out of date, on reflection they’re not. Maybe they don’t include incisive commentary about the latest updates from Apple, Facebook etc., but my session does focus significantly on the human elements of content curation, and the need for us to develop the disciplines, skills and competencies to be able to make sense of the world we live in.

Content Curation is done by people— information professionals, editors, writers, me, and perhaps you. It is NOT performed by tools, algorithms, robots or software.  When we curate content we can use these things to help us through the process of content curation, but we can’t rely on these things fully.

It’s a difficult job, but one which is in increasing demand by businesses the world over – as evidence from the likes of Apple and Facebook are demonstrating.

 

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We’re all Digital Content Curators (but some of you don’t know it).

Digital Content Curation is the emergent skill for 21st century knowledge workers. A skill as important as learning how to swim, and just as relevant if you don’t want to drown in a sea of (useless) information! A new workshop on the topic begins 20th June in London.

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drowning

I don’t think I need to convince anyone who regularly uses the Internet or World Wide Web that finding useful and relevant information amongst the volumes of dross we get from advertisers, marketers, brand mangers and those-that-want-to-be-heard-but-have-nothing-of-value-to-say which, unfortunately, accounts for the largest proportion of content that swills around our in-boxes and search results, is becoming increasingly difficult. Information is being pumped at us almost 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This was bad enough when we were shackled to an office desk and a “lobotomised” corporate desktop PC – you know, the ones where IT security bods and corporate policy makers have surgically removed all the useful productivity applications – but now that most of us are connected 24 x 7 via our smartphones, tablets and laptops, information can get to us wherever we are and whatever we’re doing.

So, it’s probably meaningless to conduct a survey that asks people if they suffer from information overload, because I can guarantee that the vast majority would say “yes”. The paradox is that many people don’t realise that they are in control of the situation, and not – as they perceive – helpless victims of this information deluge.

It helps if you’re not a victim of FOMO – Fear Of Missing Out, where you need to sleep with your smartphone under your pillow in case someone sends you an email or SMS text in the middle of the night (which you must of course read and respond to straight away). If so, you may need professional psychological help – which I’m not qualified to give!

But what about all of those unsolicited emails you get, or the inane Tweets you read, or the random messages from people you don’t know (or would rather not know) on various social networks. When was the last time you cleared out the clutter in your various in-boxes and put in place some intelligent filters that prevented the “mad and the bad” information from ever reaching you? When did you last trawl through your newsletters and unsolicited email sources to unsubscribe from anything you don’t need or don’t read? Just deleting them will not make them go away – they’ll be back next week or next month.

The worst of it is that with all of this useless information reaching you, you’re liable to miss the good stuff. Finding useful and trusted sources of information is becoming an art. This is the stuff you want, because it’s relevant to your job, profession or personal life. This is where you need to be a “Digital Content Curator”.

The role of the curator has been around for centuries, but specifically associated with people who practice their profession in the hallowed halls of the world’s museums and galleries. To suggest that digital content curators all bring the same depth and breadth of knowledge as a professional curator might be somewhat missing the point.

Curation, when it comes down to it, is all about creating value from building collections. Curators know that the sum of an experience can be greater than the parts alone. And you don’t always have to be an expert to tell a decent story.

Curators perform four basic actions; they find quality sources of content; they evaluate, organize and store the key elements of the content; they add insight and personal knowledge to what they’ve found; they publish and share through their preferred channels.

I’ll go out on a limb here, and go against the combined wisdom of many expert digital content curators and say that you don’t have to do that final step, publishing and sharing, if the audience is yourself. Perhaps that seems strange, but personal bookmarking is a type of content curation. You’ve found, evaluated, organised and stored something that you have found personally valuable, and you want to be sure you can find it again and use it.

In his Future Show episode 3: The Future Of Work and Jobs, Futurist Gerd Leonhard talks about the growing trend for machine-automation (e.g. robots) taking over repetitive and routine jobs, and identified digital content curation as one of the new and emergent jobs for 21st century knowledge workers, where creativity and human intelligence  – things that can’t readily be ‘roboticised’ – will become more prevalent.

Perhaps this partly explGoogle Trendsains why Google Trends for “content curation” keyword searches have risen 112% in the past week. More and more people are tuning into the topic and wondering if it’s something they should know more about. (The answer to that is “Yes!).

But to go back to the title of this post – “We’re all content curators”. The only way we can ever make sense of the world we now live in, where information permeates every aspect of our on-line presence, is to use and develop our cognitive skills to effectively apply filters that separate the signal from the noise; to know how and where to find trusted sources of content; to sort, organise and categorise information, and to ultimately create value and useful/actionable knowledge – for ourselves and for our audience (if we have one).

This, then, is “digital content curation”. A skill as important as learning how to swim, and just as relevant if you don’t want to drown in a sea of (useless) information!

If you’re still confused, check out this previous post on the topic and/or this Slideshare presentation.

I will be running a Workshop on Digital Content Curation on 20th June in London – there are still a few places left if you want to sign-up, but act soon!

In the mean-time, hone those curation skills and avoid the robots!

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Content Curation Primer

The Internet is a wonderful invention. We can find out almost anything we need to know, from cures for rashes to what’s on at the local cinema to the recipe for chocolate cake. We’ve come to expect that whatever we need to know, someone somewhere will have made it available on the Internet. Better still, with the revolution in mobile technology, we have access to this information more or less at any time, any place and on any device. We are truly an information-driven society, where news reaches us within an instant of it happening, anywhere in the world. We know what our friends are doing, where they are, and quite often – what they’ve just had to eat!

We’re also pretty adept at buying stuff online. Need a new TV? A quick search will give us many thousands of options. We can drill down to specific stores, do price comparisons and be swamped with options and technical specifications. No shortage of information there.

It should probably come as no surprise that information volume is now doubling every 11 hours [Source IBM], or that every two days we create as much information as we did from the dawn of civilization up until 2003 [Source: Eric Schmidt], and I’m guessing that most people will have seen the (in)famous infographic showing what happens in an ‘Internet Minute’ – reproduced below.

What happens in an internet minute

An Internet Minute - click to enlarge
An Internet Minute – click to enlarge

 

 

 

 

 

 

[Source: Intel]

So where is all of this leading?

To quote from IBM’s “The Toxic Terabyte”:

Knowledge is power – but only if it can be extracted quickly and effciently from an ever-growing mass of data. Businesses and other organisations now see their information stocks snowballing beyond their ability to manage them and beginning to work against the health of the enterprise by damaging effciency and bottom lines.

The stock answer to the data pile-up is more cheap storage and lots of it. But reflexively pumping everything and anything into an apparently limitless reservoir hurts the organisation in three ways:

  1. It becomes harder and harder to retrieve information promptly

  2. More people are needed to manage increasingly chaotic data dumps

  3. Networks and application performance are slowed by excess traffic as users search and search again for the material they need.

As we struggle to manage the Internet fire-hose, it has probably already occurred to many people that more information is not the same as ‘better’ information; that the volume of information is working on some sort of inverse relationship to ‘relevant’ information, and that having millions of choices and options hinders rather than helps us make the right decisions.

It seems obvious that with this proliferation of data and information we are in increasing need of systems to sort, maintain and re-purpose digital content in a systematic manner. For a while now we’ve been making do with search as a primary means of sifting through the pile. But search is only really good for “fast-food” information; getting you the answers quick and dirty, without much thought for context or quality. If you want quality information, then you need to go via a content curator.

The role of the curator has been valued for centuries, but it has been traditionally associated with the professionals who practice their art in the confines of the world’s museums and galleries. To suggest that digital curators all bring the same depth and breadth of knowledge as a professional curator might be stretching a point. But there are more similarities than differences. Curation is all about creating value from collections – which can be physical things such as art exhibitions or museum artifacts; or digital content, such disc jockey music mixes, website reviews of best TV buys, or a collection of the best educational videos. Curators know that the sum of an experience can be greater than the individual parts. And you don’t always have to be an expert to tell a decent story.

Digital content curation is becoming an increasingly valuable skill. Applying expert knowledge to a broad information domain in order to filter out the noise and identify useful and relevant information, possibly adding knowledgeable insight to the information to create added value, is all part of the role of the accomplished content curator. These emergent skills are increasingly in demand by information consumers (and especially managers and executives) who are drowning in a sea of information and want up-to-date, relevant, decision-ready information, delivered quickly enough for them to make use of it.

The knowledge and skills that underpin the content curation role would – it seems to me – be consistent with those of traditional “Information Professionals”, e.g. Knowledge and Information Managers, Community Managers, Data Analysts, Librarians etc., though they may not recognise this themselves. The problem of information overload can be addressed by good information management practice. For example: use of filters, advanced search techniques, categorisation, tagging, use of taxonomies and ontologies – bread and butter to most information professionals. The added dimension for effective curation is the interpretation of the information, adding meaning and insight to curated content, summarising key points, or providing a narrative or story to connect the pieces.

This, then is the essence of a series of courses on Content Curation that I’m running this year, specifically aimed at and for “Information Professionals”. The first course is scheduled for 20th June and has the following key objectives:

  • Be able to use powerful search techniques and aggregation tools to find and filter relevant information.
  • Know how to use taxonomies, folksonomies and tagging to manage and organise information and develop techniques to identify and validate trusted information sources.
  • Understand how to personalise appropriate content curation tools and services.
  • Publish curated content relevant to your chosen domains of expertise.
  • Be able to deliver decision-ready information to users, customers and stakeholders in order to demonstrate your value to your organisation.

Book now if this something that appeals to your personal development plan, or if it’s something that your organisation could benefit from.

If you’re still not sure what “Content Curation” actually means, check out the brief presentation below.

To conclude with one quote: “It’s not information overload; it’s filter failure” Clay Shirky.

And a recommended read about use of personal filters: Filtering – from Information Deluge to Context with JP Rangaswami

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From Creating To Sense-Making: That’s What Curation Is All About

Effective content curation will help us to focus and make sense of our complex and ambiguous world, to understand context and ultimately to make better decisons.

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See on Scoop.itThe Social Web

curation

Stephen Dale‘s insight:

With almost anyone now able to generate and publish content, finding relevance (signal to noise) is precoccupying knowledge workers everywhere. Sense-making, new media literacy and the ability to understand concepts across a wide range of disciplines are ctitical skills for the content curator in cutting through the noise to find that all important signal. Effective content curation will help us to focus and make sense of our complex and ambiguous world, to understand context and ultimately to make better decisons.

See on www.getmespark.com

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The Basic Flipboard Curation Guide

See on Scoop.itData Informatics

Stephen Dale‘s insight:

Flipboard (an App available for iOS and Android) is my favourite app for consuming and sharing inrormation. Relevence is improved by being able to choose the topics you want to follow, and liking or favouriting specific articles.

The recent addition of the Flipboard Editort now enables you to create and curate your own magazine, which you can share with others, or keep simply as a place for bookmarking.

In this article, Sue Waters provides a step by step guide on how to use and make the most of the Flipboard features.

See on theedublogger.com

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Need To Explain To Others What Content Curation Is? Use This Visual Collection

See on Scoop.itThe Social Web

What is content curation about? Diagram, charts and infographics to make sense of the curation conundrum

 

Stephen Dale‘s insight:

A great collection of visual aids to help explain the concepts of Content Curation.

See on pinterest.com

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What has Yahoo! Actually Acquired: A Snapshot of Tumblr in Q1 2013 – GlobalWebIndex

Yesterday (20th May 2013) Yahoo! finally confirmed its all-cash acquisition of the social media platform, Tumblr. Will there be a conflict of demographics, i.e.Yahoo’s more sedate and aged demographic vs.Tumblr’s young, cool, informed and fickle user-base? Time will tell!

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See on Scoop.itThe Social Web

Yesterday (20th May 2013) Yahoo! finally confirmed its all-cash acquisition of the social media platform, Tumblr. Will there be a conflict of demographics, i.e.Yahoo’s more sedate and aged demographic vs.Tumblr’s young, cool, informed and fickle user-base? Time will tell!

Stephen Dale‘s insight:

Yesterday (20th May 2013) Yahoo! finally confirmed its all-cash acquisition of the social media platform, Tumblr.

According to latest research (Q1 2013), 73 million people have created a Tumblr account which equals 5% of the total internet users at a global level.

One of the major things Tumblr has going for it is the youthfulness of its user base, and this is certainly something that Yahoo! , with it’s more ‘aged’ demographic, would have been attracted to.

46% of Tumblr’s active user base at a global level is between the ages of 16 and 24.  This compares to roughly 30% for Google+, 27% for Facebook, and 29% for Twitter.

It will be interesting to see what level of integration will take place beyween Yahoo!’s existing services and its new aquisition.  CEO, Marissa Mayer has indicated a hands-off approach, leaving David Karp to continue running the company he set up…that is once he’s finished counting his $1.1 billion dollar fortune!

See on www.globalwebindex.net

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The Search For Intelligence (and filtering out stupidity)

This week’s launch of Twitter’s Tailored Trends, Facebook’s App Center, and Airtime’s safety net is part of the growing recognition that a (very high) percentage of content on the interweb is unaldulterated rubbish with a layer of drivel on top.  Most serious users are finding it increasingly difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff. The search for RELEVANCE is starting to become an onerous and time-consuming activity.

Twitter Tailored Trends

Whether or not the solutions provided by Twitter, Facebook and Airtime will be effective in channeling and filtering the information according to personal profiles and preferences remains to be seen. But there is a clear demand for this type of service, as we’re seeing from startups/Betas such as Bottlenose, Twylah, Prismatic, Zite etc, which enable users to tune into the streams, topics and authors that interest them. I’m also assuming that the Twitter tailored trends facility has borrowed heavily from their investment in Summify, a service which I have used and found to be quite useful.

As Josh Constine rightly points out on Techcrunch, the big risk of insisting on relevance and safety is that we create a filter bubble where we become isolated from those different from ourselves. Facebook and Twitter need to be especially careful that they don’t completely hide critical Trending Topics or novel apps just because they’re not popular in closed little networks.

I’d be interested in hearing from anyone willing to share their experience of using aggregation, filtering, trending or content personalisation services. What works and what doesn’t?

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Tell Your Tale With Storify

There are many people out there with a story to tell and with the many and variegated formats of expression available on the web those stories have a far higher likelihood of being told today than ever before. Launched in April 2011, Storify combines features or elements from a range of social media websites from the likes of Tumblr, Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter to create a story telling medium which allows users to draw on a range of resources to create a tale which can then be easily hooked up to all of the above. Although it has yet to become the latest trend, it has a plethora of users from across the globe and Time has placed it in the top 50 websites of 2011.

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Storify

A Story To Tell

There are many people out there with a story to tell and with the many and variegated formats of expression available on the web those stories have a far higher likelihood of being told today than ever before. Whether it is a daring account of a money transfer which makes a mockery of current interest rates, or a detailed account of events over a lifespan, stories are cropping up in threads, posts and blogs with an ever increasing frequency.

The Skill of Telling a Story

There are many who still bemoan the death of oral tradition. That say social media has performed a death knell on the art form of human expression which was routinely performed at the water cooler, locker room or barstool. This skill of relating a tale with a mixture of suspense and expression which leaves the listener with a general sense of fulfilment, through the general babble of social media has been slowly ebbing away incoherently. Storify is a website which clearly seeks to redress this balance and allow users to tell stories by drawing in information, images, videos, podcasts and references from across the web to create stories with depth, dynamism and relevance. It allows users to create a new kind of story.

In Time Top 50

Launched in April 2011, Storify combines features or elements from a range of social media websites from the likes of Tumblr, Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter to create a story telling medium which allows users to draw on a range of resources to create a tale which can then be easily hooked up to all of the above. Although it has yet to become the latest trend, it has a plethora of users from across the globe and Time has placed it in the top 50 websites of 2011.

Two Sided Interface

The website operates in a two sided interface which allows you to compose your tale on one side and draw on existing resources from the web on the other. As is the current standard you can login using your Facebook or twitters account. The design is neat and easy to use with drag and drop handling which works equally well on a tablet, smartphone or laptop. You can search for and find content in the right-hand panels of the page and drag them across into the left-hand panel where you can compose your story.

Layout is Simple and Easy to Use

As stated the layout is simplicity itself. The interface includes a generous portion of whitespace and clear, easy to use functionality. On the right hand is the media panel which allows you to search for content using popular sources like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and Flickr. The search panel is also linked to Google to allow for full web search for content. The layout is in a tabbed format which allows content specific searches for information such as comments or images. When your search is successful you simply drag in the content that you want and add it to your story. A neat feature is the inclusion of bookmarking through the ‘Storify this’ function. This will add selected items to the storypad which will remain there until you select it to include in a story. Completed stories can be distributed directly to inboxes via email, uploaded onto Facebook or Twitter, or embedded onto a website or blog.

Copyright Issues

As with all stories through the history of time the issue of source, origin and ownership is one which is often questioned. As such the developers of Storify have addressed the issue slightly differently than some other similar curation services like Pinterest. The company does not hold any of the content that users curate on its servers. Instead the content that you access is uploaded from its original location. Through significantly intriguing algorithms the pages are uploaded expediently and the out sourcing of page content generally does not slow down the loading of stories. All posted content is also attributed to the source of origin.

Notification

In addition Storify does allow users the option to give the original creator notification when their content is being used. Currently this option is only enabled for content that has been curated from twitter. The creators have said that they wish to expand this feature to include a much wider range of content sources in the near future.

WordPress Plugin

WordPress users will be pleased to know that there is a Storify plugin that integrates all of Storify’s curation facilities within the WordPress dashboard.

 

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