Unskewing the Web: Curators as filters

11 12 2010
Sieves (40/365) 

Image by prettyflower via Flickr

As previously seen on Biznology:

This is my final post on the skewed Web. In the early days of Web 2.0 awareness, much was said about the new —now old—Web being all about participation: in the age of User-Generated Content, everybody and their mother became a publisher, leveling the playing field. An independent blogger could potentially be more influential than a New York Times columnist, and the role of editors in identifying and promoting relevant content would be seeing their last days. What was unclear back then was that social media was not only lowering the barriers for content creators: it would eventually enable a new breed of editors, the social media curators.

In my previous post, I cited Clay Shirky’s assertion that the Internet did not bring us an information overload problem: we just needed better filters. However, the wholesale online sieves, like Google Search and Digg, created a different kind of problem, a giant global echo chamber, where we all were becoming collectively dumber. An online world dominated by page rank and skewed crowdsourcing had the potential to dethrone TV as the ultimate idiot box.

As some of you may know, my academic background is in Biology–thus my frequent comparisons between life sciences and social media in my posts. Conservation Biology advocates that Biodiversity “is essential for the maintenance of vital ecosystem services, and ultimately for human survival”, and that we all need to focus on the conservation of all species, not only the cute ones. E.O. Wilson, renowned biologist and Harvard Professor, stated in his book “The Creation”:

“The pauperization of Earth’s fauna and flora was an acceptable price until recent centuries, when Nature seemed all but infinite, and an enemy to explorers and pioneers. (…) History now teaches a different lesson, but only to those who will listen. (…) The homogenization of the biosphere is painful and costly to our own species and will become more so.”

Likewise, the health and long-term viability of our knowledge ecosystems is dependent on diversity of ideas and opinions. Online content curators are playing an increasingly crucial role preserving that diversity beyond mainstream. But despite all the talk around online content curation, there’s still a long way to go.

Online content creators are well-served today. Gone are the GeoCities and “home page” days, where you pretty much had to build everything from scratch or rely on professional help to generate content. You can go fancy and rely on a Content Management System, or just open a Twitter account and go crazy, 140 characters at a time.

Online content curators, on the other side, are still poorly served. Robert Scoble has recently compiled a list of “The Seven Needs of Real-Time Curators”. One of my favourite online content curators, Bernie Michalik, uses a variety of social media channels to highlight interesting things he finds daily both in the core and in the fringes of the online world. However, very few of us are keen enough to write elaborated blog posts or to create neat websites about fringe subject matters. Most of us tend to only go for the quick and dirty: a quick retweet, or a shortened URL or a Facebook link, resulting in somewhat cryptic, hard-to-consume messages like this one:


Every time my wife sees my Twitter stream, full of messages like that, she says that it looks geeky and uninteresting. And she is right. Thankfully, a number of websites and apps are starting to make the online content curators’ life easier, the same way it happened to online content creators several years ago. Even Twitter and Facebook have recently made efforts to add a layer of translation, rendering links to photos and videos to more attractive thumbnails or embedded players.

The iPad app Flipboard give us a glimpse of what is coming. This is a snapshot of how the tweet above is rendered in Flipboard:


The newspaper format and the rendering of the actual content (as opposed to just showing a shortened URL) goes a long way to make tweets more consumable.

Social Media tools play a crucial role in lowering barriers to entry, allowing more people to become online content curators, and enabling diverse content to be easily absorbed and propagated. By avoiding the extinction of diverse ideas, content curator tools will increasingly become instrumental in preserving our global online knowledge ecosystem, a.k.a. our collective intelligence.

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