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The future of content curation

21 Sep 2010  |  Neil Perkin 
Neil Perkin

Neil Perkin, founder of Only Dead Fish, explains why in a world submerged by endless information, quality content curation has a high value...

One of the most remarkable quotes of the last couple of weeks came from Christopher Bailey, CCO of Burberry, who said: "We are now as much a media-content company as we are a design company, because it's all part of the overall experience."  Seems like everyone's in the content game now.

I saw the quote on twitter first, of course, like much that is new and of consequence among the advertising and media community that I'm a part of - a community that, through the links that are shared and amplified, provides it's own form of content curation (social curation if you like) which, when combined with RSS acts as a kind of mash-up between personal and community based selection that is consistently the highest quality content stream I have access to.

With an explosion in the amount of content vying for our attention, quality content curation of all kinds has a high value. It's a function long owned by magazine and newspaper publishers through the role of the Editor, but now for some one performed by the networks that we're a part of, or by technology through social bookmarking services like Delicious, or Apps like Instapaper, or social content aggregators like Paper.li that collect together the most popular links shared by the people you follow on Twitter or around a particular hashtag.

The real opportunity for content owners is not just facilitating user-generated content or enabling ease of content sharing, but opening up the whole process of producing, hosting, and curating great content

The real value in social curation is relevance. It's no accident that the last ten albums I've bought are ones that have been shared on playlists by like-minded friends through the new socially enabled Spotify (and interestingly I seem to have spent more than I would normally).

Earlier this month, The Guardian decided it wanted to reflect some of the debate and discussion going on in the science community. There's good reason to - according to the Pew Research Centre science accounts for 10% of all stories on blogs but only 1% of the stories in mainstream media. They could, of course, have just asked a journalist to cover it. Instead, they launched The Guardian science blogs network, hosting content from four of the most popular and authoritative science blogs, and a science blog festival (a "celebration of the best writing on the web").

It is at one and the same time a harnessing and a distribution of scientific expertise. And it makes for a rewarding relationship: The Guardian gets expert content and in the process engages a vibrant community of science bloggers; the scientists get a broader and more diverse potential audience for their writing. Rather than competing, they are collaborating to secure a relevant and valuable audiences for both. Even the ad revenue secured against the content is split 50/50.

Alongside quality, the holy grail of content (and arguably at least one way in which people will pay for it) is context and convenience

Alok Jha, science and environment correspondent at The Guardian (quoted on the Nieman Journalism Blog), described it as "a completely new model for us", not least because the blogs will be completely unedited and the bloggers will have direct remote access to the Guardian's web publishing tools. "The goal", says Jha, "is less top-down authority, not more".

Blog networks are not new of course, but changes in the media ecosystem like this are a subtle, but important shift, and it represents the latest in a series of initiatives from The Guardian that involve external developers and readers in the content process. Initiatives that are enabled by a collaborative, open-minded approach and a willingness to experiment with new models, and more tangibly powered by their Open Platform.

What The Guardian have clearly realised is that, though important and now expected, the real opportunity for content owners is not just facilitating user-generated content or enabling ease of content sharing, but opening up the whole process of producing, hosting, and curating great content. It's what Alan Rusbridger calls 'mutualisation'. And it is about combining the best of the old with relentless experimentation with the new.

If we know anything about the future, it is that it will feature a mash-up of technology, social and professionally driven content curation

Involving audiences in the editorial process does not mean the end of traditional journalistic skills, it should mean the embracing of new ones. Social curation does not mean the end of editorial curation, it means the opportunity to combine both to make a better product.

Alongside quality, the holy grail of content (and arguably at least one way in which people will pay for it) is context and convenience. Clay Shirky once described media as "less and less often about crafting a single message to be consumed by individuals, and more and more often a way of creating an environment for convening and supporting groups".

To paraphrase JP Rangaswami, the production, consumption and distribution of information have already been democratised, and it is inevitable that curation will be too.  If we know anything about the future, it is surely that it will likely feature a mash-up of technology, social and professionally driven content curation that to those who are skilled in the art, might just represent the greatest opportunity publishers have to reach that holy grail.

Click here to read Neil Perkin's Blog or to follow him on Twitter

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