Content Strategist as Digital Curator featured in Curation Nation

Posted on August 4th, 2011

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According to Steven Rosenbaum of Magnify.net, we’re drowning in data. That’s why he decided it was time to lay down the law on the future of web curation and what human efforts are required to sift through the mountain of content humans are now producing and publishing at explosive rates.

I was honored to be a part of Steve’s research and included in chapter 13 of Curation Nation, dedicated to content strategy. Over the past two and half years or so, the discipline of content strategy has risen dramatically. As a user experience professional and former librarian/museum professional, I was initially drawn to it due to it’s focus on the creation and maintenance of meaningful web content.

I’m thrilled that Steve included myself, Kristina Halvorson of Brain Traffic and Jeff MacIntyre of Predicate as representatives of how content strategy is the avenue in which businesses assign professionals to collect, sift and contextualize content for their target audiences.

As I mentioned in my article “The Content Strategist as Digital Curator” in A list Apart in December 2009, no one of course epitomizes the curation strategy more than Arianna Huffington. The first time I heard Huffington speak was at a special evening talk sponsored by the (if my memory serves me correctly) New York University school of journalism. I remember sitting with future journalists, editors and publishers – eager to hear what tactics Huffington had to share. This was some time around 2008 and of course since then a lot has shifted in regards to how digital news model needs to evolve. However, the thing that still sticks with me (and presumably Steve Rosenbaum as he dedicates a sub-chapter to this) is the emergence and importance of link economy.

Up until the Huffington Post launched, we thought of our digital domains as simple ecosystems. Simple ecoystems included your immediate family – main website, mobile site, campaign sites and maybe an intranet. In this post HuffPost world, content owners and businesses need to manage complex ecosystems. In this scenario, you have your simple ecosystem (your immediate family) and the extended family who is pointing to you: social sites, mega-aggregator sites, and brand partnerships. The complex ecosystem is the link economy.  In my own practice, I work with my clients to make sure they are not only focusing on the simple ecosystem, but also planning for the larger ecosystem in maximizing the link economy.

Curation is definitely something that is here today and isn’t going anywhere. I think the buzzword has certainly reached it’s peak – and greatly summarized as the zeitgeist it is in Rosenbaum’s book. I’m looking to a future in which the digital curator maintains an important role in cutting through the digital clutter, but skeptical that merely anyone can call themselves one. Rosenbaum concludes that “we are all curators.”  I see this happening in off-line forms as well: curator of clothing, accessories and food items (Brooklyn has really picked up on this)! Perhaps it’s the former art historian in me coming out, but I like to think of the talent of curating  like writing itself. Technically we all know how to write – but it takes a special talent to be able to string words together into a prose that moves us. And it takes yet another talent to be able to create a layer of context to simplify, interpret and add color.

In the future, I think the future of digital curating may evolve two parties (similar to how the relationship of the museum director and museum curator exists): 1. the strategist defines the digital ecosystem and long-term plan and 2. the curator who is actively growing the content well and harvesting that which is created by his/her team and generated by the community. I see the role of the curator becoming more of a specialist who spends their time searching through the sea of goods to become a purveyor of content goods and tastemaker for the target audience. This curatorial lead may then influence and help other staffers within the organization understand what makes valuable content for the brand and then enlist them in creating and maintaining content based on this criteria.