Rethinking Creation versus Curation: Curators CAN Add Value

After my last post about content creation versus content curation, I was convinced that curators didn’t do squat. I likened curators to what Truman Capote said about Jack Kerouac: “That’s not writing. That’s typing.”

I even said, somewhat dismissively,

But I don’t think content curation is that valuable. It’s important, to be sure. With a semi-decent RSS reader, anyone can be a content curator. But it’s not that valuable. Think of what the curators are actually collecting: content that someone else created.

However, I had a few people point out to me that curation is actually a rather valuable service. It’s not just a matter of creating an RSS feed of some cool stuff. Anyone with Google Reader can do that. Rather, it’s a matter of finding the important things and sharing them.

The aggregator just pulls in everything, and lets other people sort out what’s important. But it’s the curator who connects the dots by pulling in the five or ten most important points on the subject, and shows you the patterns.

Tania Said Schuler (right)Liz Guthridge said in her comment to my post, “We need curators to help us find items of value. In that process, they are providing value.”

She even wrote a great blog post on the value of curation. In it, she offers 5 great ways to curate and add value to other people’s understanding of a subject. Numbers 2 and 3 were the best — “Connect the dots” and “Provide context” — because they are what a real curator can do, as opposed to what an aggregator or collector does.

But my friend, Tania, had the best comment that made me rethink the whole idea of what a curator is. (And she should know. She’s an honest-to-God museum curator.)

As a curator of education I have occasional opportunities to organize exhibitions, but far more often it is a way of producing an opportunity for enrichment and learning–a program, workshop, film series, tour, lecture series, etc. Indeed I shuffle the (art collection) deck to reinterpret and reconstitute meaning based on the collection’s possibilities. The chronological approach to the history of art is just one means of understanding art, but if I develop a program about food in art that may turn into a totally different kind of understanding for visitors, and be the relevant connection they are seeking with art in turn changing their experience and understanding to possibly inform some aspect of their lives.

So, I’m revising my thoughts on curators. I think what they do is important. I still value the creators more highly than curators, because that’s where the real work lies, but only slightly higher.

However, thanks to blogging and ebooks, everyone is becoming a creator. But not everyone is doing it well. I think as we have access to more and more information, including all the mediocre and/or crappy stuff, we need the curators to help us make sense of it all.

If you’re only aggregating — that is, you’re only collecting without connecting the dots or providing any kind of context — that’s not real value. You’re just a smaller Google. Anyone can aggregate. But it takes some real talent and smarts to be a curator. And if you’re a curator, let me say thank you for making life easier for people like me. I apologize for not realizing how much you actually do.

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    About Erik Deckers

    is the President of Professional Blog Service, a ghost blogging and social media marketing agency in Indianapolis, IN. He has been blogging since 1997, and has been a published writer for more than 26 years. He is a newspaper humor columnist, appearing in 10 papers around Indiana, and in The American Reporter. Erik co-authored No Bullshit Social Media with Jason Falls (2011, Que Biz-Tech), and Branding Yourself with Kyle Lacy (2nd ed., 2012; Que Biz-Tech). His latest co-authored effort, The Owned Media Doctrine, was released in 2013.

    Comments

    1. Thanks. It is true that sometimes it is easier to be a curator than a creator, especially from a time standpoint – it takes more time to create than it does to curate in most cases. You are spot on. I think looking at your direct experience is a good place to start – and asking some of the questions up front – who am I curating for? Me? A particular audience? How best can I reach that audience? Once you have those answers, that can help guide your curation efforts as well.

    2. Okay, I got you.

      And.. being sort of a curator and sort of a creator myself, I would say that it is a lot harder for me (in every way — emotionally, physically, etc) to be a creator.

      So I need only look at my direct experience to find meaning in what you’re saying.

      Nice post.

    3. Interesting commentary and thoughts on curation. It’s true, there are a TON of people out there currently curating. It’s a matter of finding the right information and categorizing it for your audience. I find that’s where a lot of people miss the boat. The categorization piece of it is critical and is where the human-element of curation shines. It also helps to position you and your brand as a leader in your industry – if you’re finding and sharing the best content out there, people are going to turn to you for more information moving forward as well. I also am a curator myself – through twitter and facebook and my blog I’m constantly sharing recipes and food information with my friends and family. If a recipe is good, I share, if the recipe is no good, it does not get curated.

      Also interesting point about Creator versus Curator – The original thought behind the article is important but to balance that out and get the word out – the Curator becomes important. if your information is not shared or passed along, it may never to seen. As you’ve all mentioned, there are a number of tools out there you can utilize to assist with your curation needs. Twitter being one of the originals – tools who publish directly to twitter have their place but what comes into play is the human element of curating the relevant content – curation is the research librarians right hand man! Quickly and easily putting the information out there and in-front of them.

      Full disclosure – I work for an online content curation tool called Curata – we help organization reach their curation needs and become thought leaders in their industry through finding, organizing and sharing their online content.

      Great discussion – looking forward to more thoughts.

    4. Kelly,

      It’s an interesting question about a master curator being “valued less” than a master creator. (And I hesitate saying “less” only because I don’t want the curators to think they’re not valuable).

      But I think of it this way: without creators, curators have nothing to do. Without curators, creators just have to work harder.

      Now, while I do think curators provide “less value” than creators, if I had to compare the two, there would only be slightly less value in the curator. After all, a good curator makes life easier, and she connects dots that other people won’t see. But if they don’t have content to curate, then it’s like a library having empty bookshelves.

      However, I think a creator who works hard can provide context for his content for at least some of his readers. While I can imagine a library filled with books, but with no organizational system, I can also imagine one or two authors who are standing outside, telling everyone to read their books.

      Of course, both of these certainly add more value than the aggregator, who has only stacked the books — in no particular order — just so people can walk without tripping.

    5. Wonderful post, and I appreciate the perspective.

      To me, I’m wondering.. how can a master curator be valued lesser than a master creator? It’s like saying the oak tree should be valued less than the redwood. Really?

      Maybe we’ve all seen people call themselves “curators” who just RSS straight to Twitter. That isn’t necessarily the standard.

      The standard should be the master curator, who is a true artist just the same, but with different skills and abilities.

      I look at it like this: the creator creates (i.e. in Web 2.0 terms, puts out content), the (true) curator gives it context and creates a particular experience based on that content.

    6. Hi Erik, I’ve found content curators to be very useful in my own writings. They help me discover information that I might not have come across. Especially when it comes from a trusted source, curators can be extremely valuable. If curators are influential enough (Huffington Post), they can draw attention to a creator that readers would rarely have discovered on their own.

      I’ve started working with content curation company StoryCrawler because I believe so strongly in the need to help people organize the massive flood of information. It’s the best tool I’ve found for discovering great content and then republishing it.

    7. Erik, glad you saw the light and had a change of heart! Thanks for the shout out.

      P.S. Interesting comment that most curators are too modest. I wonder if others are like me and are stressed in the “excite” mode of the Five Dynamics. By contrast, I’m effortless in “explore” and “execute.”

    8. @Tania, well, I thought I was a little hard on the curators. I didn’t want them to take it bad. Or collect unflattering photos of me for an upcoming exhibition.

      I’m glad you got something out of this article. Let me know when you have a new inspired collection at Ball State and I’ll make sure to come up.

    9. Erik,

      I never thought an apology was in order, but then again I didn’t quite surmise what a low opinion of curators you had either! Thank you for the mention.

      You have given me much food for thought and refueled the desire I have to constantly reimagine the possibilities for everyone visiting the the Ball State University Museum of Art.

      Best,

      Tania

    10. Most curators are too modest, that’s why they look like aggregators.

      Curators, please brag more.