Making the Curation Cut
So, content curation may have been around forever, but it's also more popular now than ever. With more means by which to curate, will that change the way content gets created, since, in theory, those creators know their work may more than likely end up in a curated list of hyperlinks?
In some ways it already has. Author and social media expert Krista Neher, CEO of Boot Camp Digital, notes that many corporate blogs have "top news" sections and sites like Mashable does roundups of top news stories. "Essentially they are editing the news to the most important/popular/relevant to their audience," she says.
"Content creation is really about making the curation cut-being good enough to be filtered in," Neher adds.
In a video interview posted last year on Mashable, the company's chief technology officer, Robyn Peterson, poses an interesting question to Burt Herman, co-founder of the curation site Storify: "Who's gonna have more clout in the future: authors or curators?"
Herman said that, at the end of the day, he thinks authors will have the most clout. "The world does belong to creators," he told Peterson in the interview. But, he added, "Curators play an important role, especially as we're living in this age of overload, to help find what people should be reading and should care about. They are the tastemakers in some way too, so they certainly do have a lot of clout on their own."
Neher says she feels it doesn't need to be an either/or thing; there doesn't need to be some giant steel cage match between curators and creators to see who wins. "Both provide value," she says. "Creating original content will always have an important place, but finding the best content is helpful also."
"If you think about social media, very little of the content is actually original," she adds. "One new study probably generates tens if not hundreds of thousands of additional pieces of content, with each person adding their thoughts or perspective to the original piece. The reality is that true original content is few and far between."
The Best Curators are Creators-and Vice Versa
VanPuersem, meanwhile, says he feels good curation "can't be completely segregated away from the skill and art of creation."
"I believe that the best curators-the skilled ones that actually search, sort, find, select, categorize and provide context-are in fact creating content," he says. "Yes, we must acknowledge that the basis of their piece is being taken from someone else's research and creation, but the curator's efforts, when done well, actually create something new."
He also feels the best creators are those who acknowledge they are not the be-all and end-all on any given subject. "The most valuable writers and authors are those that supplement their creative work by including the great offerings of others," he says. "They will be good at creating fresh, new content, but they will have the humility to recognize that for every great piece they create, they can find five more related pieces that have been done just as well, or even better."
For Odden, however, there's no question: Content creation is king.
"There's no way curation of original content will become all things to all people," he says. "To start, original content to be curated needs to come from somewhere. For companies that want to take a leadership position in their industries, a commitment to creating original content is a necessity. Leaders have opinions. They have interesting things to say. Leaders do not have a problem with creating original content."
But even though content creation reigns supreme, there's still room for curation.
"Augmenting original content with curated content is perfectly effective," Odden says. He says TopRank Online Marketing does this with its own agency blog. "I've written 1.2 million words over the last nine years and that commitment has led to a very successful business where we work with numerous Fortune 500 companies and even a few Fortune 50s. Along with original content, we curate industry news each Friday. People love to see what stories we've picked as worth reading and our commentary about those stories."
Does Curation Let Creators Kick SEO to the Curb?
Content curation doesn't just have an impact on content creation-some feel it has an impact on the basic internet search as well. In a November 2012 column for Business?2Community.com, Brittany Botti, co-founder and social lead of the digital marketing agency Outspective, opined, "The future of internet search is not SEO ... it's curation."
"In the future, people will look to other people instead of algorithms to find what they are looking for," Botti wrote. "I wouldn't be surprised if search engines of the future included in their search results the online properties of popular content curators who are authorities and thought leaders in the topic being searched. You will depend on these curators to gather a collection of content and information that is relevant to what you are looking for to help refine your search and save time."
Deshpande agrees with Botti. "Currently, search engines prioritize content based on signals indicative of good content, such as number of inbound links, freshness, formatting and page load times, rather than evaluating the merits of the actual content itself," Deshpande says. "As a result, many sites with mediocre or poor content actively work to game the system by optimizing for these signals."
"Until we see a significant jump in search engine technology," Deshpande says, human curators "are currently the only ones who can truly discern good from bad content."
And as curators continue to multiply, creators reap the benefit of this, Deshpande feels.
"As content curators continue to gain prominence as a content distribution channel over search engines, it's causing authors to create content that is optimized for curators rather than for search engines," he says. "As a simple example, formerly many bloggers would title their content with targeted keywords and key phrases to show up in search engine results. These days many bloggers optimize their article titles, not solely for search engines, but for curators as well. Many use provocative titles that may not necessarily be optimized for search, but are instead optimized for curators to reshape their content on channels like Twitter."
Ultimately, Deshpande is pleased with this effect curators have on creators-it gets them away from the coldness of SEO and instead lets them focus on what they really want to focus on: writing.
"It's a welcome change that, rather than creating content that is friendly for algorithms but often suboptimal for their audience, authors can focus on creating the best content that other humans (curators) will appreciate," Deshpande says.
Odden isn't so quick to cast aside SEO, saying it "makes the job search engines are trying to do easier, more efficient and effective to the benefit of brands allowing their content to be copied by search engine bots."
"Curation tools are essentially search engines that allow annotations of the results. From that technical perspective, there are benefits for search discovery," he says. But, he adds, "As search engines evolve and change, so [do the] best practices [for] SEO. They go hand in hand. Curation is increasingly important, but it's not mutually exclusive to optimizing content and the signals search engines use to deliver the best answers."
Neher, meanwhile, says she feels "SEO really is curation."
"You could argue that search engines were the first curators," she says. "When you search for something, Google looks through all of the content on the web and brings you the content that is most relevant to you. It curates the results based on what they think you are most interested [in]. The difference is that Google is curating vs. a specifically-identified search, whereas emerging curation apps focus on discoverability and browsability (vs. searchability). The initiating intent is different in each case."