As the internet exploded and more and more sites have constant streams of news and commentary on everything from world politics to which celebrities are dead (dead-celeb.com), the importance placed on content curation was, perhaps, inevitable. Separating the wheat from the chaff is sometimes so important to people, they're willing to pay for it.
And nearly everybody with any sort of presence on the internet participates in curating content, whether they know it or not. Next time you go on Facebook or Twitter, look at how many status updates are really status updates and how many are actually links to something else on the web-be it a news story, a blog post, or a YouTube clip. Why do folks post those? Because they're interested in sharing content they feel would be interesting to their friends and followers. And just like that, they're content curators.
The number of curator sites and tools-both free and paid-seems to only be growing, and in January, the importance of it was driven home even more when Yahoo! reportedly paid upward of $10 million to acquire the news curation site Snip.it.
In the "old days," the job of curation was left to editors-of newspapers, of books, even of websites in the days before Web 2.0-but with information overload becoming a fact of digital life, are content curators becoming the new editors?
Content Curation: ‘As Old As Blogging Itself'
Before you can answer that question, though, it's important to realize that content curation-while it may be all the rage now-is hardly anything new. Jorn Barger started one of the first curation sites, Robot Wisdom, way back in 1995. Each entry on the site consists of links to other sites he finds interesting. (A sample item from the Dec. 29, 1997, entry: "Gorillas make gorgeous representational art! http://www.gorilla.org/Art/")
"The practice of collecting and filtering information and then adding value to it has been around a long time," says Lee Odden, CEO of the digital marketing agency TopRank Online Marketing. "Classic blogging often follows this ‘Oreo cookie' format of sandwiching an excerpt of someone else's information with your own. Doing so on a continuous basis is curation and is as old as blogging itself."
Ron VanPuersem, director of Asia operations for Shift Digital, an international digital marketing and technology firm, agrees-and in fact, goes a step further. If there's anything surprising about the current popularity of content curation, he says, "[I]t's that people seem to think of content curation as something new."
"If [people] think about it for a minute, they'll realize that they've been involved in receiving curated information for a long, long time. Radio stations are curating music, then ‘displaying' the pieces that they believe will most benefit their ‘readers.' Google News does the same thing, and of course museums are the best-known curators we have," he says. "The radio stations don't create the music; Google News doesn't write the news they pass along; and the museums don't produce the art that they have on display. All of these are curations, and we all have enjoyed them for many, many years. The need for curation-especially highly-skilled content curators-will grow along with the growth of information availability and information volume."
With all of the information out there, VanPuersem says, "[A]ll of us are increasingly dependent upon, and searching for, those sources that will provide for us the most-relevant and highest-quality ‘answers' to the questions we're [asking.]"
The sources for those "answers" are plentiful, from folks using Facebook, Pinterest, or TweetDeck and curating without even really knowing that's what they're doing, to free curation tools such as Storify, Paper.li, and Scoop.it-even to tools people are willing to pay for, such as Curata, CurationSoft, and Curation Station.
Larry Schwartz, co-founder and president of Newstex, a company that offers aggregated news and full-text feeds from thousands of media sites, isn't surprised people are willing to pay for it. "People always pay to be able to get information faster than everyone else," he says. "Knowledge is power; speed is power."
VanPuersem agrees-although he sees the paid curation tools more likely being employed by businesses than the average Joe. "Doing good curation requires some high-demand qualities, and those must be paid for," he says. "Companies and organizations that want to provide good service to their clients will need to do curation, and they'll need to pay someone to do it well."
However, he adds, "The end-user will likely remain very slow to pay for anything like that. We will use Google News, and expect that service to save us time and deliver pertinent news stories to us, based on our search parameters, and we'll expect that to come to us for free. We'll tolerate some ads thrown in here and there, but we expect it for free."
Pawan Deshpande, co-founder and CEO of the business-grade content curation platform Curata, isn't shocked that the average person isn't interested in paying for curation; indeed, he says he'd be surprised if they did. After all, so much on the internet is free.
"To publish content, blogging software is available for free," he says. "To share content, access to social media is free. Finding content through search engines is free. Reading content online, for the most part, is free. As a result, most consumers have been conditioned to expect content and content-related tools online to be free."
For businesses though-and specifically marketers-it's a different story, and Deshpande says he's not surprised they pay for content curation tools.
"Similar to how marketers utilize powerful yet easy paid tools for functions like email marketing, marketing automation, and social media management," he says, "they also find value in content curation software."