Curate the Cloud: Is Human Curation the Silver Lining in the Content Cloud?

Dec 19, 2011

December 2011 Issue

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Ahhhh ... the cloud. White, fluffy, set against a blue sky. It sounds lovely: The idea that all the information you might ever want, all the music you might ever listen to, all the photographs you'd ever take, would all be just a link away.

We all know clouds have a metaphorical dark side. There are storm clouds on the horizon, dark clouds, and foreboding clouds. There are clouds that can open up and drench us in a downpour-and that's what the content cloud is about to do.

Content in the cloud is a natural evolution from storing files on our desktops-but the content creation explosion that has overfilled our inboxes and overwhelmed our social networks won't be solved by moving the growing mass of data from a private realm to a public one.

In fact, there's a solution on the horizon that promises to keep the clouds fluffy and the content contextual. It's the "curated cloud," and it's the next big thing. By one measure, we created 5EB (exabytes) of data from the beginning of time until 2008. Now we're creating 5EB every 2 days. Where did that statistic come from? The folks who should know: Google.

As we move our digital information from the old world of VHS, Kodachrome slides, and letters to fast-moving digital objects, something else happens. We make more stuff. We post on Yelp. We comment on Facebook. We check in on foursquare. Companies are making more stuff too. When we shopped at the corner grocery there was a one kind of tomato sauce. In the mega-supermarket, there's more shelf space, so brands start to create more and more choices to keep their share of shelf space. The same is true in the digital world. Access to low-cost, device-neutral cloud storage will massively increase the volume of accessible content.

When the web began, the folks who were making content were professionals--media companies, universities, publishers, and brands. Within a world of quality pages rose the concept of search. Ask a search engine a question, and it had an answer. Search for a map, you had a map. Search for a news story, you had a news story. There was little noise and plenty of signal. So search worked. Google quickly became a verb.

Search presumed that the web was full of mostly useful information and that the most popular pages were inherently the most useful. As the web continued to grow, search continued to solve the basic problem of how to find what you were looking for. But in the past 3 years, the very nature of the web has changed. It changed from stored quality content to real-time, mobile, personal content. No longer is search able to find what's popular or relevant because the nature of what is being published has changed.

Relevance is now driven by where it comes from, who is publishing it, and when it was published. Google has been modifying its algorithms to modernize the internal logic. Meanwhile, Facebook has taken a different approach. By empowering individuals to share among each other and register their behavior with "likes," we're seeing discovery shift from computer-driven search to human-discovered recommendations.

What we're seeing is the emergence of the curated web. In a world of endless and unmanageable data, we don't want more information. We want less. We want the links to the songs our friends are listening to, the films our friends are watching, the restaurants that people with our taste recommend, and the information that we need when we need it.

Curation makes the noisy web sensible again and is already the daily activity of the large majority of web users as they individually struggle to sort through the inbound noise. Platforms such as Facebook and applications such as Editions, Pulse News, and FlipBook are putting the power of finding into the hands of individuals.

What happens next is critical, and the winners haven't yet emerged. Some legacy media companies will reinvent themselves as content curators. Few will make the transition. Meanwhile, Facebook seems poised to challenge both legacy media and Google as the new home for consumer creation and curation.

We're in an era that has shifted from content abundance to an avalanche of undistinguished content. The cloud is turning dark; the skies are about to become menacing. Since it seems very clear that the volume of content isn't going to diminish, human curation may be the silver lining in the content cloud. 

Photo courtesy of akakumo, Flickr Creative Commons.