People are sharing stuff online more than ever before. The popularity of services such as bit.ly, ShareThis and even Twitter are evidence of this.
You often hear people bandy around an “80/20 rule” (see Pareto principle) where in a social environment, 20% of people will contribute 80% of the content, be it through forum or blog posts, new topics, videos etc. It’s horribly over-simplistic but it’s a tidy rule of thumb. It’s a good way to remember that you will only ever get a small number of folk actually contributing anything to a community. The theory being that if you can get the 20% then the 80% might follow. It’s been around for a long time and you can see patterns of this in anything that exhibits long tail behaviour. It’s supported by Forrester’s highly useful Social Technographics® ladder of behaviors, which is worth grokking if you have the time.
The most recent version of the ladder below adds ‘conversationalists’, mostly because of the craze for status updates a la Twitter and Facebook.
What I like about this approach is that these aren’t segments or personas, they are mindsets which people move in and out of. One person might exhibit varying degrees of these behaviours at different times. You can move up and down the ladder and you can appear on different rungs of the ladder in different parts of the day. For example, if you’re a well-respected ’creator’ of new theories and discoveries regarding Micronesian swamp bats, it doesn’t mean you’re a ‘creator’ of content relating to beard trimmers or crop rotation in the 18th century. It feels a lot more like how meatspace really works. It isn’t rigid and dogmatic.
Though, I would really like to see ‘collectors’ broken out further by ‘accumulators’ and ‘curators’.
Accumulator behaviour is more akin to hoarding. I find myself doing this a lot – tagging, bookmarking and setting things aside to ‘read later’ using tools like Delicious. Incidentally, I never actually ‘read later’, I just have this feeling when I come across something really good that I don’t have time for, I HAVE TO DO SOMETHING WITH THIS CONTENT, okay I’ll tag it and store it for a quiet news day. There might only be a small occurrence of this in the general public but I think it’s important to differentiate it from ‘curators’, who are very different. Curation is very outward-focused. It’s a fairly creative activity in itself. It’s a way of providing value to other people as a filter. People and brands are able to provide tells about the type of person or brand they are while providing value, that value being a bit of clear signal in the hazy noise of the web. In fact, we’re very excited about a new project we’re working on that does this for parents of children aged between 6 and 9. More of that later though.
Here are a few examples of very awesome (and responsible) curators.
Curation isn’t for everyone, there’s a great deal of work in hunting through the dross to find the shizzle, ensuring it’s ‘on brand’ and that others haven’t already shared it to death. It’s not something that you would be likely to build a business around, people value this stuff but they’re not going to pay for it. It’s more about creating and enriching a brand.
And as curation grows, there’s more and more need to develop a social contract and mutual agreement around applying credit where credit is due. Take for example, Meg Pickard’s recent experience with a photograph she took which was posted without credit. Great photo, which is worth sharing. Her experience has been that people rarely credit her and one photographer even went as far as to pass it off as his own.
Her hobby of taking pictures of London’s shop fronts is in itself curatorial. She’s even been shouted at by people asking why she’s taking pictures of their shops. But Emily couldn’t credit the shop any more than she already does. It’s a picture of a place where they sell stuff, after all. She even geo tags the location of the shops. Clearly, the job of asking the permission of each shop owner is an onerous one.Her own work is licensed Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike, meaning that newspapers shouldn’t be reproducing her work without crediting her and they certainly shouldn’t be making money out of them i.e. by printing them in a newspapers which they sell.
Most responsible curators cite sources. Both Tumblr and Posterous try to foster this behaviour by encouraging people to cite where they found the content using a ‘via’ link.
Credit needs to be given where credit is due. And creators must have the freedom of choice to apply the license they want, not simply have a blanket and generic copyright applied. Copyright has served us well for a long time but it’s now totally outdated, impractical and misleading. It doesn’t serve the array of different feelings people have about how they want their own creations to be shared and curated.
I’ve heard arguments about how there’s too much curation around and not enough new stuff, particularly in relation to the state of the newspaper industry. Not enough new news and original content people say. But there’s as much original content and news as there is new things happening in the world and as much new stuff people create in the world. Of course we have curators of curators of curators but that’s just sharing behaviour and we’re going to need a whole lot more of that kind of behaviour as we become more and more connected through complex networks.