We’ve talked for years about citizen journalism and self-publishing, but more important than the channels of distribution are the ways in which content and context are discoved via search engines and social recommendations, and the fact that theoretically this leads to any piece of content available online being indexable, findable and potentially popular.
But what’s interesting me at the moment is the rise in curation – not necessarily on a professional level (for example NPR’s Andy Carvin curating Middle East tweets to an audience of almost 60,000 followers, or the increased use of tools such as Ushahidi and Storify by journalists and news organisations), but the effect it has on ‘ad hoc’ content curation – note how I’m trying to avoid that increasingly ridiculous line between amateur/citizen and professional/establishment content production!
What I mean by ad hoc is that we’re all walking around with cameras or mobile phones, and many of us are then sharing via our various online networks – and that can range from family pictures and days out to long form writing and video. And I’m struck by the way in which my own experiences are changing, even at a family event.
How curation changes our lives:
I recently went down to the war museum at Duxford for the second time this year to celebrate a family event with my parents and my son. And as always, I was carrying my phone (a Nokia N900 for the record), and taking a mix of personal family pictures and ones which I intended to make public on my Flickr account and possibly elsewhere. All totally normal.
Except here’s the change. The first time we visited I took a load of pictures of the amazing planes and tanks on display, and then made them public with most of them just called something like – ‘Plane at Duxford’. I’d uploaded probably 80 or so photos and didn’t really want to spend a whole Sunday cataloguing them. And the blog post it inspired was a thought about how the rise of communications technology etc seems to have sucked all the glamour and excitement from air travel.
This time I did something totally different.
Almost subsconsciously, every time I took a picture of a vehicle on display, I also snapped the information beside it about the model and historical information.
And I wasn’t doing this for myself. Occasionally I’ve snapped museum information if it’s something I want to investigate further later on, but although I quite like planes and military history, I don’t have the time or inclination to start reading up on it at the moment.
Instead, I realised I was automatically doing it becuase I knew at some point I’d have the time to make those images public, and I wanted to be able to hopefully provide the correct and relevant information for anyone seeing them, as well as potentially feeding my ego by making them more discoverable. I recently discovered that my Flickr account has had over 12,000 views, and although I know that those stats include all the times I’ve looked at my own snaps, that still leaves a lot of views from other people – some of whom have been kind enough to leave comments on the images I’ve made public (apparently 699 photos, with far less tagged and geo-located, according to the handy stats page).
Considering the huge number of other people at Duxford that day armed with cameras and mobile phones, I wonder how many other images were being captured, shared and then found online, and how many other people might start doing similar things to catalogue their own creations?
How much more content is being produced already which isn’t being curated and tagged, and therefore lies undiscovered? And how many more people will start creating collections of items which interest them, using tools which are easier and more accessible than a traditional blog? We’ve already seen that to some extent with the rise of simpler tools such as Tumblr, or the amount of video and photo content which is being shared on Facebook every day, along with the immense volume of videos on Youtube. And there seems to have been an increase in tools and services which attempt to help curation, whether it’s the more established universal shopping and fashion industries, or newer ideas. But none of them have got mass traction yet – if one does, how will that change things. Is there a way, for example, for a service to help me not only collect and curate everything I might have uploaded to Facebook, but to easily let me share it outside of that particular walled garden?
It’s one reason why I use Flickr, and pay for a Pro account, along with increasingly looking at using the likes of Audioboo and Soundcloud for audio. Obviously Youtube and others such as Vimeo have video covered, and my blogs and websites do the job for text. But at some point someone will crack the way of making all of these points easy to distribute to, and more importantly, collate and curate from? (You can already do easy sharing to a number of those sites even via older phones and services – for Flickr and Youtube etc I tend to use the built-in service on the Nokia, but I know several others exist for publishing – just not for pulling it all back together). I could hack everything together myself to make a coherent lifestream, but I’ve never found enough reason to take the time, and I suspect most other people feel the same ( I do find the time if clients agree to it though, so have some experience of pulling it all together!)
It’s even more obvious with the launch of the new Facebook Timeline profiles. It shows how much time, effort and content we’ve all pumped into something which has inherent value in many ways, but also locks that content up inside itself.
How might it serve us, and others, to be able to set it free, and accumulate it all in the same way as Klout and Peerindex attempt to pull in our activity and interaction to assign us scores for influence? Back in June 2007 I wrote about Hasan Elahi, who created a site to which he uploaded his entire life as a response to being mistakenly put on the FBI watch list and getting detained at an airport. I’m not suggesting we auto-publish all our data all the time, and there are many privacy implications involved in that debate, but we’re all becoming auto-curators, and that could potentially lead to a second era in terms of social media and networks as that behaviour becomes part of everyday life for us all.