Curation Not The Future of The Net, Unless You pay

Curation Not The Future of The Net, Unless You pay

I was just referred to Tom Foremski’s Silicon Valley Watcher post on Curation and the Human Web… which argues that curating the content of the web will be a big topic in 2011. I don’t think so, at least not as it is characterized in the post. Curation is like knowledge management. If there is no business model, there is no incentive for people to curate content. Small start-ups who focus on what I agree is important, won’t make headway against the onslaught of disintermediated content, like this post, that arrives minute-by-minute to the net. (Bloggers, BTW, seem themselves as curators).

What has worked in knowledge management, and what already works on the Net, is the curation of content focused on the needs of a community. When that community gets too large though, the self-reinforcing incentive of mutual benefit breaks down. In other words, curation on a grand scale does not have a business model to support it.

Foremski looks at Techmeme as an example for curation. I think they have a business model, but it is a small business consulting model, not a scalable disruption in Internet expectation. Outsourcing curation for small communities or for companies is a good business for a handful of people. We have had curation at a grand scale from Britannica to newspapers, and we are watching those models dissolve in light of emergent models, which are based on multiple reporters and multiple experts untethered to any prescribed filtering model.

There is one business model, however, that is going to grow in 2011, and that is content for pay. With News Corp and others in the media business looking to lock out non-subscribers to anything beyond headlines and teasers, curation will be part of the reason people pay them for content.

In the ideological side of the content dialog, the other reason people will pay is trust. When I say trust, I don’t mean trust that the content is unbiased, but trust that the content you are reading adheres to your bias. You trust the source, and it reinforces your worldview. That is another reason to pay. The walled garden of content shields its consumers from all of that stuff they don’t want to hear, conversations they don’t want to be a part of. Content in the walled-garden offers subscribers a protectionist shelter in a politically charged, chaotic and disruptive world. Chaos and disruption become filtered through the lens of ideology, making them palatable or even more other than the might be. News Corp is betting that people are willing to pay for this service.

So to some degree, curation will play a role in 2011, but I don’t think it is the curation that Foremski foretells. The beneficent selecting of content to serve people’s information needs isn’t in the cards. It may well be on the radar, but only of the select few who have that bias, who find ways to reinforce that view through their selective reading of the Net’s flotsam and jetsam. For the rest of us, curation may mean seeing Net destinations shut their doors and ask for a credit card to play, and for those who can pay, they may wander those well sculpted gardens of content to meet their needs. For the vast majority, however, the Net will remain an untamed garden filled with weeds you need to prune so you can enjoy the few bright and vibrant flowers that make the weeding worthwhile.

Daniel W. Rasmus

Daniel W. Rasmus, Founder and Principal Analyst of Serious Insights, is an internationally recognized speaker on the future of work and education. He is the author of several books, including Listening to the Future and Management by Design.

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