Let's stop this 'Curation is King' crap right now

Here comes another chant for publishers to reassure themselves with. ‘Curation is king’ is becoming a cliche so quickly I probably don’t have to explain it. The idea runs thus: we are so overwhelmed by information now that the role of publishers is not to gather the information so much as to filter it, manage it and present it.

Isn’t that convenient.

…Because they were doing that already.

Like ‘Content is king’, ‘Curation is king’ is a comfort blanket for the afflicted, a sticking plaster for injured pride. It says nothing about the new environment in which we’re operating; it suggests we do nothing other than more of the same; and it suggests our old position as arbiters of The Truth is unaltered.

And it’s a pile of crap.

Yes, curation is an important part of how information is disseminated online, but in a networked environment curation doesn’t belong to us. It belongs to the behaviour of a million internet users measured by an algorithm, and to the six degrees of separation in our social networks. We’re in there somewhere, like an Indian traffic policeman, but let’s once again not conflate the act with the platform.

The problem with ‘curation’ is that it’s a misnomer. As one actual curator said:

“We go to museums to define ourselves, the world and the civilisation around us. If the curator is devalued cheapened through this woolly thinking then museums could lose all respect as cultural bastions. When I asked what the most important function of curators was, we saw how complex and varied the job was and not a single person said “selecting“.”

So if curation is king in online journalism I guess I missed the coronation. Curation is a usurper, here to distract us from the bloody mess we’re in with the message ‘Business as usual’.

If curation is king I say it’s time for some regicide.

22 thoughts on “Let's stop this 'Curation is King' crap right now

  1. Andy

    Calm down. It’s just a cliche.

    Seriously though I very much agree. How can you claim citation when you don’t contribute to the collection if information – by putting it behind a firewall for example.

    Terms like hordeing and , stockpiling. Might be better. Fits better with the ‘smash and grab’ raiding party style approach that passes for curation in some circles.

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  4. Amy

    I’ve been struggling with the idea of curation in an online context for awhile. First of all, I don’t like buzzy, marketing-speak; whether it’s ‘content is king’ or ‘curation is king’, people just start throwing out these kind of terms without really thinking about what they mean and whether they’re applicable.

    I don’t so much buy the argument that the use of the term devalues the word and the work that museum curators do anymore than I think the term information architect devalues what architects do. That said, so many people are using the term ‘curator’ to describe what they are doing. Just today, I was looking at a basic tumble-log and at the bottom it said “Curated by …” Um, no.

    Also, this ‘curation is king’ concept gives no credit to the content creators – without whom we would have nothing to ‘curate’. In a museum you would never have someone say that what curators do is more important than what artists do. It sets up a competitive and negative dichotomy where one doesn’t have to exist.

    But I keep coming back to the question, is there a better term to describe the process of bringing together an making meaning out of different kinds of content? What is it? Do you have any thoughts?

    Great post.

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  8. Joseph Stashko

    Buzzwords are never good. The more and more I learn about the media and the more conferences I go to, the more I realise how a) I detest anyone who uses them and b) How broad, general and meaningless they are.

    I think there is something to be said about curation. If you compare it to an art curator, there are still benefits and vital skills. I don’t think any art curator would say that they are more important than the work itself, but it is a skill to compile, select and put together a body of work effectively.

    Basic aggregators aren’t curators. Maybe something like the Huffington Post is? The vast majority of content is exterior, but it’s all brought together under a recognisable tone and brand.

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  11. Steve Rosenbaum

    As the writer of said “crap” post, thought i’d jump in here and add some context.

    First of all, let’s explore the Kingdom – such as it is. If “content” was king, i’d love someone to show me examples of that. The King’s have been the folks at the pointy end of the funnel. The folks that owned the printing presses, TV antenna’s, cable TV franchises, and such. This expensive infrastructure gave them the power to say yes, or no, and therefore the folks who made content had to go ask them for permission to publish and distribute.

    Go ask any musician, author, or artist if they ever felt like a “King” when they moved their music, book, or painting through the old world of distribution. The Kingdom was controlled by the folks that owned the tools.

    So, argument #1, content was NEVER king. And if anyone has an example otherwise, bring it on.

    Now, on to Curation and why I think calling it King is a good thing. In the past, publishing was a walled garden owned by the folks who controlled the system and the machines. Curation is about a creative enterprise, the gathering and selecting, and organizing of things -it’s a human skill that is inherently allergic to scale.

    So, Curation is about moving power from the center of the network to the edges. A writing can both create and curate. A musician can publish their music, and gather links to their favorite artists and influences. Music downloads are income. Music links to affiliates are also micro-payments. Together, music comes to me curated from artists, not labels. How is this bad for artist or creators.

    Yes, piracy is bad. But Aggregation and Curation isn’t about piracy -it’s about an evolving link economy that shares fairly with creators, publishers, and curators.

    Are the economics built and working yet. No, but there’s some evidence that the flattening of the distribution system puts customers closer to creators…and gives Makers more of a chance to build relationships with readers and fans.

    Curation is a buzz word. But the buzz is good. So I’m all about it -until someone shows me a better way.

    1. Paul Bradshaw

      Thanks for responding on here, Steve. Although it kicked me off, I am not really talking about your post so much as the ‘curation is king’ meme and how publishers normally interpret it. I agree with much of what you say above – content was never king (although it was a differentiator), and curation should be about moving power to the edges. But I know that when publishers read this and talk about it that’s not how they see it – they see it as being about them being in control, and the user acting at most as providers of raw ‘amateur’ content that needs their ‘professional’ experience to edit, shape, etc. into a commodity. Like I say, in other words: business as usual.

  12. Steve

    Content is a commodity, just as it always has been. Whether you’re talking about print or online, you have three routes: partner with a publisher/distributor who has the reach and marketing network to spread your work (NYT staff/Huffpo); self publish, read your work in coffee houses and hand it out on streetcorners (blog); or, get incredibly lucky and have a king-maker (Oprah) mention your name.

    (By the way… here’s my street-corner ranting: http://www.stevediogo.com. If you’re interested in exploring the content and business models that are working, check out.)

    Saying that we’re in the “curating” business is like saying we were in the fish wrap business. Of course it’s part of what we do. It’s always been part of what we do. It’s called editing.

    Navigating this business today takes creativity the likes of which we’ve never seen. But isn’t creativity why we got into it in the first place? We all need to stop the hand-wringing, learn the business and trudge on. There’s great work to do out there if we just go do it.

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