Digital Curation

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= the process of establishing and developing long term repositories of digital assets for current and future reference by researchers, scientists, and historians, and scholars generally.


"The advent of affordable global digital connectivity of unprecedented scale and scope has created opportunities not only for more effective and efficient research, but also for new, better, faster and previously impossible research. Curation and management, of research results, are seen as the active management and appraisal of digital content during the entire life-cycle of scholarly and scientific interest; and are paramount to reproducibility and re-use for periods longer than 20 years." (


JP Rangaswami:

"Digital curation seems to be a richer form of curation than its analog equivalent. Here’s what I think it consists of:

Authenticity Veracity Access Relevance Consume-ability Produce-ability

Let me try and explain a little further.

  • Authenticity: Confirming the provenance of the item, that it was created by the person or persons claimed. That the person credited wrote the book or article. That the singer or band sang the song. That the actor or director made the movie. And so on and so forth. Traditional media sources were quite used to doing this, and should be able to continue to do this.

  • Veracity: Confirming the “truth” of the item, in the sense of the “facts” represented. That the news item has been verified. That the photograph hasn’t been doctored. That the voice hasn’t been dubbed. You know what I mean. Again, something that traditional media are quite used to doing, something they should continue to do.

  • Access: Andrew Savikas, in an article in O’Reilly TOC some time ago, mooted the idea of Content As A Service. My takeaway from it was simple. People do not pay for the “content” of a song or clip on iTunes as much as they pay for the convenience of getting to the item quickly and with a minimum of fuss. One could argue that traditional media had a role to make it simple and convenient for us to consume analog content, and that they will be able to adjust to the new world accordingly.

  • Relevance: Now it gets a little more interesting, touching on interests and aspirations, on preferences and profiling. Something that the analog world was poor at, something that traditional media didn’t really take up in the digital world. Can be done in many ways, some involving technology, some involving humans. And some involving both. Ad-based relevance is becoming harder and harder to sustain; curation via social networks seems to work, and to work well.

  • Consume-ability: This covers a whole shopping-trolley of concepts right now, and I’m going to have to work on it. I use it to mean device-agnostic availability of the digital content, so that I don’t have to use an iPod to listen to music from iTunes. I use it to mean ease of comprehension, whether through the use of visualisation tools like heatmaps or wordles or tag clouds or charts or whatever. I use it to mean tools to simplify (and sometimes even enrich) the content, via translation, via summarising, via hyperlinks, via mashups (especially those that add location or time contexts). I use it to mean the use of tools like Layar and Retroscope. [Incidentally, I plug these technologies completely unashamedly. Both Maarten and Chris are friends, but that's not why I blog about them. I blog about them because they're brilliant!]

  • Produce-ability: We’ve only just begun to appreciate a return to the Maker culture, something that people like Tim O’Reilly, Dale Dougherty, Cory Doctorow, Larry Lessig et al have been yelling about for some time now. The industrial-revolution-meets-central-broadcast woolly mammoth of the last 150 years seems incapable of recognising the significance of the small mammals currently underfoot. So that model is destined to go the way of all mammoths. Soon we will look at things in terms of how easy they are to get under the hood of, how easy they are to adapt, mutate, mangle, make something completely new out of. Which is why the rules of engagement will change. Intellectual property rights will be recast. Yes, will. There is no longer a choice, just the illusion of time. It is over. Period.

Production, consumption and distribution of information have already been democratised. There’s no turning back. Curation will go that way. Which means that the very concept of the expert, the professional, the editor, the moderator of all that is great and good, changes." (


The evolution of the usage of the (digital) curator meme on the internet, by Grant McCracken:

"Having been a curator once, my ears always perk up at the mention of the term I am pleased that the term has taken on new meanings and new currency, that it has escaped the dusty corners of a museum and gallery world. It and me, both. Still, I wonder what this term is now being asked to mean, and why we should now find it now so compelling and fashionable.

In the "museum" use of the term, curators might as well be called "keepers" and they sometimes are. They are responsible for bodies of object and knowledge. It is their job to see that these bodies are organized, protected, illuminated, and disseminated through publications and exhibits, and otherwise made available to publics popular and scholarly.

Christian Crumlish comes pretty close to this usage when he calls himself a curator of Yahoo's Design Pattern Library. So does, Dwight Blocker Bowers, curator of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History's entertainment collection. Bowers collects things like Archie Bunker's chair and the Maltese Falcon statuette from the 1941 film of the same name. (The latter was recently stolen so I guess we now obliged to say it's in a private collection. Thank God we still have the movie and the poster, as above.)

Steven Addis started a blog called The Curator Effect in 2005. First, a professional photographer and then a marketing consulting, Addis wrote an article for Advertising Age in July of 2007 subtitled: Be a Curator: consumers will seek out products, services that engender trust.

The term slides around a little in his hands. He appears sometimes to be saying that consumers are curators (now that they can research and review consumer goods), that brands are curators, and that marketers are curators. It is hard in any of these cases to see that the term is anything but the loosest act of metaphor. To call brands curators is especially puzzling. Addis' blog fell silent Oct. 2, 2007 so we can't hope for clarification.

There is something about popular culture that attracts the term. The Job$ page at MySpace actually has a category called Pop Culture Curator. Meg Asaro uses the term this way. What she curates are ideas and images from popular culture, and the way she does this is with other ideas and images. This might be "curator" in the art gallery sense of the term. But I am not sure a gallery curator would recognize her usage. (Incidentally, Asaro has the distinction of being the first person to describe herself in the new sense of the term. Fast Company did a story on her in 1999 in its "job titles of the future" column.)

Andrew Zolli calls himself the curator at PopTech, but it's not clear what he's a curator of. Is it his network of contacts, of the contacts in the network, of the ideas that spring from the contacts in the network? I don't mean that he doesn't so something remarkable at PopTech, and he is, as I have said in these pages before, widely understood to be a kind of God, but it's not clear to me why or how we should think of him as a curator.

Surely I shouldn't be too literal about this. Perhaps there shouldn't be any objects involved. Rubel might say, in a digital age, it is the virtual things in our world, multiplying in number and channel as they are, they need ordering. And to his credit Rubel does appreciate the museum definition of the term, so his is not a reckless act of metaphor. Rubel appears to wish to say that we need experts to sort through the great tide of digital content that comes at us each day. Aggregating, he says, is simply not enough. To be sure. Point well taken. But I can't help feeling that what Rubel means is "editor."

Here's the thing, I think it's fair to say that the term "curator" may not be used, even metaphorically, unless there is some "keeping," "collecting," "conserving" involved. It's not clear to me that digital curators have anything to do with keeping. If there is someone in the digital world, who shows a genuine curatorial reflex, I think that's Sarah Zupko.

Please, don't say that the new curators leave an archival record. Everyone leaves an archival record. And real curators don't just leave a record. They assiduously build their collections, so that each new entry is made in full knowledge of its predecessors and with a deeply thoughtful anticipation for what comes next. These collections vibrate like a spider's web with each new entry.

Real curators think with their collections. The collections are intelligence, memory, conceptual architecture made manifest. I love the idea that someone would take up this function in the digital world. But that's not what I see the new "curators" doing. This richer, more authentic, more sincere rendering of the term could accomplish something astonishing. It would help sort and capture contemporary culture with some feeling for context, relative location, relative weight, what goes with what. This is the sort of thing that Pepys accomplished, unwittingly, with his diary. This notion of the curator has yet to find its champion. I don't think we quite yet have a Pepys of the present day." (


Digital curation vs. knowledge depository, at

Crowdsourced Curation via Reputation Systems and the Social Graph

Eric Reasons:

"It is at this point that many people interject: "This is the problem with the internet! It's full of crap!" Many would argue that without professional producers, editors, publishers, and the natural scarcity that we became accustomed to, there's a flood of low-quality material that we can't possible sift through on our own. From blogs to music to software to journalism, one of the biggest fears of the established order is how to handle the oncoming glut of mediocrity. Who shall tell us The Good from The Bad? "We need gatekeepers, and they need to be paid!"

All of this is true, to an extent. We do need ways to filter and discover content. And just because we can produce something and transmit it, doesn't mean that it's worth consuming. Luckily, the Internet not only gave us the means to produce and transmit on our own, but to curate as well. We do it every time we e-mail, share, "like", tweet, or buzz a link. For example...

How did you find this article that you're reading right now? I'm pretty sure it hasn't been published in the New York Times. No professional editor or publisher made a determination for you as to this article's quality, aside from the author himself. Did a friend send you a link? Did you see it posted to Facebook, Twitter, Buzz? The Internet has enabled us to build our social graph, and in turn, that social graph acts as an aggregate gatekeeper. The better that these systems for crowdsourcing the curation of content become, the more accurate the results will be.

This social-graph-as-curation is still relatively new, even by Internet standards. However, with tools like Buzz and Digg 4 (which allows you to see the aggregate ratings for content based on your social graph, and not the whole wide world) this technique is catching up to human publishers fast. For those areas where we don't have strong social ties, we can count on reputation systems to help us "rate the raters". These systems allow strangers to rate each other's content, giving users some idea of who to trust, without having to know them personally. Yelp has a fairly mature reputation system, where locations are rated by users, but the users are rated, in turn, by each other.

Reputation systems and the social graph allow us to crowdsource curation. I'm not ready to argue that these systems are up to replacing individual human curation (yet), but they're getting better every day, and I think they are well on their way." (

The rest of the article compares the iPhone's and Android's curation methods for application, with the above distinctions in mind.

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