As the evolution of web 2.0, social networks, user-generated content, and ‘citizen media’ continues, I’ve shifted my focus from thinking of the ‘user as creator’ toward what I think is a far more viable and sustainable model for engaging users and communities: as citizen curators.
The work of the curator, as Antony Mayfield from Open points out in his excellent post on “Creators and Curators” within the context of the marketing industry, is to bring together content from diverse sources — to research, organize, and select it. Few people (let alone paid and respected bloggers) have the time to post daily, long-winded and high-minded philosophical diatribes on the inherently narcissistic pursuit of bettering one’s Technorati ranking and the like. Just look at the massive growth in microblogging and Twittering, since its debut at last year’s SXSW, for further evidence. Not only is time being spliced into ever smaller increments, so too is the time allotted for content creation.
It’s far easier to post a link to an article, Flickr photo, or YouTube video that you’ve stumbled upon, than it is to actually create a new and unique piece of content. Sites like Twitter and the slightly more evolved blogging platform Tumblr.com acknowledge this shift in attention and have responded with a simple architecture to grab content from around the web and repurpose it on one’s own site with a few snappy editorial comments added for good measure.
Indeed, the percentage of users who actively contribute to Wikipedia, YouTube, and every other UGC site you can think of, pale in comparison to the number of users who actively curate content from these sites by linking to, highlighting, quoting, and commenting items they find compelling, entertaining, or worth discussing.
I believe that users would rather curate from the existing and infinitely expanding universe of available content, rather than take the time to write, research, and create their own unique works. This is not to say that there aren’t, and won’t be, those for whom the act of creation will remain important and ritualistic, but rather to suggest that we should be creating sites, widgets, and applications that enable and facilitate the user experience of curating content.
At heart, this provides a simple means for users to demonstrate and be recognized for their knowledge, expertise, status, and time spent sorting through the endless of ocean of information, products, and fascinating detours that comprise the internet. Rather than simply exercising our ability to add to the webnoise and informationchaos, let’s try being selective for a change.