Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Content Curation And The Future Of Search: The Howard Rheingold's Interview

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Are content curation and the future of search converging? Who will you trust when it comes to find out what alternatives to a problem are out there and you have only an Internet connection? How much individual freedom do you want to sacrifice to an algorithm, no matter how accurate?

Photo credit: Robin Good

But why, you may rightly ask, to question Google or other search engines ability to sort and classify results when they have done it for so long already?

The reasons could be many, but they key ones I see, can be summed up on this short list:

a) Most Internet users believe that search engines are unbiased and that they do provide the most relevant results for what I need to find out. They do not question or doubt the secret system by which these information results are provided. The reality is that "More and more, your computer monitor is a kind of one-way mirror, reflecting your own interests while algorithmic observers watch what you click. (Source: Eli Pariser)"

b) The quantity of information available online has grown and keeps growing at a tremendous pace. Classifying and organizing what is relevant becomes therefore increasingly difficult, given that ideally, what may be a valid set of search results for me may not be as relevant or useful to another person.

c) Lists of text results are becoming less and less useful. Valuable context is missing. Google search results offer less and less of a comprehensive quality view on a topic and more and more a window on a few results, surrounded by commercial paid ads.

d) Internet users like me increasingly want to make sense and understand deeply a specific topic rather than finding a set of short blog articles on it.

e) To solve these issues, search engines and social networks have long been developing personalized results. Personalization, the one generated by invisible filters on Facebook, Google and elsewhere, predetermines what is relevant for you, based on history, preferences, and the choices your online friends. But you as a user have little or no way to tweak this or to establish which friends to trust and which not.

f) Information personalization may be good to suggest what to buy next, according to what your friends have liked or bought before you, but it may not be the best choice when it comes to making informed decisions or understanding an issue by analyzing different viewpoints.

These, are the first, quite evident reasons pointing to a growing problem we have not paid much attention to until now: Centralized and secretive information filtering, for which you have never consciously opted in.

What are the ways and solutions around it?

Content and search curation, done by humans for other fellow humans, may be the best solution of all.

In this recent video interview that Howard Rheingold recorded with me, I introduce some of the basics of content curation, its role, importance and the characteristics, traits and tools required to do it properly.

From there, I also explain the great opportunity and potential "trusted content and search curators" may have in the future of the Internet, as they may become our most trusted gateways to the information and sources we are looking for.

The Forgotten Choice

The greatest danger in all of this, is the thing we all see the least: our forgotten choice.

As Eli Pariser clearly points put in his Filter Bubble, I never chose to enter the information bubble, but the bubble is so pervasive that it never gets questioned. If I chose to watch a specific TV channel or to read a newspaper I can actively decide what kind of critical perspective to adopt to look through it.

But when it is Google or Facebook, invisibly suggesting me what is most relevant, or important for me, something else is now shaping the way I perceive the world around me.

"Personalised filters come to you - and because they drive up profits for the websites that use them, they'll become harder and harder to avoid."

"The You-Loop and Its Dangers

Ultimately, the filter bubble can affect your ability to choose how you want to live.

To be the author of your life, professor Yochai Benkler argues, you have to be aware of a diverse array of options and lifestyles. When you enter a filter bubble, you're letting the companies that construct it choose which options you're aware of.

You may think you're the captain of your own destiny, but personalisation can lead you down a road to a kind of informational determinism in which what you've clicked on in the past determines what you see next - a web history you're doomed to repeat.

You can get stuck in a static, ever- narrowing version of yourself - an endless you-loop.

But what is good for consumers is not necessarily good for citizens. What I seem to like may not be what I actually want, let alone what I need to know to be an informed member of my community or country. "It's a civic virtue to be exposed to things that appear to be outside your interest," technology journalist Clive Thompson told me..."

Source: Eli Pariser - The Filter Bubble


What Is Content Curation?

Duration: 1' 48''

Full English Text Transcription

Howard Rheingold: Hello. This is Howard Rheingold. We're talking with Robin Good about curation.

Robin, I loved your series of articles on curation. I highly recommend them. And I just wanted to get directly from you a few thoughts about curation online, starting with, what do you think the importance and the place of curation is today for anybody who's online?

Robin Good: I think you could see it this way.

We have reached, somehow, the limit of understanding and making sense of information just by going out to Google, typing out a query, and getting a listing of things that could be relevant to us.

I think this is like being hungry and going to McDonald's. It's fast-food information. But I want something more. When I go to a restaurant, I can choose the type of restaurant, the type of foods, the quality, the level, the type of customer service and so on.

I am looking for a new level of accessing information, whereby I'm not just trying to list and rank information but I'm trying to make sense of information. This is what people want more and more.

One article by itself, or a link or a resource or a video, sometimes is just a little opening hole into understanding that topic, while if there was some kind of intermediate layer, whether done by an algorithm or by people contributing and working with an algorithm to collect things that make sense on a certain topic, I think we would be in a position to inform and learn much faster and much better than we can do now.


The Qualities of a Curator

Duration: 2' 04''

Howard Rheingold: What qualities do you think a curator ought to have?

Robin Good: He's [the curator] got to be somewhat of a very curious person and a passionate person in the area where he wants to curate.

I don't think you can just go about curating a topic because you wake up and that's something you want to do. You certainly can, and gain confidence with it with time, but it would be best that you go and curate something that you're already very passionate about, that you have been exposed to, so that you have some sensitivity, some antennas, that allow you to understand what is good, what is better.

...also because then it becomes a point of, who are you doing this for? Are you just an artist painting something for yourself, or are you curating something for a specific audience, trying to intercept a specific need and resolve it with that channel of information?

I would think that knowing the audience and being an expert on the topic helps someone curate whatever type of information items he has at his disposal. Those, I think, are the key elements.

Then you've got to be very transparent, and give full credit to whoever you're gathering in, and expose actually, the best qualities of these sources and people.

And then add something of your own. That is, the ultimate quality of the curator is like the one for a DJ. I mean, what's the difference between putting on a mixtape or having a live DJ?

I think those same qualities apply somewhat to a content curator. That is the ability to listen closely to what type of audience, at the moment, he's serving, and then providing a proper "context" so that the type of information he or she is collecting makes sense to them.

You may have to change titles, descriptions, images, order, how you juxtapose things. But you have to customize the flow for the purpose, theme, and public you're doing that for.


The Curator Position Should Stand Out

Duration: 1' 06''

Howard Rheingold: So who you are should come through, to some degree. Your sensibility and your point of view ought to not be completely suppressed when you're curating.

Robin Good: There may be different instances and situations, business-wise, pure research and information activities. It may vary.

I wouldn't be so sure that all the time you would have to bring out your personality, but there is no way that you cannot somehow stand in some position. So it would be a generic position, and maybe more defined positions for those who have to take political stances or research things where there are opposing views.

But again, there, you may be a great curator by just standing out for your position, or maybe even a better curator by curating all the positions that are out there and allowing people to discover which one speaks best for them. Both of them are valid to me.


The Curator Workflow

Duration: 1' 56''

Howard Rheingold: What is your advice to people about how to go about content curation?

I know you have a very detailed workflow.

If someone wants to go ahead and start curating and they've got a passion for a subject and some knowledge about it, how do they go about it?

Robin Good: The first thing you want to do is to collect your sources, the places where you're going to gather that information. You want to start from some bases. These may be some:

  • Blogs,
  • Video channels,
  • Twitter personalities,
  • Fan Pages.

Anything, especially that is capable of producing an RSS feed, is very useful for curating and creating channels of information dedicated to a specific topic.

You want, then, to become familiar with something that is key. Technically, before, it was difficult to understand: It's what I call a "persistent search". That is the ability to set out a search for a topic and be alerted anytime something comes up so that you can discover new things, but you can discover also new sources for information that you may not have been aware of until then.

When you bring together different sources, the ones you know plus the ones you're going to discover gradually, the core part of your job is to select, to pick those that really count, and again to customize them, personalize them for your audience, for the specific communication objective you have set up for yourself with that channel or stream of information you are creating.

The news curator job to describe is as simple as that.

You may want, then, to share this information, to package it up and distribute it in different ways, but the core elements are basically those ones there.


Easy Content Curation Tool:

Duration: 1' 22''

Robin Good: Many people just worry about: "What is the tool that can do all this stuff in a simple way without needing me to know HTML, RSS, tags, persistent searches, and so on?" Let me get right to that.

If I were to advise a tool that I'm not associated with commercially that I think helps anyone who is a novice to get on good grips on what curating information can do and how it can be done, this is the one you are using yourself since a few days, and that's is a very simple-to-use, free tool that allows you to aggregate, filter, search, put together information, even lay-out and publish it, within a workflow that is extremely easy and almost intuitive to pick up.

Howard Rheingold: I also like the community feature of In that people can recommend sources to you, and then you have a stream of sources, besides the ones that you've gone out and found, that you can go through and you can either use them, you can discard them, or you can say: "I don't want to use this source anymore." So your stream becomes smarter as you curate it. It's a tool I like a lot, too.


The Universe of Curation Tools

Duration: 2'

Robin Good: There are actually very many tools.

If you recall, on 2005 - I think in March or April - I was in San Francisco with you on Mount Tamalpais.

We were talking for the first time - while looking at that beautiful scenery - about what we're discussing now. That is, news curation, and you were looking at me and wondering whether that made any sense. I'm so glad that this time has passed and this "curation" thing - at the time I was calling it "newsmastering" - has become a reality.

I was so excited last year and in the last few months, when about 60 different content-curation tools have come out. I've created a newsmaster toolkit map you've probably seen, which I update every week.

And what is most surprising is to see now all these different areas for content curation... because we started thinking RSS, curating content and news, creating newsradars as I call them, specific thematic channels.

But now there's a universe of other possibilities. There is video curation, product curation, fashion curation - which is fantastic.

Go and see this site that's called Polyvore, and see what people can do curating together different fashion elements, like shoes and jewelry and other gadgets, and create curated sets that are really interesting and visually appealing.

I think the horizon is in understanding that, basically, anything can be curated. It doesn't have to be only news.

You can curate stuff that doesn't have to be connected to Twitter or stuff that happens right at this moment.

Even collecting and curating what is out there for the past, ...the idea of curation from the beginning until now, it's something useful.


The Future of Search

Duration: 2' 03''

Robin Good: I think the direction of the future is - if not for Google, for us - to create an alternative type of Google where we can collaboratively curate the information that is out there.

Think for a moment if, instead of depending on secret algorithms to decide for us what is relevant, we could choose individually, each one of us, which are the ranking elements we want to use, or tap into your ones and the one of my friend and the other friend and create our own ecosystem of curated algorithms, curated collections of information, of how to make sense of reality, instead of depending on somebody who depends on profits and exclusively on its own earnings to decide what's best for us - that's absurd for me.

The world now lives in an economy of information. We depend so much on it that it's not just a matter of doing a business online; it's a matter of allowing each one of us, like to breathe or get water, to be able to access information and make some good use of it. I don't know if you agree with this or not, but to me it's a planetary question that people should start addressing.

Howard Rheingold: Yes. That's why I think a fundamental literacy about curation is something that everybody ought to know about, not just for specialists.

Just like there are websites that get a lot of traffic, there are also many, websites that may not get the huge amount of traffic, but we wouldn't have the really rich ecosystem online if we didn't have so many contributors.

I really like your vision, which you present so enthusiastically and passionately, of, really, a population of curators.

It's not just for the individuals; it's for the whole system. Make it much richer than it is already.


Crowdsourced Content Curation

Duration: 52''

Robin Good: We want to have different points of view.

Should information ranking be fundamentalist religion? Because what is that? If there is one entity that secretly knows what is true or not, isn't that religion? I don't want to depend on some religious organization to decide what's out there, and I want to be able to tap in different points of views.

I want to be able to contribute to help other people understand what I've discovered, and the system we have now does not allow me to do this.

More and more, I'm looking for people who can be gateways to the information I need, and these must be trusted people, so we need a Google of the people for the people, an army of individual curators doing this for ourselves. That's what we need.


The Complete Guide on News and Content Curation

Part 1: Why We Need It

Part 2: Aggregation is Automated, Curation is Manual

Part 3: Types And Real-World Examples

Part 4: Process, Key Tasks, Workflow

Part 5: The Curator Attributes And Skills

Part 6: The Tools Universe

Part 7 - Business Applications and Trends

Originally written by for masterNewMedia and first published on June 21st 2011 as "Content Curation And The Future Of Search: The Howard Rheingold's Interview". Video clips originally recorded by Howard Rheingold and first published on June 11th, 2011 as "Robin Good on curation".

About Howard Rheingold


Howard Rheingold is a critic, writer, and teacher; his specialties are on the cultural, social and political implications of modern communication media such as the Internet, mobile telephony and virtual communities (a term he is credited with inventing). Howard Rheingold is a visiting lecturer in Stanford University's Department of Communication where he teaches courses on Digital Journalism and Virtual Communities and Social Media. He is also a lecturer in U.C. Berkeley's School of Information where he teaches Virtual Communities and Social Media. Among his most influential books are Tools for Thought (1985), The Virtual Community: Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier (1993), Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution (2002). In 2008, he was a winner in MacArthur Foundation's Digital Media and Learning competition and used my award to work with a developer to create a free and open source social media classroom. In 2008, he was a winner in MacArthur Foundation's Digital Media and Learning competition and used his award to work with a developer to create a free and open source social media classroom.

Robin Good -
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posted by on Tuesday, June 21 2011, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

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