Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Online Curation: The What, Why And How - An Interview With Micah Sifry

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Why is content curation so important? In this video interview, I recorded with Micah Sifry, co-founder and editor of the Personal Democracy Forum, you can taste one more viewpoint and explanation of why news and content curation are becoming so important. And not only.

Photo credit: Robin Good

Micah Sifry states it clear and without any hesitation: such abundance of content and of people producing it offers great business opportunities that are yet to be discovered.

"I actually think it's a market opportunity for entrepreneurs, as well as for editors, both in terms of building better tools for sifting through all of this information to tease out the signal from the noise."

Curation is not just a fad or the equivalent of sharing a few pictures and funny links with your Facebook friends. Yes, at some level that is content curation too, but what Micah Sifry wants to highlight is how relevant it is to understand that serving a market of 10,000 info-hungry specialists is going to increasingly be a business opportunity, unlike what has been happening in the past, with publishers / editors / bloggers all vying for "traffic" and large, mass-like audiences.

This is going to change. "Niche media has absolutely got a healthy future" he says happily. And you don't need to depend or feel constrained by Google as there are several alternative avenues that you can use to make yourself be found.

What you need to pay attention to, instead, is the fact that Google does have the power to define the world, to be the lens through which we see the world.

The problem with this is that in effect the Googles and Facebooks of this world may be creating separate realities. My friend, Eli Pariser, who spoke at PDF last year, has a excellent new book about this problem. He calls it "The Filter Bubble".

To fight this issue we need curation and we need to help the worst intellectual disease we have around today: a lot of people just want superficial information. They suck up what they are being served from the mainstream fire-hose without any critical awareness and in a totally passive way.

Such profound lack of a new media literacy, it's probably stemming from too much of education devoted simply to forced memorization and regurgitation, instead of to the healthy intellectual development of analysis, critical thinking and questioning abilities.

Here in full, Micah Sifry video interview on curation, including a full text transcription.

The Need for Curation


Micah Sifry: Now we have a wide open conversation with no real gatekeepers, and the result is cacophony.

We have many people speaking at once, and our tools for listening have not caught up to our tools for speaking. The result is that many, many people experience social media as an overwhelming flood. They call it like drinking from a fire hose, which you can't do.

The issue is that we need better filters.

Clay Shirky has said, "We don't have information overload, we have filter failure."

The old filters that we relied on to basically sort through all the news of the day and present to us what was important, they're broken. But we haven't built better ones. We're just beginning to learn how to do that.

I don't think we want to silence people and say: "You're not qualified to speak. You don't have a degree from the right university," or "You don't know the right person." That was the old system where the gatekeepers were very arbitrary. The new system is wide open, but incredibly messy and noisy.

I actually think it's a market opportunity for entrepreneurs, as well as for editors, both in terms of building better tools for sifting through all of this information to tease out the signal from the noise.

We'll see editors or curators or people who act as aggregators: they pick a specific subject, and they know that subject very well.

On the stock market, there are people who specialize in one stock, right, and they just do that stock all day. And it may be the same has to happen in media, where we will see lots of niche sites or niche curators, and you just trust that person to help you figure out one piece of the things that you're interested in paying attention to.

But in the meantime, it's confusing, I'm sure, for some people very frustrating, because they don't know where to begin.

Duration: 2' 2''


The Work of the Curator


Micah Sifry: There are a couple of ways that I do this [the curator] role.

I edit a daily website called Tech President, which comes out of Personal Democracy Forum, the conference that I help run, and both of those are efforts to curate a conversation.

Tech President is focused on how politicians are using the web and vice versa, how people are using the Web to affect politics. Every day on that blog you will see some handpicked news items pointing you to the stories that we think are interesting that day, in that space where politics and technology are colliding into each other.

You'll also see a few articles where we are reporting and analyzing and trying to look at the larger picture.

The conference is in some ways the analog version, where people are actually meeting and hearing many of the leading voices and the leading practitioners in that same space, where politics and technology collide into each other.

My sense is that maybe there are - I don't know - 10,000 or 20,000 people on the planet who really need to know in an in-depth way about this place, where these two things are overlapping. And maybe there's a larger group that maybe has a lighter interest, occasionally, they want to know what does it mean, how Obama used the Internet, or they'll ask the most general questions, but I really see us as serving a core group of maybe 10,000 readers who would be regular, and they are contributing. They are, themselves, participating in that.

The challenge for me as a media entity or as a publisher is:

"Is that enough to make a living? Can I sell enough tickets to my conference, get sponsors who want to be associated with this community, to keep the blog going the rest of the year?"

That's the sort of world that we're in, but I think niche media has absolutely got a healthy future. I think are the big, older, expensive-to-run media organizations that have problems.

Duration: 2' 32''


How to Be Found


Micah Sifry: We live right now in a world where search is the primary way that people look up information and Google is very trusted brand as a vehicle for learning things.

So we have a challenge, which is you can't ignore Google and say, you know, "I'm not going to pay attention to search results." You definitely have to try to do well on the particular searches that relate to your core topic. We don't have any choice.

A few years from now, maybe the situation will be different because there will be competition.

The other thing is that it's clear that there are many pathways to being found. There's also Twitter.

I think a high proportion of people who are interested in politics use Twitter as their main channel for news. We have a joke: "I go on CNN to check to see what's on Twitter. They'll keep me up to speed." So to some degree, it isn't just Google as your only avenue.

Lastly, you're talking about a low-information user, somebody who just searches. For argument's sake, if you're working in a niche media, that's of less importance to you than making sure you're reaching your core audience. There are clear-cut ways of doing that where you can be very proactive:

  1. You can reach out through Groups on Facebook or on other social networking sites.
  2. You can create your own list - we have an email list that every day gets an update. So it isn't as if you are defenseless and only going to be receiving attention if Google decides you're worth attention.

Duration: 1' 54''


The Personalization Danger


Micah Sifry: I would say that it's a double-edge sword.

First of all, it's very hard to compete with Google, unless you have a few billion dollars.

There are tools that are being developed to help people sift through the fire hose. For example, I use a tool called TweetedTimes, that takes my Twitter feed and selects for me, based on the people I follow, what stories they're most linking to. And so I get like a front page, based on the people I think are worth following, what they think is interesting at any given moment. It's very helpful. I don't only rely on it. It's one source.

I also look a the New York Times front page.

The double-edge sword - and this is really worth more attention - is this: The way that sites like Google and Facebook are dangerously crossing lines of personal information in their effort to either present the best search result or put the best advertising in front of you.

The more serious concern I have about Google is not just that it has this big power to define the world, to be the lens through which we see the world, but that it is no longer the same lens. If I search on a subject on Google, and you do the exact same search, we will not get the same results. That's because Google actually is making other judgments. They will look at where you're searching from. They may think about what time of day. If they have your information because you are registered in Google as a user, then they have all kinds of additional information, and they are doing it because they think they're going to give you a better service by fine tuning the results to you.

The problem is that in effect they are creating separate realities. My friend, Eli Pariser, who spoke at PDF last year, has a excellent new book about this problem. He calls it "The Filter Bubble".

We all live in these separate bubbles created by this filtering mechanism, which is no longer uniform, and that worries me.

The scary thing about some of the social media development is the degree to which a few platforms have tremendous power, and the degree to which consumers or users of those platforms don't realize how much of their own information they are willingly giving away. And then also how the results of how the platform companies use that information can actually separate us and make us no longer even experience the same information, the same basic facts about the world. I worry far more about that than I worry about the possibility that some search result will be a little not nearly getting to the best information.

The problem is is that a lot of people just want superficial information. They are not intense news followers. The ones who are, the Internet is this wondrous blessing.

I watch my son, who's almost 18, and he will just spend hours on Wikipedia. He's very happy jumping from reading article to article, and he's filling his head with information. He's not just reading the two paragraphs.

Developing that taste for deep knowledge is a different problem. We're not going to solve it simply because we have the world's best library at our fingertips. That taste has to be inculcated I think much earlier in how we educate our children, and the challenge is to make our children learn how to search well, and how to pull information together well, as oppose to memorize.

Too much of education is memorization and regurgitation, instead of analysis, think for yourself, ask questions, and then know how to find the answers.

Duration: 3' 58''


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 29th 2011 as "*Online Curation: The What, Why And How - An Interview With Micah Sifry".

About Micah Sifry


Micah Sifry is co-founder and editor of the Personal Democracy Forum, a website and annual conference that covers the ways technology is changing politics and, its award-winning group blog on how the American presidential candidates are using the web and how the web is using them. In addition to organizing the annual Personal Democracy Forum conference with his partner Andrew Rasiej, he consults on how political organizations, campaigns, non-profits and media entities can adapt to and thrive in a networked world.

Photo credits:
The Need for Curation - olly
The Work of the Curator - Choreograph
How to Be Found - Michael D Brown
The Personalization Danger -

Robin Good -
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posted by on Wednesday, June 29 2011, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

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