Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Friday, November 4, 2011

What Makes A Great Curator Great? How To Distinguish High-Value Curation From Generic Republishing

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Today content curation is "sold", promoted and marketed as the latest and trendiest approach to content production, SEO visibility, reputation and traffic building. But is it really so? Is it really true that by aggregating many content sources and picking and republishing those news and stories that you deem great is really going to benefit you and your readers in the long run? Is the road to easy and effortless publishing via curation tools a true value creation business strategy, or just a risky fad? How can one tell?

Photo credit: theprint

Let me clarify a few key points:

1. Curation can be effective only as much as it effectively provides a quality filtering mechanism that can replace my need to consult multiple sources. When such need is forgotten and a curation channel becomes another broad aggregation and republishing venue, the end result is more content to go through and little or no insight gained.

2. Shallow curation efforts, where the main goal is to republish selected content with the minimum effort and time, are going to be effective only for the very short term. As soon as quality, value-creation creators start to emerge and gain authority, the gap between them and the others will be very hard to fill.

3. Curation is an effective means to build a strong relationship with a niche audience of passionate people to engage, not a marketing strategy that caters to gain a broad audience of readers by virtue of quantity and breadth.

4. The key element that makes curation work is the competence and focus of the curator and of the topic he has selected. Repeated efforts to create curated channels that mix and match broad and highly competitive topics are bound to see a very short life.

For these reasons, I think that much of the apparent new curation work being done is bound to be soon disappointed by the results it will gain. Though the apparent new curation "leaders" are working around volume and breadth, I have a strong feeling that within a year this panorama will have already evolved significantly in its natural direction.

Highly specific news and content channels, curated by passionate and competent editors will gradually become the new reference and models for curation work.

This article is all about starting to identify some tentative reference points that can be used to anticipate these changes and position one's own curation channel in a way that it will guarantee the greatest return on investment, over-time, possible.

My goal, is to help you understand how you can start to evaluate and distinguish value-creating content curation, from shallow aggregation, noise-making republication and pure content regurgitation before it is too late or someone else in your same niche will have done it before you.

Here's is my official checklist, to identify value-creation curation, from everything else.


How Do You Recognize a Quality Content Curator


If I was asked to evaluate the curation work of different people, without being able to know who these authors are and for which reason they were doing it, I would use the following criteria to identify the best curators among them.

In my personal experience a good, value-creating curator, can be easily recognized by looking at the work he does. If he does one or more of the following he is likely to be a true, value-creation, sense-making curator:

  • Optimizes

    Optimizes titles as to make them relevant to his/her audience. Tites are often still badly written, by using either a classic journalistic approach or by using tricky psychological approaches to make the titles appear more interesting. The curator's task should be the one of make titles relevant to his specific audience-tribe, by making the title highlight and explain what the content is truly about.

  • Edits

    Edits / rewrites titles, descriptions and more, to further customize the message relevance, language and focus for a specific audience-tribe.

  • Formats

    Formats curated content with microscopic precision by utilizing character styles, chunking, use of bulleted/numbered lists to provide greater legibility and to communicate more effectively the key concepts present in the original content.

  • Selects

    Selects and adds relevant images, photos, illustrations that fully complement and reinforce the content they are associated to.

  • Excerpts

    Excerpts selected text and passages from the actual content, to help the reader understand as rapidly as possible what the content is about and why it would be relevant to read it.

  • Writes

    Writes his/her own intro, to contextualize and explain the relevance of the content to his specific audience-tribe. Brings in a "personal voice" that threads together news or content coming from many disparate sources. Threads and guides the reader through it like a museum guide.

  • Classifies

    Curates his channel and content metadata. Provides comprehensive tags, titles and classification categories for the content curated.

  • Links

    Integrates extra links to extend-expand the scope of the article or to provide further reference to specific concepts.

  • Personalizes

    Personalizes each curated item differently for each social media channel/audience when needed / appropriate.

  • Vets

    Vets and verifies original source for quality and integrity (by reading all of the original content) and exercising a critical role in deciding what to publish and what to censor.

  • Credits

    Credits and provides full attribution to all sources used. Goes out of his way to reference and cite personal sources (when appropriate) and credits always for received leads, tips and suggestions as to make of this activity a new virtue (as it truly is, by providing access to new unknown sources and showcasing the transparency of the author-curator).

  • Filters

    Spends most of his / her time vetting and filtering out most of the incoming content, not approving and publishing most of the incoming stuff.

  • Taps

    Taps frequently into a personally selected circle of trusted curators in related, complementary, or similar topics.

  • Suggests

    Suggests and recommends in turn to other curators specific stories for their newsradars.

  • Searches

    Spends time looking for more content / context to add to any item when this can help enrich, or make more interesting valuable an existing story. Looks for additional references, reviews, citations or stories that can help complement the existing view.

  • Scouts

    Is always looking for new, credible and interesting content sources. Is never happy with the sources he has and loves to discover new ways, tools and networks where useful sources can be found.

  • Hacks Filters and Searches

    Engineers filters and specific persistent searches to help himself find always highly relevant and useful content to curate.

  • Is Transparent

    Publicly states focus, target-tribe, communication objective(s) and criteria by which content is selected or excluded on his newsradars or curated channels.

  • Recommends

    Publicly recommends other newsmasters, curators and specific newsradars.

  • Crowdsources

    Crowdsources recommendations, tips and suggestions from his readers always acknowledging their contributions.

The more of these activities you incorporate in your content curation workflow, the higher the quality and the value that you will be creating.

I myself strive to gradually master and integrate all of these actions in my daily curation work. It is not easy, nor fast, but it is something meaningful for me and it makes me feel I have truly contributed to "make sense" of the information and resources available out there.


How Do You Recognize a Wasteland-Filler - Aggregator - Republisher?


On the other hand, if I was asked to rapidly identify "zero-value" curators, such as those who are simply republishing other people's content, have a relatively broad focus, mix multiple topics together, and who provide no other additional value, or those using curation tools to produce a constant flow of blog-like content without much thought about its editorial quality or depth, these below, would be the traits I would use to easily identify them.

  • No Additional Value

    Republishes news / content without contributing any additional value. Such curators feel or have learned from others that their job is to aggregate, pick and republish what tickles their fancies. They are happy and content with this and miss to see that the contribution they believe they are making, is in reality a burden for most anyone else.

  • No Editing

    Republishes content without editing any part of it. Stories, news, content of any kind is republished "as is", often officially justified as an effort to act as "keeper" and "defender" of the original content as originally published. In reality such "no editing" approach is son of a drive to use these curation tools to generate some type of new content with the least effort possible. This in reality does not help make greater sense of content originally prepared with a specific goal or audience in mind, or to repurpose it or contextualize it for a specific community of interest.

  • No Selection

    Republishes content simply because it includes keywords that are "on topic" or contain certain keywords.

    The selection is therefore driven by a software aggregation filter, and when the checking and vetting gets also to be very light, then you start seeing regurgitation of content that should not have passed through the largest net. Keywords drive over meaning.

  • No Filtering

    Republishes any content independently of intrinsic value. As long as a news story, article or report "talks" about a certain topic, it is selected and included. Little attention is given in questioning and scrutinizing what's being said or communicated inside of it. The goal appears more one of catching and republishing anything that is "out there" and which "mentions" a certain topic, rather than a mission to unearth, distill and illustrate-explain-organize any content - even that which does NOT mention that keyword - that can be relevant to our "specific" focus of interest.

  • Quantity Wins

    Goes for quantity of content published rather than quality. Feels good the more content he is able to "re-publish". Is unhappy when there is little or no content coming in to "curate". The effort / goal is clearly toward quantity, persistence and volume rather than on quality, timing and precision perspective.

  • Time-Saving Attraction

    Is in for the time-saving benefits, the amazing ease of doing it and the super-short time-to-publish. Nothing wrong for having those desires. Let's just not call them "curation". Time-saving publishing and "content curation" are actually at the opposite extremes of the same continuum. There can't be no curation when the key goal is to publish "quality" content in the shortest time possible.

  • Broad Focus

    Utilizes very broad newsradar titles often integrating two or more wide topics instead of a specific one.
    Lacks specific, strong focus. Approaches curation as mass media broadcasting, with the idea of trying to capture the widest and broadest audience possible.

  • No Tribe

    As a consequence of his "broad focus" lacks awareness of which tribe he / she is communicating to, and is therefore unable to use a consistent language, or one that has strong affinity with the "tribe" being served.

  • No voice

    Lacks a personal "voice". Does not add, comment or write. When he does he does so informally and without making his personal style and views influence it.

  • No Viewpoint

    Lacks of opinion, viewpoint. Does not take a position. Acts as a ticketmaster at a movie theater. Takes no risks, and doesn't make string comments. Likes to think he is an "objective", detached "selector" of the best content passing in front of him.

  • No Synthesis

    Lacks ability to synthesize the key parts of a curated content. Makes no effort to facilitate the emergence of core ideas, concepts and factual information from the content he curates.

  • No Language

    Lacks a unifying, constant, coherent language. The one that he uses is mostly borrowed from the curated content itself.

I think this recent article by Forbes clearly highlights the driving force and mentality behind the idea of curation as a smart alternative to blogging and as a shortcut to achieve SEO visibility, traffic and reputation-authority with minimum efforts and time.

Winning The SEO Battle Through Content Curation
by Pawan Deshpande - HiveFire

On the opposite side stands this excellent video introduction to the type of "curation" I like to talk about, which clearly explains the difference between those who collect, republish and re-share existing content, and those who take existing content and "curate" it to generate new, additional meaning and value from it, on very specific topics.

Why Curation? by Idiocreative
*video not available anymore*


A Word on Scoring Systems

Finally a word on "scoring systems" that attempt to help readers identify supposedly better curation work.

I am very skeptical that any such system can work, especially when the criteria it utilizes are kept secret, and when some of the users of the system have access to them.

My advice is this: Beware of any system that attempts to "score" or rank your curation work unless it transparently states the criteria and formulas it uses. Use your head to look at any curator's work and evaluate personally its usefulness and ability to satisfy appropriately your information needs.

Most of the reputation scoring systems now available online, tend to measure some parts of your activity and engagement online, with mixed results.

In my humble opinion the only reputation system that has any value today is the public endorsement by other people, stating specifically why they do appreciate your work.

It's easy to get thousands of followers, likes or shares, if like it is the case today, there are tons of people wanting to game such systems and many services selling such things for very low prices.

On the other hand it is very, very hard to get someone that is reputable and respected to openly endorse someone else unless he/she has good very good reasons and motives to do so. The risk is in fact evident, as providing easy endorsements to people or work that is not of true value will only lower anyone's credibility and reputation. And you can't use or buy fake endorsements as even if you did, they are worth nothing.

I look forward to social networks and curation tools to embrace more credible approaches to authority and reputation scoring soon.


Originally written and curated by and first published on MasterNewMedia on November 4th 2011 as "What Makes A Great Curator Great? How To Distinguish High-Value Curation From Generic Republishing".

Photo credits:
How Do You Recognize a Quality Content Curator - pagadesign
How Do You Recognize a Wasteland-Filler - Aggregator - Republisher? - malerapaso

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posted by Robin Good on Friday, November 4 2011, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

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