We Me We – Why the Curation vs Algorithm Discussion is Messy

In Aggregation Is Not Curation – There Is A Big Difference, Tom Foremski provides definitions of curation and aggregation:

Curation is a person or persons, engaged in the act of choosing and presenting things related to a specific topic and context.

An example of curation: the San Francisco De Young museums is exhibiting post-impressionist masterpieces from the Musée d’Orsay’s permanent collection.

Aggregation is the collection of as many things that can be found related to a topic.

Aggregation would be a collection of any or all, post-impressionist masterpieces from Musée d’Orsay’s permanent collection.

Curation is about choosing what’s in a collection. Aggregation is just collecting.

This is fairly similar to Robin Good’s Aggregation Is Not Curation where he aligns human editing with curation and aggregation is by machines.  I’m not a big fan of debates over definitions, but since this concept is relatively new, some amount of defining and providing examples is helpful.  That said, I think that trying to define curation vs. aggregation is messy at best.  And it’s much more complex than how it’s currently being described. mess

I think we’d all agree that a blogger who creates a Top X Tools for Y is curating.  But how are they going to do that?

  • Use Google Search – based on Page Rank which is effectively social filtering
  • Solicit input via Twitter – crowdsourced

And then they will edit what they are finding, add their notes, and publish it.  This is what I describe in Filtering and Curation for Specific Topics.  This is one example of curation.

But as Carl Sagan tells us:

If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.

The reality is that any curator will rely on a variety of sources as input that are likely very much based on automated filtering mechanisms as described in Automated Filtering vs Human-Powered Curation. And many of these filtering mechanisms are based on social signals.  They come from the collective us – the “We.”  And most of the sourcing of content relies heavily on aggregation and filtering.  In other words, curation often starts with the “We” and gets to it via aggreation and filtering.

Then the curator (blogger) does their job and they figure out what is interesting, best from the content likely with themselves or their audience in mind.  This is very much a “Me” stage activity.  I look to do something with the content that is individual.

And this Me stage could be all kinds of activities:

  • Favoriting
  • Bookmarking
  • Blogging
  • Tweeting

I’m doing it for me and likely anyone listening to me.  But it’s about Me.  Although they are also all forms of curation if done via a tool that produces something that’s public – as in these examples.  And by having done something for Me, but in a public way, I’ve effectively created something that will be used by other people and becomes a “We” thing again.  People will see the tweet and if they think it’s interesting will pick up the content and save it themselves.  If several people do that, then it’s likely more interesting content and so it will get found.

I see this as going through lots and lots of these

We –> Me –> We


Now if you look at the effect of lots of We –> Me –> We stages – what do you define as Curation? Aggregation?  Each Me stage is curation, but when you get more than one curation together it’s aggregation?

Personally, I’m not as concerned with defining this.  I’m definitely skeptical about people who equate human editing – curation – and likely also that it’s better.  The bottom line is that this is all muddy and that, as Robin Good also says, the best effect is likely in the mix.  Take advantage of the We –> Me –> We to create value for Me.

Oh rats, I left out personalization at the end.  No this is REALLY messy.



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