HOW TO WIN IN A WORLD WHERE CONSUMERS ARE CREATORS
By STEVEN ROSENBAUM
The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. Copyright © 2011Steven Rosenbaum
All rights reserved.
CURATION: WHAT IS IT?
When I was 13 years old, I was a magician. I don't mean card tricks and parlor tricks. I was into the big stuff. Harry Houdini, The Great Thurston, illusionists, escape artists, and mind readers. And back then, there was no shortage of gizmos and books and apparatuses that a young boy could buy. There were catalogs and magazines that featured page after page of gleaming boxes, swords, silk scarves, and grandly adorned illusions. If you had an allowance, there was always some great new magic trick ready to help you amaze your audience. In magic tricks, there was an endless abundance. What was a boy to do?
Well, there was a solution: a special place where magicians in the know went to see the latest gear up close, watch demonstrations by great prestidigitators behind the counter, and end up spending their hard-earned allowance money on the right new gizmo. It was called Tannen's Magic Store, on 44th Street in Times Square. And although it was a four story walk-up, anyone who found the place could be assured of a few hours of deft salesmanship and some insider knowledge as to which magical flourishes were popular, which of the latest shiny illusions didn't work, and which patter would keep your audience mesmerized. Tannen's was nirvana for a young magician. Sure, the store had a catalog, but that was for suckers. The smart money knew that if you trekked to the store, you'd get a better deal and buy the right stuff. I didn't know it then, but the folks at Tannen's exposed me to my first truly curated experience. They separated the good gear from the cheap knockoffs, they added a special aura of knowledge and experience—and they turned a deck of cards with a mimeographed set of instructions into a treasure. They added context, meaning, and knowledge. I loved that place, and I still do. Even as magic has fallen out of favor for this generation of boys and girls, Tannen's remains a curated experience that has kept it solvent, and special, since its founding in 1925. Buying a magic set at Toys "R" Us just can't compete. The difference between a curated retail experience and a generic one isn't limited to magic shops. As we'll soon discover, brands and retailers who are standing out in this noisy world are increasingly replacing abundance with smaller selections of carefully chosen offerings.
CURATION COMES IN MANY SHAPES AND SIZES
There are some words that arrive in our world meaning one thing and over time morph into a new idea.
Tweeting was a thing birds did, before Twitter. Now the word has new meaning. It used to be that you could learn about people you were interested in by researching them in print or by asking their friends. Now you Google them. The remarkable pace of change is having an impact on more than our lives and our interactions, it's changing the very words we use to describe what we do.
Today, the word that describes much of what's changing is curation. It's both a new word and an old one.
In the past we lived in a world of disciplines. The senior editorial leadership at magazines were known as editors. The folks who chose which TV shows played on a TV network were programmers. The people who picked which things would be on the shelves of your local stores were retailers. Each of these professions involved choosing the right items, putting them in the proper order, and creating a collection that was appealing to an audience or consumer. Oh, and there was that rarified individual who selected objects of art to present in a museum or gallery: they were called curators.
Today, curation is the coin of the realm. Film Festivals curate their program. Web sites curate their editorial. The team at the shopping site Gilt Group curates the items it offer for sale. Curation was once a word that seemed to mean highbrow, expensive, out of reach of mere mortals. But today museum curators must compete with media curation at Newser, collections of handmade crafts at Etsy, or the curated collection of the best roll-on luggage at Squidoo. Certainly curation means quality, but now quality is in the eye of the beholder.
Curation, as we'll come to explore it in the pages that follow, comes in many shapes and sizes. It is critically important to understand two things. First, curation is about adding value from humans who add their qualitative judgment to whatever is being gathered and organized. And second, there is both amateur and professional curation, and the emergence of amateur or pro-sumer curators isn't in any way a threat to professionals.
Curation is very much the core shift in commerce, editorial, and communities that require highly qualified humans. Humans aren't extra, or special, or enhancements; humans are curators. They do what no computer can possibly achieve. There's far too much nuance in human tribes and the taste of groups and individuals. Curation is about selection, organization, presentation, and evolution. While computers can aggregate content, information, or any shape or size of data, aggregation without curation is just a big pile of stuff that seems related but lacks a qualitative organization.
There are places where we're going to see curation happen first, mostly editorial enterprises such as Web sites, magazines, and other media. And although it may seem like curation, as a trend, is declaring war on old institutions we've known and trusted, the simple fact is that curation is going to save these organizations, not destroy them. Not long down the road, curation is going to change the way we buy and sell things, the way we recommend and review things, and the way we're able to mobilize groups of like-minded individuals to share, gather, and purchase as groups. Curated experiences are by their very nature better than one-off decisions about what to buy or whom to trust.
But the real power of the trend toward a Curation Nation is that, for the first time, we can see a future in which individuals can galvanize and publish their passions and knowledge in a way that will create value from personal passions and niche expertise. Imagine a time when your love of travel, fine wines, and collectable lunch boxes each provides a revenue stream. Okay, maybe not a full-blown stream, but a revenue trickle; when these microcareers are knit together, your curated knowledge can evolve from a hobby to an avocation to one of the many gigs that pay the rent, keep your kitty in cat food, or help you save for a college tuition. Which is to say, curation is about something different than disintermediation. In fact, it's about re-mediation. It's about adding quality back into the equation and putting a human filter between you and the overwhelming world of content abundance that is swirling around us every day. Curation replaces noise with clarity. And it's the clarity of your choosing; it's the things that people you trust help you find.
Curation is an exhilarating, fast-moving, evolving idea that addresses two parallel trends: the explosive growth in data, and our need to be able to find information in coherent, reasonably contextual groupings. No one doubts that we're shifting, as author Clay Shirky says, from an era of content scarcity to one of content abundance. And while that seems on one hand bountiful, it's also quite impossible. Imagine trying to find a needle in a haystack. Now try to find that same needle in a thousand haystacks. Now, try to find three related needles in a billion haystacks. Yikes! If you think of those needles as words or ideas, forming a coherent sentence is flat out impossible. It's in just such situations that curation comes to the rescue.
CURATION TO THE RESCUE!
As we fumble around for a clear picture of the futu
Excerpted from CURATION NATION by STEVEN ROSENBAUM. Copyright © 2011 by Steven Rosenbaum. Excerpted by permission of The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc..
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