Why We Will All Live in 'Curation Nation'

Somewhere Out There, Someone Is Creating Genius -- How Will You Find It?

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Bob Garfield
Bob Garfield
How did I learn about Failblog.org, the greatest endeavor in the history of mankind? From my daughter.

How did I encounter Antoine Dodson? He's the brother from Huntsville, Alabama, who went on TV to comment on the attempted assault on his sister, only to be AutoTuned into immortality singing, "He's climbing in your window, snatching your people up, trying to rape 'em, so hide your kids, hide your wife, hide your husband, because they raping everybody out here." (Maybe it doesn't sound especially adorable in transcript, but do yourself a favor and Google him.) I found Dodson on KnowYourMeme.com.

How did I learn about Sen.-elect Rand Paul comparing President Barack Obama's ascendency to that of Adolf Hitler? From (I'm embarrassed to admit) the Huffington Post.

How did I know that Charlie bit the little English kid's finger? YouTube's most-viewed list. How did I know TSA workers hate obese and smelly travelers? The Drudge Report. How did I know that the "biggest douchebag ever" was the guy parking his BMW SUV diagonally across three handicapped spaces in strip-mall parking lot? Google.

Six needles plucked from a trillion bales of hay. If I were to depend on advertisements, listings, retail displays, playlists and broadcast schedules, I would have encountered not one of them. Not a blessed one. Instead, they were all called to my attention by others whose judgment I trust: aggregators, loved ones, algorithms, enthusiasts and inspired geniuses. Or, put another way:


As my pal Steven Rosenbaum will detail this spring in his forthcoming book of the same title, we are increasingly living in a "Curation Nation." It is the distribution of human judgment from a handful of elite taste-makers to our own self-selected maven-o-spheres. Steve calls this shift the core of media and commerce from now on.

"Curation is about selection, organization, presentation and evolution," he said to open the discussion. "While computers can aggregate content, information, or any shape or size data, aggregation without curation is just a big pile of stuff that seems related, but lacks a qualitative organization."

OK, I could quibble with him. The Google algorithm certainly automates curation by synthesizing the tastes and decision of everybody. Likewise any number of collaborative filtering platforms, of which Netflix is the most famous. Furthermore, aggregators such as HuffPo and Drudge do in fact most rewardingly scour the media for stuff they think is most provocative.

But there is no arguing Steve's larger point: The nearly infinite supply of content demands that we rely on others -- either the crowd as a whole, or tribes with which we identify, or individual experts we've come to trust, or friends or offspring we have molded, trained, subtly influenced and generally imprinted with our tastes and worldview.

Which is why you haven't pored over the movie ads lately. You have people for that.

Steve's particular slice of the curation industry is his site, Magnify.net, which hosts videos for hundreds and hundreds of businesses, hobbyists, fans, interest groups and other communities linked by common interests. Within each channel, the community sorts among one another which videos are worthiest. No algorithm need apply, hence his bias toward the human touch. And me, I've learned from grim experience not to be dismissive of this man's thinking. Nineteen years ago, when he essentially invented UGC by distributing videocams to civilians for them to share their stories -- an exercise that yielded his pioneering show MTV Unfiltered -- I told him he was a fool to imagine that amateurs could come up with anything worth watching. Oops,

Far from doubting him this time, I think "Curation Nation" may even understate the Power of Everybody. While certain authors promulgate chaos scenarios that bemoan the doom facing professionally created content, such as Hollywood movies, we have to consider the possibility of a golden age for content.

We all know about the proverbial million monkeys at a million typewriters eventually reproducing the complete works of Shakespeare. Well, those monkeys are hard at work -- only there are billions of them -- and they are as a group exponentially more ingenious and productive than even the most elite of the Old Guard. Every second they produce brilliance which you could never hope to find. In the Curation Nation, the genius will surface. And we'll all forget why we watched NBC in the first place.

Bob Garfield, now a consultant, has reported on advertising, marketing and media for 28 years.
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