Curation: Who Decides What You’re Exposed To?

The internet is an endless and ever-growing pool of resources. It is frightening to think of everything we can find on the web, and even scarier to think of everything we’ll never have time to find and consult. So how do we deal with this over-abundance of information? We focus our attention to what we think is relevant, willingly, or assisted by technology.

The popularity of a device like the iPad can be attributed in part to its way of curating the experience with the device, giving the user just enough control to keep the tablet easy to operate, as described in this Wired article by Eliot Van Buskirk from May 2010.

Curation is the positive flip side of Apple’s locked-down approach, decried as a major, negative development in computing by many observers[…]. Who would have thought that in 2010, so many people would pay good money for a computer that only runs approved software?

Writing about Facebook and social media in general, Van Buskirk adds:

When given the option to create our own webpages online, most of us recoiled from that open-ended freedom, though many embraced it initially. Even if you took the time to learn HTML and keep your page updated, there was no guarantee that your friends would be able to find it.

That’s why personal websites remain the domain of geeks while Facebook (and its predecessors), LinkedIn, Tumblr, Flickr and other pre-fab web-presence providers flourish, despite valid privacy concerns. When faced with social freedom on the web, we chose social curation instead, and now we’re dealing with that choice.

So, we choose to access curated information. We look at user reviews before buying a product, we browser the best-sellers when looking for something to read, we ask questions on Facebook whether to go see a movie or not, etc.

But are we getting the full story? According to Eli Pariser’s TED talk from February 2011, we live in “filter bubbles”, a web universe that only shows us what the algorithms think is what we like, according to past behavior and current context.

There are 57 signals that Google looks at, everything from what computer you’re on, to what kind of browser you’re using, to where you’re located, then use it to personally tailor your query results. […] There is no standard Google anymore.

Empowering Students by Blogging

Sure there are aspects of our lives we are glad to let experts and the “wisdom of the crowd” guide us through. But if there is one thing people should take care of, it’s their online persona.

In Campus Technology, Gardner Campbell describes the “Narrate, Curate, Share” framework he has designed to assist students and faculty with blogging.

[…] the fundamental questions have to do with the nature and value of the activity itself. What is blogging? Is it like an online journal? If so, how is a public journal of academic value? Should I give my students prompts? Will they think this is merely busy work? Should their blogs be about work done in specific classes, work done in several classes, work done outside of class, or all of the above?

The “Narrate, Curate, Share” framework helps students write a compelling and personal story, organize it in a way that talks to other people, and share it with an audience.

Sharing means finding and creating connections. It means creating a “serendipity field” that brings new opportunities for learning and creativity. Don’t just wait for the world to come to you.

So basically, sometimes, you have to be the curator.

The Verdict?

Reading summaries, top 10 lists, and boiled-down stories on mobile devices definitely makes things easier on us, and have multiple benefits. But curation is a double-edged sword. Awareness of this fact is the first step. As an individual, you have to select your information sources and make sure you’re getting all sides of a story. Then, for the things that matter, you become the curator of your own online presence.

Don’t let Google or your high-school friends on Facebook decide what defines you…

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