I like to listen before I talk. Which means that during my morning routine I read before I write. But where to turn and what to read?
One of the most oft-repeated statements I heard at conferences last year: “our problem isn’t information overload, it’s crappy filters.” In other words, we shouldn’t complain about all that amazing, free information out there. We just need to get better at finding what we care about and ignoring the rest.
These algorithm-based, automated services would then be supplemented by a new wave of mega-content sites that are curated by human (often volunteer) editors: True/Slant, The Daily Beast, Global Voices, Huffington Post, Global Post.
But increasingly I’m finding that neither the crowd recommendation sites nor the human edited sites are my first stop for news. I still read quite a few blogs and I still check in at NYTimes.com, but at least half of what I read these days comes from links on Twitter. To everyone’s surprise, Twitter has turned out to be less an inane lifelog of what we ate for lunch and much more a streaming list of cleverly editorialized headlines with links to the main article. For many of us, Twitter is becoming the front page of our morning newspaper. Either in perception or in practice, our reporters are becoming our friends and our friends are becoming the editors of our Twitter-based newspaper.
As a curation of news and interest, Twitter has its pros and cons. The re-tweet function spreads news across networks of followers. Cultural rituals like “Follow Friday“ introduce new individuals into like-minded networks. Hashtags allow discussions to take place around certain topics or events.
But perhaps no form of communication – other than arguments between couples – has a more frustrating permanent archive than Twitter. What you post today is just about gone forever tomorrow. (You can only search for a message that has been posted on Twitter in the past 10 days. After that it disappears into the deep sea of the forgotten.)
Twitter as a tool for curation has helped a few special twitterers become practically professional curators. Maria Popova is a native of Sofia, Bulgaria now based in Los Angeles who describes herself as “a cultural curator and curious mind at large.” Which is to say that she graduated from college in 2007, started a blog (“curating eclectic interestingness from culture’s collective brain”), and then began posting interesting links on Twitter as if it were a way to earn income. In a way it was. Maria was featured in a New York Times blog post by Nick Bilton which drew the conclusion that “we are all human aggregators now”, and which also drew a lot more attention to Miss Popova. In addition to her day job at TBWA\Chiat\Day, she has also taken her curatorial skills to TED, Good Magazine, and Wired UK.
Last year we thought that the problem of crappy information filters would be solved either by fancy algorithms on crowd recommendation sites like Digg and StumpleUpon, or with the help of new, human-edited portals like the Huffington Post and Global Voices. Instead it seems that many of us are increasingly depending on individuals; talented curators of the web like Popova, Gina Trapani, and Andrew Sullivan.
In 2005 the rise of the weblog was supposed to turn us all into pundits, voicing our opinions on this matter and that. Five years later, notes Marisa Meltzer in The American Prospect, and everyone seems more interested in curation than opinion: “With blogs, everyone became a critic. With Tumblr, everyone’s a curator.”
If “crappy filters” was one of the big conference talking points last year, then “online curation” is quickly making a name for itself this year. Robert Scoble – a conference careerist – says it is the word he hears the most these days, especially at last month’s SXSW. (Though Andrew Lih said that ‘curation’ was also the word of the day at the 2009 SXSW.)
All of this talk about the individual curator has me wondering about the future of news organizations. When someone visits Global Voices or the Daily Beast are they coming for a view of the world through the eyes of the entire organization, or do they come specifically for particular writers and editors who they’ve come to trust?
Personally I visit The Atlantic for Jeffrey Goldberg and Graeme Wood. When I go to Foreign Policy it’s specifically to read the latest from Joshua Keating, Evgeny Morozov, and Marc Lynch. I have absolutely no interest in TechCrunch, but I do try to keep up on the latest from Paul Carr, who happens to write there.
Maybe I am the outlier here, the one who spends too much time reading news and too much time following the evolution of thought and interests of certain individuals. But I also feel like this is a general trend for everyone – that we all are increasingly depending on individuals and not organizations to curate the day’s news for us.