Curation Nation: How to win in a world where consumers are creators, by Steven Rosenbaum (2011)
Curation has been a buzz word for a while now, a useful weapon in job description territory wars but underexplored by PR academics and lacking robust description.
In his new book, Curation Nation, Steve Rosenbaum discusses curation in many different ways, but never quite pins his colours to the mast with a tight and serviceable definition. Here is one of his efforts: "Curation is about adding value from humans who add their qualitative judgment to whatever is being gathered and organised."
The key word appears to be 'human' - as opposed content selected and by automated, algorithmic computer aggregation. For Rosenbaum, founder and CEO of magnify.net, "Curated experiences are by their very nature better than one-off decisions about that to buy or whom to trust."
The basic premise is that there is far too much stuff out there for anyone to deal with without help, and things will only get harder. We will increasingly rely on functions that offer "valid contextual content on topics we can hardly imagine," and this doesn't mean Google.
Indeed Rosenbaum goes so far as claiming: "Search is broken. It's over. Done. Gone."
Really? Can we really accept that "Search is over. Curation has begun."
OK, good curation might facilitate productive access to relevant information, but suggesting one might replace the other seems to highlight tensions within the rather broad definition Rosenbaum brings to curation.
On one level he frames it as gathering and collecting, hence the emphasis on gathering information, which privileges selection, which can be seen as gatekeeping: "Curation has always been the process of discerning quality."
Courting accusations of elitism he argues that in an era of data abundance the thing that is scarce is taste.
When using the example of an entrepreneurial blogger keen on making money out of an enthusiasm for barbecuing, Rosenbaum seems to position the curator as a shopkeeper, selecting goods at the right price, displaying them (the process is also concerned with ordering and display, which requires attractive accessible presentation), thereby engaging the customer, then monetizing (making a sale).
At worst, using curation techniques to develop web presence that has financial value can amount to merely cutting and pasting other people's hard won content and it selling under your own label, a practice he decries as 'scrapbooking'. A more positive model might be the Reader's Digest.
Curation Nation comes alive with chapter based on interviews with PR opinion leaders, Brands: Curating your consumer. Steve Rubel puts it simply, when he says: "Where PR is going involves three things: getting other people to create content, curating what's there both with a client and in a broader environment, and creating your own content - and sometimes those are all connected."
Equally useful are the chapters on Content Strategy and on Finance, Curation and Privacy.
Rosenbaum moves closer to my preferred framing would put greater emphasis on ordering, presenting and making accessible information generated by and around an organisation when he argues "Creating structure for conversation and contribution gives users clear opportunities for participation and creates a coherent experience for visitors."
This leads to: "Content curation centred on a clear set of content policies, with orderly governance, means using all your enterprise's resources in a holistic way."
If curation is about collection, selection, nurturing and positioning it then describes functions core to caring for reputation and by extension the relationships that might be influenced by that reputation.
This, in turn, articulates the ways in which strategic content management is fundamental to effective Public Relations.