Curation: Add Value and Pass It Along

Among all the topics that seem to rile journalists and publishers these days, perhaps the most contentious is curation. Is summarizing and linking to another person’s article an honorable act or a form of theft? How can you distinguish between good curation and bad curation?

Let me begin to answer those questions by summarizing and linking to Rex Hammock’s post last week on this very issue.

The act of finding great content and linking to it, he says, is a fine idea. Though he dislikes the term curation, he approves of the activity as it was originally practiced. But recently, he says, it has come to mean something less good:

Over the past three or so years, the term media curation has evolved in its meaning to being less-and-less an act of help and service and more and more a term that’s used to add lipstick to a pig of a business model that is based on something like the following: “go re-write stuff you find elsewhere that’s about whatever is trending on Google and bury a link to them somewhere towards the end of the story so we can claim it’s not merely re-writing their story.”

Hammock’s guideline for avoiding this fix seems pretty clear: If you can’t add value to a story, just link to it.

Perhaps not so clear is how to add value. I think most rational people would agree with him that many Huffington Post or Business Insider stories are really just rewrites. But short of that extreme, there’s plenty of disagreement.

The best recent example, perhaps, comes from Kashmir Hill’s story last February recapping Charles Duhigg’s New York Times article on consumer marketing and data mining. As Mathew Ingram wrote, opinion was sharply divided over whether Hill stole Duhigg’s story “in an attempt to get pageviews from someone else’s work” or whether she instead served a valuable function in highlighting and directing readers to his article.

When I read Hill’s story, I don’t see an attempt to get pageviews. What I see, rather, is someone who is intensely interested in Duhigg’s subject matter, admiring of his work, and intellectually engaged with his ideas.

I can’t find similar motivations in the pedestrian article Hammock criticizes. It’s simply the output of an aggregation serf.

The contrast between these two attempts at curation suggests to me a test that any writer should apply before blogging about another person’s story: Are you are genuinely engaged with it? If the answer is yes, chances are good you will add value in passing it along.

Arianna Owes Me (and Maybe You) Big Bucks

Time to pay up

I’ve never written for the Huffington Post, but I’ve given them something worth much more than words: my attention. So I think it’s only fair that Arianna hand over a reasonable chunk of the $315 million that AOL paid for her site.

Sure, Jonathan Tasini and all those other cry babies who are suing her wrote a lot of great content for HuffPo. But what’s content worth in dollars and cents without readers? Not much.  (Exhibit number one: the awesome blog you’re reading right now.)

Everybody knows it’s audience that bestows value. It’s an attention economy, not a content economy. As Jeff Jarvis puts it, ‘’Content is becoming a cost burden, what you have to have to get the links, but in and of itself, content can’t draw value without an audience, without links.”

And as Clay Shirky says, our precious attention is in high demand.  I figure mine is worth at least $50 an hour, but has Arianna paid me a single penny? Not on your life.  And that’s not counting my finder’s fee for all those HuffPo links I’ve shared.

When you add up all of us who’ve read HuffPo at some point, you have to figure it amounts to a lot more than $315 million. But we’ll settle for $105 million.

We’ve been modern-day attention slaves on Arianna’s content plantation long enough. So go screw yourselves, Tasini et al. This is our money.