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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Manifesto For The Content Curator: The Next Big Social Media Job Of The Future ?

Every hour thousands of new videos are uploaded online. Blog posts are written and published. Millions of tweets and other short messages are shared. To say there is a flood of content being created online now seems like a serious understatement. Until now, the interesting thing is that there are relatively few technologies or tools that have been adopted in a widespread way to manage this deluge. We pretty much just have algorithmic search, with Google (and other search engines) as the most obvious example. Social bookmarking and social news have been around for some time (ie - sites like Digg or delicious), and new models of aggregation like Alltop are springing up to help us navigate all this content as well.

The real question is whether solutions like these will be enough. By some estimates in just a few years we will reach a point where all the information on the Internet will double every 72 hours. Double. I'm running out of metaphors to describe the magnitude of this content creation. The predictable result of this is that brands are beginning to focus on content creation when they start to look at social media. What are we going to create, or what are we going to get our customers/patients/fans/audience/victims to create? Is that really the best question we could be asking?

What if you were to ask about the person that makes sense of it all? The one who sifts through all the content and picks out the best and most worthy. This person is missing from most corporate communications teams. It's not a commonly defined role on any ebusiness teams. In fact, there are few jobs like this at all. The closest comparative role may be contained within the rising Library 2.0 movement (one I wrote about some time ago), but this is not frequently linked to business communication or marketing. If this role did exist, what would it be called?

The name I would give it is Content Curator. A Content Curator is someone who continually finds, groups, organizes and shares the best and most relevant content on a specific issue online. The most important component of this job is the word "continually." In the real time world of the Internet, this is critical. If you look at how many individuals are currently using their Twitter account to highlight interesting bits of content they locate or how users have tagged and shared content on that site for years, you'll understand that this idea has been steadily growing organically.

In an attempt to offer more of a vision for someone who might fill this role, here is my crack at a short manifesto for someone who might take on this job:


In the near future, experts predict that content on the web will double every 72 hours. The detached analysis of an algorithm will no longer be enough to find what we are looking for. To satisfy the people's hunger for great content on any topic imaginable, there will need to be a new category of individual working online. Someone whose job it is not to create more content, but to make sense of all the content that others are creating. To find the best and most relevant content and bring it forward. The people who choose to take on this role will be known as Content Curators. The future of the social web will be driven by these Content Curators, who take it upon themselves to collect and share the best content online for others to consume and take on the role of citizen editors, publishing highly valuable compilations of content created by others. In time, these curators will bring more utility and order to the social web. In doing so, they will help to add a voice and point of view to organizations and companies that can connect them with customers - creating an entirely new dialogue based on valued content rather than just brand created marketing messages.

After writing this, I can't help but wonder if there might already be people out there with this title. Let's find out: the first person to send me a scan or photo of a business card with this title on it will get a free signed copy of Personality Not Included ... (UPDATE 04/14/11 - This competition is now over!)

Interested in hearing more about content curation?  Click here to learn how to book Rohit to speak at your next event.

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Rohit, You pose an interesting question. This Content Curator sounds like someone who might work with Grant McCracken's Chief Culture Officer (CCO). Or at the very least, I think a CCO would want/need a Content Curator.

Love your take. I've been using Chief Content Officer as the name for this for a few years, but it's the same concept (Chief Content Officer is my title).

It will be a big competitive advantage for those companies that have one. Understanding what your story is and where it's going is paramount (and how to share it) with the entire marketing plan - especially (as you say) moving forward.


I can't tell you how delighted I am to see someone else finally bringing this up. (And a bit nervous, as you get dangerously close to the title of a book I'm working on.) And it's amazing how many of the points I made in my recent application to the TED Fellows program (fingers crossed...) you hit here -- fantastic insight.

As a "content curator" myself, I'm seeing the evolution towards the legitimization of the discipline first-hand. More and more, publishers -- in the broadest sense of the word -- are seeing the value of content curators and many are outsourcing this to people who have established themselves as good ones across various social media. (A modest first-hand example: based on my curatory blog about creative culture and its Twitter outpost, I've been asked to write for BusinessWeek and Wired UK -- without ever seeking those opportunities out myself.)

I think you hit the nail on the head in saying it's about organizing and helping make sense of, rather than creating more, information -- but I think there's a bit more to it. Content curators are driving the evolution of storytelling -- which I think you allude to, indirectly, when bringing up brand communication, which has always been in the business of storytelling.

As more and more information becomes available to more and more of us, we become overwhelmed and paralyzed by this steady stream of input. There's a need, an urgency, for efficiently digesting all the "stuff" out there – making sense of the world by sifting the relevant and compelling from the noise, and doing it with maximum ease and minimal effort. This is where cultural curators come in -- curious and enlightened storytellers, human "filters" who exercise consistent editorial judgment in highlighting the ideas that most engage, inspire and matter. Powered by changing media, smart algorithms and constantly evolving technology, these new storytellers shape the way we relate to information, the world and one other.

One last but not least point: Content curators are also the antidote to "Digg mentality" where the same content gets regurgitated by a small group of vocal think-alikes, burying the often more engaging and compelling hidden gems. At the same time though, I think there's real value in the intersection of the two -- what I call "curaggregation." The idea that it's both about aggregating information and curating it, a funnel-shaped work-flow for the curator who implicitly has to aggregate and sift through a ton of information in order to really curate the best, most interesting and noteworthy of it.

Finally, we'll see this notion emerge more and more as journalism tries to redefine itself and readapt to this changing narrative. Whoever figures it out first will have a game-changing thing on their hands.

I was wondering if this is where technorati is going with their new "content hub" direction. Wrote about this a bit ago, but I love your spin. It's incredible how "free" turned to "efficient" turned to "you are what you put into it".

As social transitioned from technology to people, the power became your talent - which in a funny way it always was. Wrote about Technorati's direction and their need for human curators here -

Rohit, very few have discussed this issue in such a cogent manner. I believe a few are performing this function today without the formal title or clearly outlined objectives that you have noted. It is an important shift to move from popular or brand created messaging to valuable and relevant. In the current environment, great content is often missed because it fails to bang the gavel of the popularity meter.

Yes, opportunities are springing up for a variety of positions related to managing the flood of content on the Internet. Maybe a Content Curator could work alongside a Social Media Administrator to gather, sort through and organize the distribution of online content for businesses and individuals. After all, much of the content out there is being spread through social media, and someone has to coordinate and manage how its done. For that matter, how about adding copywriters, SEO specialists and editors to the team...?

Hello Rohit,
absolutely right on the mark.

You may enjoy knowing that I have tried to picture and even describe this role, as soon as the RSS wave, a few years back, hit me with its ocean of information.

And then I realized the importance of having someone making sense, selecting by hand, the most relevant news, stories and pointers on whatever sHe was an expert about.

At the time I labelled this role, the "newsmaster", and the output of his work "newsradar". The concept is very much in line with what you have here. And your name Content Curator is also very appropriate I think.

You may want to Google the word "newsmastering" or "what is a newsradar" to see whether we are on the same frequency or I am just singing my own song.



I agree it is key to retain the human aspect- a knowledgeable person who sifts through content to showcase the good stuff out there. I am also a curator and producer of short form moving image - but in the multiplatform sense, in that what is selected for online may also be used at film festivals, galleries and events, occasionally TV. Of course, not anybody can do this well and generate a large following, it helps when the Curator has established a trusted brand for themselves eg Mark Kermode, onedotzero, Flux. The role also has a whiff of 'magazine editor' about it, which of course is nothing new.
Aside from this, most people inadvertently act as mini-curators whenever they decide to post a link or video to their social networks to show their friends they have found some cool stuff.

Some interesting points here.

One thing I wonder though is if computers couldn't keep up with the doubling of the content on the Internet, how would humans ever keep up with organizing it? I think it's a nice idea but is a little farfetched. Either that or this would be done in a way where humans volunteered and everyone was involved in some way.

My other concern with this is the fact that many youth today feel that people in positions of power and authority - especially those holding information and controlling that information are untrustworthy. What then would make them trust a Content Curator?

I think this is a fascinating development.

Back in June at a conference, I remember listening to someone from Microsoft talk about the need for a brand curator. I think they were actively seeking such a role. They certainly questioned whether they needed editors as well as creatives.

Coca-Cola's CMO also recently stated that (and I quote)"its marketing will evolve into content management as part of more aggressive push into digital."

The role of content strategist is gaining ground in media, but as brands produce more content as part of a value exchange, they too will be requiring the curator role.

Interesting times...

Wow, thank you for getting so close to what I feel as a personal calling. Bookmarked. To counteract the risk of being seen as censorship as insinuated above, all curation acts should be respectful of the attempt to contribute and transparently logged.

In the days of popup-ads, I did one famous on-line intelligence test and earned the title of "Data Curator". Was never printed on a calling card, but part of what I am doing gets close. Does that count?


Thank you for your wonderful post. It resonated...

I curate an aggregator - - that focuses on health issues, humanitarian work and technology that supports both. Unlike most aggregators, which focus on what's new, what's popular or a narrow niche, TrackerNews' mixes things up every way it can. With a mission to foster multi-disciplinary and cross-disciplinary perspectives, the range of topics covered is both a point of pride and the point altogether (slide show:

TrackerNews is also little unusual in that stories are not organized by category, but grouped for contextual relevance (breaking news, research papers, blog posts, websites, book reviews, e-books - print, audio, video). Older material mixes with new, bringing a unique depth the an otherwise minimalist connect-the-dots-style of storytelling. (The oldest article linked on the site was an Atlantic magazine piece by Amory Lovins that 25 years ago predicted pirates off the coast of Africa holding oil ships for ransom).

Eventually, everything ends up in a searchable database. From the get-go, the focus has been on building something of more enduring utility than a just a collection of headlines. Personally, it doesn't matter to me whether only a handful of people click on an esoteric research paper included in a grouping, but rather in giving serendipity a boost. It's not always quantity but also quality of connection that can make a difference.

TrackerNews is still very much "v.1," but it's been a tremendously interesting learning curve. There is actually a great deal more going on behind the scenes .... More as there's more!

That is great. Thank you for sharing.

I've been aggregating a niche for a few years now too.

Do these count as business cards?

Adirondacks's on Delicious

The Adirondack Trailhead

Hi Rohit,

Thanks for the interesting post.

I wanted to add some thoughts.

I would argue that the mechanic of selecting/curating of what you think is valuable for your audience isn't new. Back in the day, I would trust recommendations from my favourite music writers or radio programmers to decide which CD I would buy.

However, as you say, this role is becoming more vital, because the 'digital media' have made the amount of available input explode.
Yet, it's also through these digital media that bloggers have been able to take up the role of 'curators' and publish their passion for a certain niche subject.

I would love to hear about examples from other areas (medical, astronomy,...) but I'd like to think that in the creative fields, content curating is fairly established.
To know what's the latest in creative culture, I simply follow Brainpickings, the brilliant blog by Maria Popova (who comments above). If I want to know what are the most interesting music videos around these days, I go to the Bug screenings in London. And to follow the latest trends in media, I rely on my list of 'trusted people' on Twitter (which in itself is an interesting way of socio-curating).

A question I would like to ask is how do you see content curating work within a corporate communications team, as you mention in your post?

While everybody is looking at creating content (e.g. Nike: "We don't do advertising any more. We just do cool stuff."), I can't see brands starting tv channels or blogs based on existing content. Who would watch "Coca Cola TV"? Would you care about "Sony Music Radio"? It wouldn't be authentic, would it?

Instead, could a solution be that brands attach their name to relevant content curators? Good curators save me time, which is 'added value' to me. And that should be one of the main things brands are looking for.

For instance, how would Maria feel if she got paid to put a banner on her website saying "made possible by Absolut Vodka". Happy to get paid for doing what she does anyway? Threatened?

Again, this is not a new mechanism. A few years ago I worked as a 'creative-director-slash-art-buyer' on a mobile content project. A consumer brand got together with a big media brand to develop a platform of funny, beautiful, interesting films that people could download onto their phones. For free.

It's an old word, but I guess you would call this 'sponsoring'.

But what IS new of course is that as a 'content curator' you don't need be a media company. You could be a hard-working, clever individual. And that's exciting.

At findingDulcinea, our tagline is “librarian of the Internet” – and we have reserved the URL “CuratorOfTheInternet” – we have long seen the need for someone to play this role. Studies we follow say that user satisfaction with search engines has plummeted from 75% to 52% in three years, and the recommendation services provide content a mile wide and an inch deep, and are fraught with conflicts. When we create content at findingDulcinea, much of our effort is invested in finding the best links on the Web that will provide full context to the story, and then weaving them together into a coherent theme. We’ve all read the articles asking whether search engines have made us stupid, by causing us to skim across the surface of the Web without ever fully understanding anything we read; curators are the antidote, and the need for them will become much more apparent as Internet users become continually more aware of just how poorly search engines serve them.

@Rick - Good point, as usual. Thanks for commenting!

@Joe - You're right, it's definitely related to the Chief Content Officer. The main point, I think, is to have someone that is focused on curating the content instead of creating it.

@Maria - I'm thrilled to hear about the book, and also glad that I didn't come so close to it that I ended up stepping on your toes! If you're looking for any early readers/endorsers, definitely let me know. You raise a great point about the "small group of vocal think-alikes" and how much of social news aggregations are fueled by that. This idea could indeed be the antidote to that effect, and that's a good thing.

@Jon - Great point and thanks for sharing your post!

@Karen - Good point about the popularity and transient nature of much of the content that people frequently point to. In the future, these curated collections of content may be the things that form the backbone of a company's internal intelligence network.

@Beth - You're right to raise the question of how this role fits in with other preexisting or emerging roles in companies as well. With a new role like this, the real question aside from getting someone into it is how you can relate it to the other things in an organization that a company already does.

@Robin - We're absolutely on the same page and I've made it to your site many times when looking at information about topics like this. Thanks for coming here and commenting - I'm honored!

@ClaireC - Excellent thoughts to compare this sort of role to one of a magazine editor. In some ways, the task could be seen as similar. What I found most interesting about your point is that if this role starts to emerge, then perhaps the rising importance of personal branding will be a parallel trend.

@K.J. - As I noted in my comment to ClaireC, the rising importance of personal branding may be one reason why people decide to trust someone who is curating content. The other level of this, I believe, is that people will gauge how to trust someone online the same way they do for anything else, from buying a product on eBay to reading a blog.

@Suzie - Thanks for sharing, that is indeed interesting about Microsoft seeking someone in that type of role and recognizing that it's an area to focus on. I think we will definitely start to see more examples like this of brands getting it right.

@CoCreatr - That is pretty close, but not quite there! Thanks for sharing the caution, though, about the potential for censorship or negative aspects in this role. I think the ethics of it would certainly be something that should be key if the role starts to become more popular.

@J.A. - Thanks for sharing the site. I'm not sure it's an example of the concept of content curation as I had meant it, per se, as it seems to be more automated than hand selected ... but I think that in the future we will need to get smarter about having BOTH of these methods working together.

@tourpro - This is a great example, thanks for sharing!

@Gerrie - You raise several great points in your comment and thanks for sharing it here. I'll start by answering the question you posed in your comment - namely, would a content channel sponsored and created by a brand be authentic? If you look at a concept like which was originally launched by Intel as a way to capture content on the web about PCs to help people choose, I think that was an interesting example. There are plenty of cases I could think of where it makes sense for a brand to be the one collecting information on a topic not because they are just trying to sell more widgets, but because owning a topic helps them. Owning the best online resource for everything about grilling would help Weber sell more grills, for example, but most of the content they would include wouldn't be about buying a grill, but about how to use one once you have it. I do agree with your last point on what is truly exciting about this role as well. Thanks again for commenting!

Rohit, I do this in my current job! Part of what I do, as a recruiting researcher, is to make sense of the social networking profiles, resumes, and bios of people on the internet. I collect this information and present it in neat little nuggets for recruiters to 'digest'. I also do this with our Facebook page - I source out relevant articles for our target audience and share them with our Fans. My previous title of Sourcing Strategist more aptly fits these actions - I strategically go out and source information that is going to be of interest to our recruiting team. I'm glad you brought light to this; lots of us have been doing this for years and there truly is a great value to be placed on someone who can effectively do this for a team.

This is an illuminating and visionary post.

Content is indeed king and parsing content most definitely sounds likea credible good job opening in the short to mid term.

Rohit, nice article and one among many I'm starting to see as a consensus builds about the value of aggregation, filtering, curation and discovery in the next generation of services for the web.

A great place to look for this is indeed Twitter; there are quite a number of people out there whose feed is primarily links to interesting/valuable content. While slightly self-serving (to reinforce the value of Alltop as a discovery and aggregation destination), Guy Kawasaki is doing a terrific job of curating and disseminating interesting content on a real-time basis.

I wonder though if this further devalues the original content and muddies up an already complicated value chain.

Love this idea! I blog about social media and how entrepreneurs can get in and use it effectively. I love the idea of going in that direction with my blog, as the next step on my journey, to make it a place where you can learn the how-to basics of social media, but to also interpret the new ideas that are coming all the time, and interpret them for the entrepreneur. This may not be exactly what you are talking about, but you've got my mind spinning in a new direction. Thanks!

very interesting post. always worth reading!

Nice piece! Can you point me to the source for "information on the Internet will double every 72 hours"?

denis pelli
professor of psychology and neural science
new york university

I think for the small business owner or the one person office, its the owner themselves. Like always in small operations, they handle it themselves.

Dr. Letitia Wright
The Wright Place TV Show

Christ! There's a recession on! Lots of media people are out of work! Newspaers are dying on the feet!

What can we do?

Hey...what if we persuaded big corporations who should know better to hire us all to surf the web all day and tell the rest of the world what they found?

Wow - YES! That's AMAZING! We can string everyone along without adding any value for YEARS before anyone notices!

Indeed. Heaven forbid we actually create content or (shudder) *make* anything. God no. We want to be paid handsomely for pointing at things other people did. Mostly half-arsed ephemera.

Friends: I think we've discovered The Future!

@Gerry Smits:

What a timely and relevant question about corporate curation. (And thank you for the kind words re: Brain Pickings.) I think sponsorships are part of the curation process.

It's crucial that curators only consider sponsorships from brands consistent with their own brand. On Brain Pickings, for example, I keep things really ad-light. I'm often approached by PR companies and advertisers, but turn most of them down as I really believe content curation, at its core, comes down to storytelling. And brand communication has always been about storytelling as well. Sponsorships are just the interweaving of stories – the content one and the brand one – and if that storytelling isn't consistent, it's no good.

So, I personally have a pretty firm policy for potential sponsors – only brands that I believe have similar ideals and/or utilitarian value to our readers as the Brain Pickings brand itself and the things we organically feature in our content. (Hence, you only see ads for things like TOMS Shoes, BackBlaze and a selection of cool design books on there.) I think if the curator him/herself can't stand behind the brand or product in good conscience (like I never would behind Absolut), then that relationship should never happen.

Obviously, nothing groundbreaking here – that's pretty common sense in theory – but unfortunately few publishers, especially across the smaller blogs, actually enforce it in practice.

@Gerrie Smits – sorry for butchering the spelling of your name! How embarrassing.


Great, insightful post. I'd also add that as we get closer to the doubling phenomenon you describe, we need to stop thinking of the content universe as just some vast ocean we drop everything into and pray it gets found by the right people.

Every company (every person) has existing relationships – clients, vendors, partners, colleagues, etc. – and these people are much more likely to pay attention to content that comes from people they already know and trust. Maintaining those relationships gets more and more important as the volume of good content continues to explode.

Thanks for the work you do,


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