I know it’s a bold claim, but when it comes to what people go through to consume good media these days, it is apparent that with

  1. a never ending supply of content,
  2. increased speeds of delivery, and
  3. new innovations consistently rolling out of the ever-turning engine (the internet),

it wouldn’t surprise me if some sort of user or consumer focused curation is the future of how we discover content.

Search will never be dead. People are still getting used to finding things on the internet. Knowing how to search is more of a learning curve than one might think. I know, for myself, I will try typing the same question in to Google 10 different ways if it doesn’t give me the answer I’m looking the first time.

Why do I do this?

Shouldn’t I give up and try a new resource or tool? I am spoiled rotten! There’s not even a slight change in behavior because I have convinced myself that, if I just keep changing the phrases slightly, this magic search engine will update the search results to show me what I need.

Search engines can only provide us with the answers to the questions that we ask. Recommendation engines, AI and other consuming machines haven’t gotten SO good that we can rely on them to find everything we need. Much less predict our behavior prior to needing it.

I’m not saying it won’t get there. I’m simply pointing out the fact that there is a long way to go before these hypothetical tools catch up to where our Sci-Fi imaginations have set the standard.

I think most of you probably have already thought about this.

Lets take a different path.

Advertising is one of the most intrusive forms of media out there. Someone is paying to be put into your brain via billboard, beer coaster, or the label on the bags you use to pick up your dog’s shit. However, advertising also introduces people to new options they may have not known about previously. It gives them ideas about future items they did not think about. This could be as innocent as an unsolicited email from a banker warning about your financial ruin when the government can’t pay back it’s debt, the baby-boomers retire and no one can cash out their social security fund…

Anyway, advertising can be helpful. It gives you ideas.

It sparks conversation about what’s important. Hell, it becomes part of culture in some instances. There’s probably some conspiracy theory about “evil corporations” introducing half of our American holidays and traditions in order to sell more.

Advertising, Sales, Branding…

These are all very important parts of any business. Until you’ve run a business or seen how one works from the start, it’s hard to appreciate these facets as the mechanical pieces critical to longevity and product market fit.

The problem with Advertising

Is that it is handled most often, very poorly. By that I mean it is made for the wrong people and at the wrong time. Products and services which need to be with Group A are advertised to Group B. Cue the questions, “Why the fuck did Grandma get a mail coupon for 20% off shopping at the local skate shop?”

“When Coca-Cola entered the China market, they named their product something that when pronounced, sounded like, ‘Coca-Cola’. The only problem was that the characters used meant ‘Bite the Wax Tadpole’. When they learned of their blunder, they later changed to a set of characters that mean ‘Happiness in the Mouth'”. – Source

We’ll come back to this.

The Future and “Big Data”

The often referred to ‘big data’ will permeate everything, all the time, everywhere. This creature of the night, this unknown, will follow you like your own digital shadow. For example, when augmented reality becomes more prevalent, you will see a little notification popup on your headwear letting you know, “The store you are about to walk into contains cookies. To accept, continue walking” just as it would if you had visited a website these days. Just take a look at this example:

Bottom line, assume that companies, somewhere will have data. Very good data on humans.

Behavioral psychologists want to understand human behavior too. They just do not have the profit motive that a corporation might have to do this. This intersection is a very lucrative intersection.

Imagine a world where the next Sergey Brin and Larry Page of that generation find a way to merge your data with all the information out there. This data is real time and it knows you better than you do. In this world this machine knows you have been feeling sick lately because of the cell-sized micro-bot swimming around in your veins. It knows that last time you saw your mom you were sad because you had a slight brain chemical imbalance. It also knows she is supposed to visit you on Saturday. Since your symptoms and the timing of this future event overlap – imagine for a second – this tool buzzes on your wrist. You look a the screen and it says, “Hey dude, do you want me to script a text to your mom to let her know you can’t see her Saturday? You have a calendar event scheduled with her and you’re not feeling well.”

Then you say, “Dude! That’s creepy as fuck.”

Then it says, “At least I will let you approve it first.”

You think, “Let?”

(Cue Elon Musk starting the countdown to a solo, one-way mission to mars… 3.. 2.. 1..)

I kid.

But only slightly…

Even if you’re against intrusive data probing you are probably ALL FOR easier access to information.

Okay we’ve covered some advertising. We’ve covered some big data. And we’ve covered the intro to augmented reality and the internet of things.

Lets take another turn.

Curated content. What do you think of when you hear that word? I think of a museum or an art gallery curator who has a blog for his dog. What does this have to do with search? Well, gosh darn it let me tell you.

I’ll put the Smithsonian Institution on the spot here (actually have to admit this looks like a fun job).

Look at how the description says “acquisition priority plan” and “building the collection”. Lets back out of this narrow context and think about what that means. Whether it’s a person or a few lines of code. A curator acquires, sets priority and builds collection. Sounds easy right?

Lets take a look at some of the current efforts of web-based, AI-powered curation.

Facebook Trends:
curated content on facebook trends

Facebook trends is pretty good, because it does do a good job of showing you collection of content that’s interesting and relevant to you. But, you can tell they applied some filters so that not just every popular topic shows up here. In fact, you can read more in-depth on how it works, but here’s a summary.

“Trending shows you topics that have recently become popular on Facebook. Trending topics are based on factors including engagement, timelines, Pages you’ve liked and your location. Our team is responsible for reviewing trending topics to ensure that they reflect real world events.” – Source

Their team reviews the content… Well, who knows what percent of it actually has to be manually approved before it’s put into that list.

I think our traditional definition of curation leaves out an important part of our consumer culture. This Wall Street Journal article says blatantly right in the opening line, “Twitter wants users to discover the best content”. This is probably obvious for anyone who understands that Twitter started as a place where people who used to bitch in long-form on Facebook or MySpace, were reduced to 140 characters. Now Twitter has now revealed they have higher goals. Those goals, according to this article are “…part of Twitter’s ongoing effort to help users find timely and interesting tweets”. In essence, it wants to be a discovery tool.

So our curator’s job just started making a lot more sense in the context of the hyper-consumption oriented, information hungry, prime-free-shipping buying millennial who just wants to know if he should learn angular or just use WordPress with Bootstrap for his side project to brand the bags your dog shits in.

Discovery is…

when you’re curator’s new job looks more like counting emptiness and filling that emptiness with something valuable. But, also something a little more…

Add to the newer definition of curation to also being a discovery tool as well as a high quality collection of “stuff” and it starts to blur the line between advertising and something like an art gallery. Or, maybe, for a better example, a college’s museum archive.

The idea of advertising, which is inducing a need for a product and service, starts to seep into the existence of businesses, like Twitter’s brand identity which is supposed to be perceived as user generated content. With a decay rate the lifespan of a tweet, there has to be another way to feed that ever-hungry consumer who uses this ‘free’ platform.

The position of a company like twitter has to switch from purely being an entertainment center, but now, also a place for important cultural updates. Hurricane emergencies, sports reports, political discussion.. It’s doing what a 24 hour news channel does. Twitter is no longer sitting by, letting you spend your time digging through tweets and starting conversations when you want. They are pushing “trending topics”. They are curating the most interesting topics to the masses with some sort of filter that helps them ensure the priority is right, creating a collection of these topics and, THEN, inducing a need for that information by presenting it to everyone forcefully on the dashboard of their site.

twitters trending topics curated content

To sum it up, the new definition of curation is: to acquire, prioritize, present collection and induce-discovery of a particular set of ideas, materials, archives, art or other mediums of information and education.

Advertising can be forceful, aggressive and demanding, because we accept that as part of the definition. When we see a car commercial, we know it’s an ad. We realize that this is not the end-all, be-all of cars. It’s a biased author pushing their version of “best car”. Curators can have profit motive and bias just like a car manufacturer. You might see this in a Kelly Blue Book or something similar. Giving you information about cars that is strictly unbiased.

With people having access to the most information at one time, instantly, for the first time in human history, the consumer search has changed the way advertisers have to think about persuading people to buy stuff. People are now judging once-unchallenged placement of products within our lives and expecting these to be tailored to keep up with innovation. For example, the on-demand nature of pretty much every TV show now, is a drastic switch in consumer mindset that evolved with the curation and presentation of on-demand shows in a collection of quality programing at your finger tips.. Hulu, Netflix, Youtube, etc…

Netflix maybe one of the best examples here because of their pivot from strictly mailed dvd’s to online streaming after the success of Youtube and the authors there who grew a large following and became their own success stories.

I wanted to point out some of the types of advertising and curators out there in order to help explain my point. But it’s hard to point to one curated source and say it’s simply motived by ‘the art of curation’, rather the motivations are usually positioned somewhere within the quality of discovered information and products or services for profit. Where non-profit archivists in education centers, for example, do not benefit from changing their motivations from non-aggressive to aggressive.

The point is that this mindset of curation as a service just means that it not only shortens the distance between what we consider advertising or biased content and unbiased content. At least in a general sense.

So IS curation the future of search? Well, imagine Google was a collection of content that users rate or pick as “the best”. My opinion? You already vote for articles. You already tell Google what you prefer. You just may not have any clue you are doing it. Curated content is already here. Every search result page is a reflection of a search engines best attempt to provide you the solution to what you are looking for. Just read this post and start on #128 under “user interaction”.

Like I stated at the beginning, Google is still a search tool not necessarily a curation tool. It uses clues to make the discovery process better, but it isn’t a pure curation platform yet.

For a better demonstration, check out Product Hunt or Reddit. These are paving the way as curation engines. I won’t go into their business models right now, but play around on either of them and their unapologetic up-vote system and you will see the benefits of what we mean by curated.

There is still a missing piece to these sites. They do not purely induce discovery by finding users to connect with the information rather than the other way around.

What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments below.