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Content Curators

Tech meets taste

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FEELING CONTENT: (left) BoingBoing and Brainpickings (bottom) cull content around a theme of cultural significance

Deluged by information on the net? A new breed of content curators promise to bring the best of the web to you

Maria Popova is an internet celebrity. Not a celebrity the way PSY or or Marina Orlova (the cunning linguist ) is, but a celebrity, nevertheless. Her website brainpickings receives half a million visitors a month. Her Twitter feed has more than a quarter of a million followers and 150, 000 people subscribe to her newsletter. Over the course of the last year, she has been the subject of several fawning interviews and profiles.

Popova is the most famous among a new breed of content curators on the internet. As she says, "... curation online is premised on the idea that a curator with a point of view culls content around a theme that he or she deems of cultural significance. " Curation is not just a question of finding interesting content. It is a process of filtration, of arrangement and organisation of that content, presenting information on a specific topic that encapsulates available information and provides the links to further information on that topic.

The word curator derives from the Latin curare - taking care. In the traditional artistic context - a curator was the person responsible for selection and organization of works of art, usually around a specific idea. Curation requires a high degree of education - usually a PhD in art history or archaeology or anthropology. On the web, the same principal applies, but the entry barriers are much lower. The term itself has become much more flexible, with "curated" being applied as an adjective to a variety of things - from computing to consumption. Social media curates the web. Music blogs have become music curators, taking the place of music critics.

Pawan Deshpande is the CEO of Curata, a company that specialises in solutions for curating content for organisations. He says that with the advent of Pinterest and other consumer oriented companies, content curation has gone mainstream - and corporate. "( A) vast majority (of surveyed marketers ) are utilising content curation as a key component of their content marketing strategy, " he says. Deshpande highlights the factors driving the growth of curation, the most important being the sheer difficulty of finding quality information in the glut of content online.

Despite the jargonification and corporatisation, curation remains a deeply personal undertaking. "The art of curation isn't about the individual pieces of content, but about how these pieces fit together, what story they tell by being placed next to each other, and what statement the context they create makes about culture and the world at large, " says Popova.

But there are those who take exception to the words "curating" and "curation" to describe what these websites do. Gossip website Gawker. com skewered Popova by calling Brain Pickings "a place where one can find a splattering of posts that intend to inspire said reader with a bunch of quotes from old books and vintage pictures" and "It's like Buzzfeed, but boring. " "' Curation' is an act performed by people with PhDs in art history;the business in which we're all engaged when we're tossing links around on the Internet is simple "sharing". And some of us are very good at that! (At least if we accept 'very good' to mean 'has a large audience' ) says Matt Langer, a New Yorkbased writer. Langer argues that most people who call themselves 'curators' (or are called curators) on the web seldom provide any value over and above personal preference. "Regardless of how special one might feel about the highly cultivated state of his or her tastes there is no threshold of how many other people are eager to be on the receiving end of whatever it is we're sharing that somehow magically transforms this act into curation, " he says.

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