content strategy

Content Curation versus Content Aggregation: A Velvet Mr. T Painting

Two posts brought to my attention the discussion starting to take root about the worlds of content aggregation versus content curation.

A post on the Poynter blog back in early October points to the work of journalists engaging in curation via Twitter as a way of “filtering the signal from the noise.” The phrase used was “curation is the new aggregation.”

A more recent post on the blog by Roger Hart delves more into the world of content curation in a broader sense, stating that it is a bit of a flavor-of-the-month. I would disagree with that sentiment, having discussed this for years.

My experience with curation is more specific.

Daily, and sometimes twice daily, it is my job to draw from a set pool of content, radio programs’ arts and entertainment segments, and publish them into a CMS with text and audio. There is even a daily podcast, my pride and joy, the PRI: Arts & Entertainment podcast.

Over the past few years, publishing content in this manner makes me a curator of sorts. Not an aggregator. And here is why.

Curation goes one step beyond aggregation by adding an active, ongoing editorial component.

Curation and aggregation are similar in but a few ways. They both want to take lots of content and put it in a place [framework, feed, database, etc.] and they both seek to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Most importantly, they both require a strategy. Why is this content being put together? Who will use it? How will they use it? Are they getting it somewhere else right now? What are the staffing impacts? What are the potential outcomes?

Imagine if the Minneapolis Institute of Art populated their museum based only on aggregation. The people in charge would have noted that the above velvet Mr. T metadata indicated it was a painting, an original, from the 20th century, and possibly placed it next to the Van Gogh or Mondrian. All automatically.

With aggregation the velvet Mr. T painting might end up in the Minneapolis Institute of Arts in a totally un-ironic or un-post-modern way.  Aggregation, why would you do that?

  • Aggregation is automated
  • Aggregation collects content based on criteria in the form of metadata or keywords
  • Criteria can be adjusted, but remain static otherwise
  • Follows a preset frequency of publishing [as available, weekly, etc.]

Sure, this scenario is unlikely to unfold, but I set it out there to illustrate the point: aggregation excludes the important, active, and ongoing editorial approval from the process of gathering content.

Aggregation has its place. It is easy to set and forget. It requires considerably less staff resources. With carefully selected criteria and sources, it may actually serve the purpose you seek.

There is much more to effective curation than putting similar stuff in a single place.

There are contextual cues that no amount of keywords or metadata can surface.  Sentiment, branding, and time frame issues: a raw aggregating apparatus is blind to them all. Not to mention the fact that the more open aggregation schemes can be gamed in all sorts of bad ways.

Aggregators may have curatorial aspirations. If they could have the same refined output as curation, they likely would. However, that would require more oversight, turning into something else: curation.

So. What does curation look like, then?

  • Curation is, in part, a manual task
  • Starts with sources to parse
  • Evaluates content individually based on established editorial criteria
  • Weights content based on context, current events, branding, sentiment, etc.
  • Publishes approved content on appropriate schedule

Again, both aggregation and curation can be bad ideas unless there is a workable content strategy in place.

For a good example of a great curatorial strategy, look no further than the true home of the velvet Mr. T, The Velveteria Museum in Portland, OR:

[velvet Mr. T image courtesy of Flickr user chwy (CC: by-nc-sa)]