Curation: The end of content aggregation as we know it
When it comes to the problems plaguing digital publishers, a museum is the last place one would think to look for solutions.
However, there is a growing movement asserting that journalists and museum curators have more in common than meets the eye. After all, museum curators, like journalists, are often tasked with condensing complicated subjects into easily digestible and enjoyable exhibits.
“Curation in modern museums is really geared toward the audience,” says Mindy McAdams, an online journalism professor at the University of Florida. “It allows the visitor to select what they are interested in. In a museum we have a lot of freedom with how we view the display – it’s up to us and our interest level.”
As Google and others have pioneered broad-based aggregation of content – taking a big bite out of media site traffic in the process – we’re now seeing some movement toward services for publishers that help web users wade through all the sources of information to find what’s most relevant to them.
McAdams is one of the voices calling for the end of aggregation as we know it. Content curation presents an opportunity for media sites to win some of the audience they have ceded to content aggregators.
In an age where anyone can be a publisher, it is now up to the editor to curate the best of the massive amounts of content now available in a way that is easily digestible. The role of the journalist is much like a museum curator whittling down, say, 19th century Neo-Classicism, into a single, walkable hallway.
“Aggregation is just bringing stuff together, just collecting stuff and laying it out there. We used to do that more in the old days,” says McAdams.
Sitting firmly at the crossroads of this discussion is outside.in, a company whose unofficial motto is “aggregate, curate and network.” The hyperlocal service compiles over 30,000 news feeds and adds geotags to them, allowing clients to enter in a location and get the news that is happening around them.
“We believe the ideal way to provide locally aggregated data is not just through a fire hose of content,” says Camilla Cho, vice president of business development at the company.
outside.in is one of the next generation content services that doesn’t create content. As is the case with Google News, Twitter and Facebook, outside.in presents publishers with every piece of content it aggregates. The difference: outside.in offers curation tools to help publishers make sense of that data and present it in a more relevant context. The company allows local publications to pick the ZIP codes it wants to receive (or exclude) feeds from and allows publishers to filter based on a variety of variables.
“Aggregation is not as valuable to [the reader] unless you can provide curation on top of aggregation," says Cho.
Presenting endless volumes of content is no longer the defining characteristic of a good digital publisher. Instead, the core competency must shift to presenting the most relevant information.
A restaurant reviewer may have been made obsolete by a service like Yelp. But take that same reviewer and ask her to compile a list of the best restaurants in the city and the reviewer will be more likely to place each restaurant in context with the next than the average Yelp user (which, may explain why the average Yelp review is four stars).
“For most local issues,” says McAdams, “you have these ongoing stories and in our old sense of newspapers, you always had this sense that everything starts over every morning.”
But now, thanks to the staying power of the online medium, publishers can organize their stories along with third-party sources of information into a larger picture, allowing their audience to make sense of complicated issues like healthcare.
“You build stories in a curated way so that people that already know the past can just slide in,” says McAdams. And people that don’t know the past can “catch up” using archival information.
The reuse of existing content to support new editorial is what McAdams thinks can justify the practice to those with an eye on the budget. While curation is more labor-intensive at first, packaging articles in context with previous content can increase page views on material that would have previously been relegated to your site’s archives.
“Now, you don’t have to go to the library or the researcher to dig out the hundred articles from the past ten years,” says McAdams. “If you have been connecting the dots all along, it wouldn’t be that much work to write a new story.”
And, because most people enter a news site through its article pages, a properly curated article can lead visitors to continue clicking around your site. Search engine users often have little allegiance to specific brands but are much more likely to be interested in the topic they searched in Google.
Sites like the BBC often pepper article pages with selected links so users can continue exploring the topic they reached via search engine.
“Every page should be your homepage,” says McAdams.