Is human curation underrated?
Is human curation underrated? There are, of course, limits to the real value of information gained solely by one's social network. That was the implication in last week's announcement by Digg that it will be adding a breaking news feature to highlight stories of interest to their readers that aren't getting pushed to the front page of the community-powered news aggregation site.
The involvement of staff curators introduces a measure of human involvement to the process and should benefit reputable brands and publications. Human curators are probably more likely to gravitate toward that value in a story from a respected publication. Digg, which relies on submission and recommendation of stories using a promotional algorithm, has undergone many updates over the years. The introduction of staff editors upgrading trending stories to the front page is a novel attempt to turn around the company's fortunes, and to differentiate it from Reddit, which has stolen quite a bit of Digg's thunder (and traffic) after staging a mini-rebellion against Conde Nast which occured almost simultaneously with Digg's badly executed redesign.
It all started going sideways with the Digg v. 4 revamp this past September. In only three months -- but what a long three months it has been -- Digg has become the textbook example of what not to do to with regard to a company's social media reputation. There was the staff cut of 37%. Last week Forbes reported that a marketing firm brazenly admitted to Digg manipulation (which certainly cannot help an already rocky reputation). Finally, the recent departure of two high-profile Digg executives, CRO Chas Edwards and CFO John Moffett.
Human powered curation could be perceived as a lurch toward respectability. In the old days, of course, professional editors at newspapers and magazines diligently chose -- arguably -- the best and most relevant news stories (there were always lingering doubts about liberal media bias). Nowadays, however, we are all editors within the framework of our own social networks (Flipboard literally embodies that statement).
But just because we are all editors to some degree in this new digital era doesn't make all editorial efforts equal. A lot of the trust that was once reserved for legacy media gatekeepers has migrated to friends and followers. That is the dominant social (media) reality, but is that a good thing? Politically, echo chambers right and left provide unedifying online linkbait; entertainment-wise, unsubstantiated gossip prevails.
The question arises: what about the trust and authority that comes with the human-powered manual curation from an established publishing brand?
Are promotional algorithms overrated? While this new media ethos has also introduced more "mathy" considerations -- namely, promotional algorithms on news aggregator sites -- that also bypass professional editors, we do appear to be in a genuine "human curation moment." First there was Digg's announcement, and now even Gawker, infamous for chasing page views at all costs, acknowledged last week that there are editorial considerations that go beyond calculations to attract eyeballs (!). Simon Owens of TheNextWeb, who interviewed Gawker's Editor in Chief Remy Stern, writes:
... Gawker will sometimes pay for a story that wouldn't be considered a huge traffic driver because 'it is important to our audience,' meaning its also focused on long-time retention of current readers.
Digg's move toward greater human involvement follows that "it is important to our audience" argument. This is more than just altruism. Guaranteeing a space for intelligent -- or at least interesting -- news on Digg is a smart long-term move, enhancing reputation.
Actually, Digg's human curation plus community-powered aggregation mix combines the best of both worlds, curbing the occasional excesses of social aggregation. It remains to be seen whether such a move will improve Digg's damaged brand reputation. That said, it will be interesting to see just how much influence the staff picks have on Digg compared to those influenced by their algorithm.