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Thinking about democratised curation

I was invited to participate in a panel at the Google Zeitgeist event in the UK last month; it was a real privilege, it gave me the chance to listen to many good speakers, watch some fascinating demos and meet a whole bunch of people who challenged my thinking. Thank you Google, particularly Nikesh Arora, as well as the team led by Dan Cobley.

As with any conference where good things are said, I walked away with a litany of soundbites, some of which I tweeted live. But there was one that I did not tweet, one that I’ve had reason to continue to ponder, one that forms the kernel of this post. Eric Schmidt, Google CEO, had this to say (to be found at 19:48 in this video):

“…. the statistic that we have been using is between the dawn of civilisation and 2003, five exabytes of information were created. In the last two days, five exabytes of information have been created, and that rate is accelerating. And virtually all of that is what we call user-generated what-have-you. So this is a very, very big new phenomenon.”

It’s important to understand scale. As a child I had some real difficulty visualising the size of an atom. Until I read a book that said something like “if you take the carbon atoms contained in just one full stop on this printed page and laid them out end to end in a straight line,  that line would extend from the earth to the sun and beyond”. So, while I knew that the amount of information being produced was accelerating, and that too at an increasing rate, I didn’t really have an appreciation of the scale. Now I do, and I’m grateful to Eric Schmidt for that.

What it made me do was think. Think about why there’d been a quantum shift in scale. And the answers that came to me were predictable and simple: the tools for creating information had really become democratised, and as a result the number of people empowered to “create information” had grown in multiple orders of magnitude. With no sign of Moore’s Law coming to a screeching halt for at least another 20 years, it is reasonable to suppose that the phenomenon will continue.

And continue it will. Because the changes don’t stop there. It’s not just the tools for creating information that have been democratised, the tools for distributing it have been democratised as well. As Kevin Kelly kept reminding us, the internet is a very efficient copy machine.

If that wasn’t enough, the tools for consuming information have also been democratised, initially by the PC, then by the mobile phone, then by broadband and wireless broadband, and now by the convergence of all of these, the smartphone and tablet.

Production, distribution and consumption of all forms of digital information: text, music, image, video: have all been democratised. So why should the curation of these be any different?

Digital curation seems to be a richer form of curation than its analog equivalent. Here’s what I think it consists of:

  • Authenticity
  • Veracity
  • Access
  • Relevance
  • Consume-ability
  • Produce-ability

Let me try and explain a little further.

  • Authenticity: Confirming the provenance of the item, that it was created by the person or persons claimed. That the person credited wrote the book or article. That the singer or band sang the song. That the actor or director made the movie. And so on and so forth. Traditional media sources were quite used to doing this, and should be able to continue to do this.
  • Veracity: Confirming the “truth” of the item, in the sense of the “facts” represented. That the news item has been verified. That the photograph hasn’t been doctored. That the voice hasn’t been dubbed. You know what I mean. Again, something that traditional media are quite used to doing, something they should continue to do.
  • Access: Andrew Savikas, in an article in O’Reilly TOC some  time ago, mooted the idea of Content As  A Service. My takeaway from it was simple. People do not pay for the “content” of a song or clip on iTunes as much as they pay for the convenience of getting to the item quickly and with a minimum of fuss. One could argue that traditional media had a role to make it simple and convenient for us to consume analog content, and that they will be able to adjust to the new world accordingly.
  • Relevance: Now it gets a little more interesting, touching on interests and aspirations, on preferences and profiling. Something that the analog world was poor at, something that traditional media didn’t really take up in the digital world. Can be done in many ways, some involving technology, some involving humans. And some involving both. Ad-based relevance is becoming harder and harder to sustain; curation via social networks seems to work, and to work well.
  • Consume-ability: This covers a whole shopping-trolley of concepts right now, and I’m going to have to work on it. I use it to mean device-agnostic availability of the digital content, so that I don’t have to use an iPod to listen to music from iTunes. I use it to mean ease of comprehension, whether through the use of visualisation tools like heatmaps or wordles or tag clouds or charts or whatever. I use it to mean tools to simplify (and sometimes even enrich) the content, via translation, via summarising, via hyperlinks, via mashups (especially those that add location or time contexts). I use it to mean the use of tools like Layar and Retroscope. [Incidentally, I plug these technologies completely unashamedly. Both Maarten and Chris are friends, but that's not why I blog about them. I blog about them because they're brilliant!]
  • Produce-ability: We’ve only just begun to appreciate a return to the Maker culture, something that people like Tim O’Reilly, Dale Dougherty, Cory Doctorow, Larry Lessig et al have been yelling about for some time now. The industrial-revolution-meets-central-broadcast woolly mammoth of the last 150 years seems incapable of recognising the significance of the small mammals currently underfoot. So that model is destined to go the way of all mammoths. Soon we will look at things in terms of how easy they are to get under the hood of, how easy they are to adapt, mutate, mangle, make something completely new out of. Which is why the rules of engagement will change. Intellectual property rights will be recast. Yes, will. There is no longer a choice, just the illusion of time. It is over. Period.

Production, consumption and distribution of information have already been democratised. There’s no turning back. Curation will go that way. Which means that the very concept of the expert, the professional, the editor, the moderator of all that is great and good, changes.

And yes, we have to consider whether the internet makes us smart. Whether the internet makes us smarter.

The emphasis should be on us. Us.

[It's one a.m. now and I'm tuckered out. Time to publish and, if necessary, be damned. Let me know what you think. There's a lot more where this came from, but I want to know if you're interested before I share it.]

Posted in Four pillars .


41 Responses

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  1. MADinMelbourne says

    Information – a daily vitamin pill to consume, and digest, there is quantum physical evidence pointing to information shaping the way society thinks therefore behaves. YES, the emphasis absolutely is on US, so YES I'm interested in learning more – if it is the subject of our time, then give it space to be explored by a multitude of different thoughts aka BRING IT ON!

  2. Theodore Taptiklis says

    What about timeliness? As in just-in-timeliness? More than simply relevance, but the-thing-I'm-ready-for-right-now? This is much more than the idea of relevance in search – because in search I know what I'm looking for – or at least have some clues.

    The new horizon, one that digital media will help us reach towards, is to link us to our unvoiced concerns and interests – the ones that are just below the surface, that we will know as soon as we see, but could not articulate in advance. And we will recognise these not in the form of abstract ideas, but as immersive glimpses of other people's experiences. In this form they will manifest the other attributes you list – especially authenticity, veracity, consumability and produceability.

  3. Swaroop says

    The only way I think digital curation could work is the Linux model – there's a point-person for each subsystem and all the patches go to them, and they are the first-level filter, only then the top guy Linus pulls it in and makes it part of the official distribution.

    Without such a hierarchy, how can digital curation work? And how is that hierarchy decided…

  4. Tony says

    Margaret Cavendish's writings in the 1660s against Robert Hooke and the British Royal Society's utopian overreaching claims of what the microscope could achieve seem apropos here. We've had to deal with a world of inchoate and overwhelming density of information ever since the microscope.

    We've seen 350 years of further development since then. A new elite of specialists, masters of microscopic info, i.e., doctors, chemists and physicists, arose: a semi-deified new expert class, with Royal Society-like journals and proceedings. And waves of democratizing programs of education happened, so the norm in the US, for instance, was for every student to be able to peer down the tube of a microscope as a part of a high school education.

    I guess that's the pessimistic view. On the other side, that period of the late 1600s also led to Spinoza, the father of the modern post-French-Revolution Enlightenment. Spinoza grinded microscope lenses for money, and his writings spread like a virus.

  5. Aseem says

    As Eric left you so have you left me.

    I look forward to reading your next post on my Nexus One

    On Google devayaha namaha

  6. Nicol says

    Democratisation is a tricky concept with regards curation.

    Before Digg came along I dreamt of a 'newspaper written by its readers, a front page editorialized by algorithms in response to popularity and ratings'. But in reality it was a democratic slice of one group of people's interests – it was in no way a reflection of the world at large. Indeed, anything online can never be truly democratic for as long as one in six adults in the UK – and far more worldwide – are not connected – and no service has true ubiquity.

    When it comes to watching vids online I'd like to subscribed to the YouTube playlists of film festival curators, the spotify lists of my favouriate DJs – and of course there should be no establishment barriers for anyone to be such a curator or DJ.. if they have the talent and the taste I want to follow them. But it still revolves around my notion of the expert – the more films they've seen and can reference the greater the likelihood I will agree with their choices, I'd imagine (maybe not!).

    This is why I prefer Twitter to Digg. Anyone can be an expert and I chose who I follow, but I gravitate towards those who know what they're talking about, like yourself!

  7. Ms. Rubio says

    I agree.

  8. jobsworth says

    Dale, oddly enough I'm writing a book on information seen in the context of food. Will let you know when I finish it. Soon.

  9. jobsworth says

    Ted, nice to hear from you. Time and place are definitely important, I thought I'd brought them into consume-ability. One way or the other I will deal with timeliness when unpacking the concepts in the follow-up posts.

  10. jobsworth says

    Swaroop, all community-based approaches need their 1000lb gorilla, their moderator, their core. The key is to keep everything as flat as possible, avoid unnecessary hierarchy.

  11. jobsworth says

    Tony, “expert classes” have been deifying themselves since the year dot. I think the difference is that today expertise will lie more in the orchestration of curation than in creation or curation per se.

  12. jobsworth says

    @aseem thanks for the comments, hope I lived up to your expectations

  13. jobsworth says

    Nicol, we're moving to a place where I cannot be an “expert” unless you choose to make me one. More importantly, it is a place where you can change your mind. That will help keep the very concept of expertise inclusive and honest.

  14. jobsworth says

    Ms Rubio, thanks!

  15. MADinMelbourne says

    It's actually, really NOT odd… it's actually really factual (according to who you believe) glad to hear somebody else relates to information/communication as nourishment.

  16. MADinMelbourne says

    There are also rotating heirarchies, where people agree to be accountable for an area or domain for a specific length of time (ie one quarter or one year), then debrief the experience and hand it over to the next person. Anything is possible when agreement is met structures can be approached from a creative context… ones that provide workability for all people involved – end user included. It's purely a matter of CREATION and INVENTION from an aligned community as to how that structure functions.

  17. jobsworth says

    BTW I love the layout of your blog. Was it done by someone local to you? Is there a way to reuse the theme?

  18. dgbdgb says

    I'm definitely interested in more about this area. I'd tentatively add 'open' or 'divisibility' – if the content is a large item, how possible is it to consume an element of the item – for example in the case of a film, is it possible to reuse a character in the film in something that you create (assuming that the item owner allows or sells this functionality).

  19. MADinMelbourne says

    WOW thank you, I downloaded the site from http://www.spaceperson.net/ and did the header myself with a font I've created. Very happy to hear somebody likes it I've been fiddling around with drupal and wordpress for around a month now to finally find this – it was a relief to find this beautiful layout.

  20. Nicol says

    Indeed. Perhaps we're already there. I follow you on Twitter (at Chris Locke's recommendation), where you curate your view of the web with blogs, links and comments. Unless you suddenly start evangelizing about how .NET is the future and Sarah Palin would make a great prez, your expert crown is held intact :)

  21. Matt Edgar says

    Fascinating post, as ever. I'd love to know the basis for the “five exabytes” statistic. Surely in assessing the amount of “information” in a pre-digital world some value judgements are being made.

    How, for instance do you evaluate a medieval manuscript? It's transcription into ASCII or Unicode may be a fraction of one laughing baby video but I'm not sure the comparison is very meaningful.

    And what of all the other artefacts created by our ancestors? The warp and weft of their handmade clothes made unique pixellated patterns, while our machine-produced chainstore garments would be easily de-duped prior to archiving.

    It's really exciting to live in the 21st Century but breathtakingly arrogant to portray our ancestors as information poor.

  22. ste5eu says

    Great stuff, I've only recently started reading your blog and I can't wait to read more.

    I agree with your views on curation being distributed, it's already here. I would say that anyone reading blogs and posting only relevant details onwards is doing exactly that. However how do we choose who to listen to? Will the masses decide?

    “The emphasis should be on us” – to get smarter? To use the Internet more effectively? To curate the content that we publish, or that of others?

  23. Nick Smith says

    Thanks JP – should have read this one before charging into the bundling one. Still pondering, but definitely interesting.

  24. Ben Mason says

    Your post on bundling is excellent. Thanks. But I wanted to pick up the Schmidt quote with you. Did you take 'information created' as meaning information recorded? That's what I'm assuming. Because a lot more information must have been created and passed around verbally, since the dawn of time.

    And maybe that's the point in all this. We're concerned about the amount of information being recorded because it used to be expensive to record and transport information. So we treated recorded information as precious. But now it's cheap to record and transport information so we use it for conversation, for small talk, for information that will never ever be revisited.

    So – getting back to curation – if the past (pre-broadcast) is anything to go by, then maybe the provenance of the information will dominate all curation. ie. we'll have our information mostly curated by trust networks (friends, family, trusted social media network). We'll listen to our 'friends' (albeit many more than previously) as number one source.

  25. Ben Mason says

    Your post on bundling is excellent. Thanks. But I wanted to pick up the Schmidt quote with you. Did you take 'information created' as meaning information recorded? That's what I'm assuming. Because a lot more information must have been created and passed around verbally, since the dawn of time.

    And maybe that's the point in all this. We're concerned about the amount of information being recorded because it used to be expensive to record and transport information. So we treated recorded information as precious. But now it's cheap to record and transport information so we use it for conversation, for small talk, for information that will never ever be revisited.

    So – getting back to curation – if the past (pre-broadcast) is anything to go by, then maybe the provenance of the information will dominate all curation. ie. we'll have our information mostly curated by trust networks (friends, family, trusted social media network). We'll listen to our 'friends' (albeit many more than previously) as number one source.

  26. jobsworth says

    @nicol, Recommended by RageBoy is an excellent example of social curation :-)

  27. jobsworth says

    @Matt, fair point. We need to dig more into the basis for the five exabytes. I guess it got past my smell checks and sanity tests, but that may have been because of my anchors and frames, my conditioning. Mea culpa. There is one aspect I think you're misinterpreting. We're talking about quantity of data, not quality, in the first instance. More people, more tools, more time. Quality comes from the ability to augment that data. So there was no breathtaking arrogance intended or imputable.

  28. jobsworth says

    @steve, we will have different curators with different skills. some will even create content themselves. getting important links to bubble up is an important skill in itself.

  29. jobsworth says

    @nick thanks.

  30. jobsworth says

    @ben Yes I did mean information that had been persisted, “recorded”. And my friends have already become my prime source of information, via their active AND passive curation

  31. Matt says

    Great post JP, thought provoking & insightful on the meta-levels. We're obviously thinking a lot about Curation at Layar (thx for the plug!) as a whole new medium is emerging. How far can Curation be democratised, before it becomes regular Communication? Doesn't a good curator have both access to a stream of content, and the value judgement to endorse the good stuff? value judgements are by definition judgmental (my taste is better than yours). You're a curator of music, but are you a good one or just a communicator of what you like? Am I? Is Rolling Stone? Why should anyone care what anyone else communicates? Trying to implement a solution to an emerging meta-social problem is hard, but fun…. thanks again for communicating (and Curating) your ideas

  32. Kerry NZ says

    Fascinating, but how much of the increase in scale is replication vs a growth in distinct information (if there is such a thing – and does the distinction matter?)

Continuing the Discussion

  1. On the internet, sometimes people *do* know you’re a dog – confused of calcutta linked to this post on June 6, 2010

    [...] Yesterday I wrote about the democratisation of production, distribution and consumption of digital information (I still find it extremely hard to use the word “content”, it makes me anything but content). The conclusion I was trying to get to was this: at the rate information was being produced, it would not be possible to curate it without asking for the help of the people producing the stuff in the first place. [...]

  2. BookBlog » Blog Archive » Conversation curation - Adina Levin's weblog. For conversation about books I've been reading, social software, and other stuff too. linked to this post on June 7, 2010

    [...] a couple of good posts, JP Rangaswami reflects on the need and opportunity for democratized curation. He cites Google CEO Eric Schmidt quantifying the incredible amount of information on the [...]

  3. Transmedia storytelling, new journalism & digital curation « Perfect Path linked to this post on June 7, 2010

    [...] over the weekend, JP has written two important posts about digital curation. The second of which in particular deals with curation in the age of [...]

  4. Fact-checking the information exa-ggeration « matt.me63.com – Matt Edgar linked to this post on June 7, 2010

    [...] statistic prompted this reverie from the inestimable JP Rangaswami on his blog, Confused of Calcutta: So, while I knew that the amount of information being produced was accelerating, and that too at [...]

  5. Cook’s Collaborative Edge » Blog Archive » Ribbit as BT’s Replacement for Voice linked to this post on June 9, 2010

    [...] JP just wrote a nice blog item found here [...]

  6. Curation. And ants. | 'Pataphysical science in the home linked to this post on June 17, 2010

    [...] about democratised curation http://confusedofcalcutta.com/2010/06/06/thinking-about-democratised-curation/Sun Jun 06 00:11:29 via webJP Rangaswami [...]

  7. The Missing Half Of A Social Enterprise | CloudAve linked to this post on July 22, 2010

    [...] can actually do for enterprise software would require a blog post by itself. I suggest you read democratised curation by JP and "The Seven Needs of Real-Time Curators” by Scoble. But in nutshell if designed [...]

  8. MyCase Test Blog » Archives » MyCase and Cloud Computing Practices linked to this post on August 5, 2010

    [...] can actually do for enterprise software would require a blog post by itself. I suggest you read democratised curation by JP and “The Seven Needs of Real-Time Curators” by Scoble. But in nutshell if designed [...]

  9. Climbing the data – Thinking about democratized curation [06Jun10] | The Book linked to this post on March 30, 2011

    [...] Read more at confusedofcalcutta.comRead more at openintelligence.amplify.com   This entry was posted in 1 User equipment / Network Services, 1c Knowledge and tagged curation, democracy, google, intelligence, self-signifying statistics, studies, trends, web optimization, zeitgeist. Bookmark the permalink. ← Simplified – Web marketing ideas you can actually use [06Jun10] FaceTime – Apple’s Biggest News: An Open Standard for Video Calls [07Jun10] → [...]



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