This behavioural group began as an observation that a key segment of our conversations were not trying to create new ideas or amplify them but were bringing content together and adapting the idea.
When we began to look at this behaviour in more detail the degree of adaption seemed less important than the act of gathering and sharing this information. In many cases the content was not being changed greatly from the essential meme or idea, but was being put into context and given greater definition and relevance.
Over time we began to refer to this group as ‘curators’ (rather than adaptors) as this seemed to explain the deeper motivation for this group. There is a degree of ambiguity to this description as many curators were also adapting content; for instance taking quotes or references from other articles and by placing them in a new context and adding to the meaning of the original idea. Indeed, a small minority of them were significantly adapting the original idea. But we do feel that curators is the better description, and to explain why I want to refer to a post written by Steve Rubel several years ago when he gave a succinct explanation of curation:
The Internet has empowered billions of people and is distributing their creativity across millions of niches and dozens of formats. Quality and accuracy, of course, can vary. However, virtually every subject either is or will be addressed with excellence – by someone, somewhere.
“However, the glut of content as we all know also has a major downside. Our information and entertainment options greatly outweigh the time we have to consume it. Even if one were to only focus on micro-niche interests and snack on bite-sized content, demand could never ever scale to match the supply. Content is a commodity. The Attention Crash is real and – make no mistake – it will deepen. Enter the Digital Curator.”
Steve outlines how important this digital curator is in the development of influence and authority on the Internet. It is this motivation for sharing, giving meaning, and identifying where excellence resides that can help make sense of digital chaos. This wonderful need for people online to help curate what is and what is not so important online is a key dynamic of the topology of influence.
In acknowledging this a digital curator is different from the traditionally defined cultural curator, who is a crucial guardian or overseer of tangible objects. A digital curator is working with electronic material and where it is linked and interconnected and even by putting it into context, (because the digital curator is a part of authority ranking), this act alone adapts the content. Additionally digital is a different world from online, as its democratic instinct means that few curators can resist a tweak or adaptation to content that would be completely taboo to the traditional definition.
So our definition of digital curator is different from the traditional; it allows for adaptation of the idea in giving it context but importantly it does not mean the curator starts a new idea or meme. If this was the case they would be an idea starter not a curator and it appears that few curators want to start new ideas afresh; they are largely satisfied and motivated by this role of creating context.
Given the time it takes to curate even the smallest conversation there is a practical force behind this. However, there is also the point that they are two different acts; one more organisational and sharing, the other more inspirational and isolated.