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Digital Overload and the Curation Crossroads

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Steve Rosenbaum Steve Rosenbaum | 11:19 UK time, Wednesday, 2 May 2012

For as long as anyone can remember, the ability to create and publish information was left to professionals.

But then, suddenly, we were all given the freedom and the tools to become part of the information ecosystem.

And let's face it, the boom in micro-publishing is fun. Checking in, posting a picture, updating your Facebook status, liking a blog post or a friends tweet.

Adding your voice and your story is part of what has fueled the growth of the web.

There's only one problem with all this micro-publishing. We broke the web.

Today - and almost overnight - information has exploded. From the relative scarcity of a handful of networks back in the1970's, to the wondrous and crushing avalanche of YouTube videos. If you set out to watch all the videos uploaded to YouTube in just the past 24 hours, you'd spend eight years watching them - without sleep.

We've flooded the web with uncontextualized content. With little more than a few random tags and some meta-data, the information ecosystem is flooded with voices, sources, rumors, facts, data, digits, images, and check-ins.

I call it Digital Overload, and it's an information epidemic sweeping the planet.

To separate signal from noise, there's an emerging class of information superheroes called Content Curators. They've got ties to a number of legacy job descriptions, but they're in some ways extraordinarily new. Think of them like Journalists who've climbed into a time machine and been transported to the future, where there are more sources, and more tools, and stunning and sometimes reckless speed.

On Friday I'll be in the Radio Theatre at Broadcasting House at the 3rd BBC Online Briefing, with an invited audience of partners and suppliers to the BBC. We'll be discussing curation and what it means for big media players like the BBC.

Curators are both collectors and creators. Capturing the zeitgeist of the web, and knitting together images, text, links, and video along with their own original content to create a focused, contextually relevant editorial for an overloaded world. For a journalist the decision is simple. Embrace your new role as a curator and be part of solving digital overload, or continue to create stand-alone acts of original journalism and have your voice increasingly drowned out by the rising tide of unfiltered information.

The need for journalists as contextual curators of the web is undeniable. They are by training high-speed information processors. And, the debate about balance and objectivity not withstanding, they generally have the ability to gather threads of information from a wide variety of sources and weave them into a coherent voice. And while there was, for a moment, some concern that the aggregation and curation behavior that Arianna Huffington identified as the 'sharing ecosystem' might devalue content, curation turns out to be solving that problem.

In a world of too much undifferentiated data, people will pay to 'tune-in' to curators who have a finely calibrated filter. The UK publisher Haymarket Media curates carefully chosen medical information for its Clinical Advisor magazine and video site. Readers pay with attention to advertisements, and they pay with subscription revenues.

People will pay for clarity, authority, context, and speed. So, how does the changing nature of the web change the need for curation?. It turns out - it speeds it up. We're now moving to a place where a large amount of the information being created and consumed is images. Cisco, the web technology and networking giant, predicts that 62% of web traffic will be video by the year 2015.

Which makes video a big prize for curators, and a big pain point in the world of digital overload.

Chris Anderson the curator of the now world renowned TED Talks, says that as we connect the web with moving images - that video will accelerate knowledge. Anderson says that we'll be able to share solutions across the world and across languages. Says Anderson:

"Crowd Accelerated Innovation isn't new. What is new is that the Internet--and specifically online video--has cranked it up to a spectacular degree."

And Anderson has seen this dramatic growth first hand. To date, TED Talks videos have been viewed on the web more than seven hundred million times.

It may be that what the web needs most are focused, topic oriented editorial specialists. Individuals who can gather information, provide context, separate information and ideas from data and noise. A new brand of journalist that can bring a distinct editorial voice to a curated content environment.

For some journalists, the idea of being both a finder/filter of content and a creator may seem like they're giving up the part of the job that they most love. But rising tide of Digital Overload has created an over abundance of unfiltered content, and a growing need for curators to turn a noisy web into a infinite number of trusted verticals.

Digital Overload is both a problem and an opportunity. One thing is for certain,
The growth in digital content isn't going to slow down. How we manage it - and who we trust to curate the information we need - is the next big question of the web.

Do you participate online and do you see yourself as a curator? I'd like to know your thoughts in advance of the session on Friday, so do leave a comment.

Steve Rosenbaum is the author of "Curation Nation"

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