Infobesity: the splendour and misery of curation overload
Content overload, "FOMO", in order to manage the plethora of data flowing across the web and not miss any of it, curation has emerged as a miracle solution. But are we actually good curators? Have we created the right tools, the right processes? And above all, what are we doing to make our curation actionable?
Information overload and interface congestion
Let's set the context, and first look at a definition from DefinitionsMarketing:
"Curation is the practice of monitoring a given field of activity and then selecting the information considered relevant before delivering it in a clear and organized way to a target audience. The most common form of curation is the press or web review published on a website, newsletter or Twitter account."
Translation: It's about highlighting the gems detected in the hidden folds of the web & social networks for the purpose of sniffing out the next trend, to position oneself as an early adopter. As a result, everyone is scrolling, swiping and curating and clogging the interfaces dedicated to this new happy hobby ... which feeds the ambient content overload a little more, which, already boosted by the forced digitalization of a society hit by pandemic, continues its lightning-fast rise.
Judge for yourself: in the wake of lockdown, live-streaming and replay sessions have taken off, and continue to appeal to those who have converted to telecommuting. The most seasoned users use transcription tools to generate notes from these digital meetings. But the general reflex is to store all this easily via Zoom & co... to finally never view them.
Verticalized tools = happy curators?
Faced with this inevitable information overload, the market is adapting, the tools are diversifying and verticalizing to best serve everyone’s curiosity. There is a proliferation of tools designed to better curate — and that creates new uses. Here are a few examples:
"Newsletter discovery" has the wind in its sails. Letterlist or Learn From Makers, for instance, rely on a very qualitative editorial approach to humanize the author behind the newsletter. Others, like Mereku, are developing a system of submission and curation in a Reddit-esque way with an upvote system to bring out the best newsletters. The approach is quite similar to that of Letterdrop, which, thanks to validated curators, proposes to send you the "best drops" every day or every week by focusing on a newsletter edition rather than a newsletter in the general sense.
Collecting the best links is also very trendy. Let's quote Poop Supply, started by an internet user to collect the links shared by what he considers the best accounts on Twitter. The Pudding's newsletter called "Winning the Internet" is made up of the links most frequently shared in other newsletters; it currently collects from 105 newsletters qualified as the best on the market.
Curating links supposes a static approach. Very often, in an efficient curation approach, only certain extracts are important. That's why, personally, I prefer to extract the snippets to highlight certain passages. I appreciate tools that highlight text to enhance the most important extracts. Annotating the web is nothing new, but we are currently witnessing the growth of dedicated tools. Google relies on a new feature added to Chromium, Text Fragments, which allows you to link to a defined portion of text on a web page. This is the same technology used to link to specific parts of a web page in search results.
As for podcasts, we are seeing an explosion of audio snippet apps that enhance the highlights of podcasts to save or share them more easily. In addition to TL;DL, Shuffle has integrated the generation of an automatic script that makes it easier to curate relevant passages. TapTapes allows you to add your voice to the clips you've selected to take a much more conversational approach to podcasting.
Making curation actionable
Nice, isn't it? But there is a problem: do all these tools allow you to carry out real curation or is it just a matter of aggregating content? Because if curation means "selecting, editing and sharing the most relevant content," isn't it about saving time by creating an intelligent synthesis of all this content in order to give it meaning? In an article published on Medium, Gaby Goldberg explains that "curators are the new creators." She adds, "we have the content. Now the question becomes: what are we going to do with it?" Excellent question! Because, with or without tools, approaches often lack these two essential elements:
Bringing out the right content at the right time. In other words, the ability to search for the best content on a given subject at will. How many times have you spotted an interesting piece of information, only to not be able to find it three weeks later? Curators push content at a given time that does not necessarily correspond to the reader's need at the time. So, the question is, have we built the right infrastructure?
The right methodology to assimilate, retain and, above all, make this curation actionable. Learning is a key point here. I encourage you to read the article, "Looking for Syllabus 2.0," which looks at how curation can create a new crowdsourced method of learning in a time-saving way, based on the best content extracts. The idea is to create a new framework that is actionable. Here is an example provided in this article that I am linking here :
This approach can also be observed in universities. A professor shares his course in a Google Doc. All his students can enrich it by asking their questions. It is up to the class to answer, to add snippets (audio, text and videos). The teacher participates by synthesizing all this data, by adding nuance to it, by bouncing off of the students' remarks. The teacher recognizes that the overall level of the class, through collective enrichment, has performed well on the exams (vs. previous years) and the standard deviation between students had decreased, i.e. the collective is better and the individuals who make up the collective. Another example, this time from a company: onboarding documents can be enriched via Clips / Highlights / Snippets to fit the company culture!
Monetizing your second digital brain
This brings me to my next category, a first generation of horizontal curation tools. A category in the making at the moment with tools like Roam Research, Notion, Obsidian and many more that I have mapped below (3rd and 4th section). What's special about them? Allowing you to store everything in a second digital brain in order to retrieve information, ideas, store highlights easily and, depending on the tools, to go beyond and create networked thoughts.
Recently, Nat Eliason detailed his process for making podcast listening actionable and efficient in an inspiring article. Specifically, he uses Airr to generate a transcript and creates annotations from a podcast. Eliason then uses Readwise, which automatically exports his content to Roam Research, where it stores information and creates relationships, all for better learning.
Nat Eliason also saw the business opportunity in this approach. For some time now, he has been monetizing access to "a portion of his second digital brain" by providing access to his 250 book notes. The pitch on his site is clear: "If you were to buy all these books, you would pay about $3,000. If you then spent 3 to 6 hours reading each book and 1 to 2 hours taking notes, it would take between 800 and 1,600 hours to recreate all of that." How much does it cost to have lifetime access to this brain food? $25.
Does it work? Obviously it does. In the RadReads newsletter issue from July 2020 (If you haven't subscribed yet, you should!), Khe Hy, supported by graphs, draws up the results:
$32,200 in revenue for an Evernote notebook of Nat Eliason's reading notes! In April 2020, he raised $3,220, his best month. He has been generating over $1,000/month since November 2019 and over $500/month since December 2018.
What can we take away from all this?
The curator has a bright future ahead provided that they take a serious look at their processes and tools and accompanies their communities for a better learning experience.
Not everyone is qualified to be a curator: in response to a post on Hacker News that asked, “What is your best rabbit hole," one user posted a list of rare resources particularly rich in insights; another replied: "posting a list like this on a site like this is like handing out bags of heroin in a school." A bit blunt, but the message is clear. Not everyone is in a position to curate efficiently and use the fruits of their labor to their fullest potential.
So that's what's at stake. In an unprecedented context of increasing notions to be understood, skills to be regularly updated and emerging trends on a daily basis, the curator is becoming a new category of teacher, who will accompany us to ensure our competitiveness in an extremely uncertain world.
Many thanks to Jean-Noël Chaintreuil and Prakhar Shivam for their valuable inputs.