Is ‘curating’ the new editing?
Three sightings of the word ‘curating’ to mean an aspect of editing, all within the last couple of weeks, has sparked the thought; is this becoming a new meme?
First sighting: the Columbia Journalism Review ‘Transparency Watch‘ by Clint Hendler, in the July/August issue (p19 in the print edition) says that the White House was restricting photo ops; instead, the only record of official business was often ‘a single frame, curated by the president’s staff in accordance with the administration’s message of the day’.
Second sighting: on its Facebook page on August 9, ReadWriteWeb announces that it is ceasing auto-posting of content ‘in favor of a more curated experience’.
Third sighting: Vadim Lavrusik on Mashable writes on August 10: ‘The shift toward personalisation of news is in many ways a response to the problem of noise, but also a shift from trust in news organizations to the individual people you know who now often act as curators.’ He notes the problem this poses concerning the credibility of the curator (ie his or her knowledge on or interest in a topic) and says the problem could be resolved partly by improving user filters, but also by ‘identifying specific sources and curators of information as more or less credible than others.’
The RWW announcement sparked a comment thread which explored issues of choice and delivery, and included a query from myself about the difference between curating and editing. In response, post author Seamus defined it thus: ‘I think of “curated” online the same as in art; you pick the stuff you think will wow them the most. I think of “edited” as taking a single thing and making it better. Option three: semantics!’
Another participant in the thread, Carlo De Marchis, then noted the discussion on his own blog, in a posting titled, ‘When auto-posting is not enough’. ‘The word “curation” – as i’m saying from this spring – is the new BUZZ in social media,’ he wrote, defining the term as ‘taking content from the twittersphere and select[ing] it and us[ing] it on your own online property as part of your content or to increase the relevancy of your own content.’
Thus alerted, I have carried out a quick online search for the term and see that it has indeed been cropping up for a few months. The origin seems to be consultant Sarah Rotman Epp, who wrote in her Forrester blog on May 14: “The iPad is a new kind of PC that ushers in an era of Curated Computing’ [caps hers]. This is defined as ‘a mode of computing where choice is constrained to deliver less complex, more relevant experiences’.
Perhaps there is an even earlier mention out there; this article in Wired considers the precedents of her coinage, especially relating to Apple’s ‘locked-down approach’ to software and apps, but concedes: ‘However, Epps is onto something with this word, curated.’
My own, earlier, claim to use of the term is unfortunately not as well documented as I would like. In a draft of an (ongoing) doctoral dissertation, written three years ago, I defined editing in a generic fashion for comparative purposes, including selection, and drew analogies between editing and other forms of cultural mediation; art curating and music dj-ing were on the list. I then included the comparison in a presentation at University College Cork in April 2008, for the Second International Conference in ‘Making Books, Shaping Readers’, which I cited in an internal paper at UCL. My definition of editing is summarised in a Convergence journal article published this February.
I’d be interested in hearing about any earlier uses of ‘curating’ in non-art contexts, other definitions of curating and any ersatz thoughts about the evolution of its use.