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Semantics about the web

August 19, 2010

Thanks to the interesting comments below by Barbara Dieu and Rudolf Ammann, a more detailed picture has emerged about how the term ‘curating’ has been used in non-art contexts. In the field of education, it cropped up in 2007, at the very least; in new media, we have citations from Brill’s Content in 2001 and The Guardian in 1999.

In the Wired article mentioned earlier, Eliot Van Buskirk makes the point that the idea is not new, questioning recent proclamations by consultants as ‘attention-grabbing rehash of a well-worn meme’. ‘The Age of Curation (see? anyone can coin a catchphrase) began long before today’s conversation about curated computing,’ he writes. ‘We’re surrounded by too much music, too much software, too many websites, too many feeds, too many people, too many of their opinions and so on. Curation is already fundamental to the way in which we view the world these days, and the iPad is hardly the first technology to recognize this.’ His examples include not just new media filters such as Facebook, but old media filters like the newspaper. My own research on editing attempts to draw out the parallels in all these forms of what is now sometimes called ‘cultural mediation’.

It’s normal for concepts to fade in and out in public use. But I cannot help wondering whether there are some peculiarities to the way this happens in webby circles. No doubt someone has already done loads more research on this subject, but three possible reasons occur to me, off the top of my head:

  • A tendency to reinvent the wheel, with some ahistorical exceptionalism thrown in. The internet is new, so everything that happens on it must be new, too.
  • The desire on the part of some to claim terms for commercial gain. Hence concern about use of ‘Web 2.0’ and ‘Web 3.0’, and Buskirk’s concern about ‘Curated Computing’.
  • A caution or prejudice about the term ‘editing’, because of the negative associations it has evolved in new media discourse, and a search for alternatives.

This is a discussion that I hope will be continued.

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