Curation A Misnomer

Conductor OrchestraI have a burning desire to share this nuance…

“Curation” is a misnomer.

Curation has become a buzzword in the digital age. Amidst information overload, there is a perceived premium on the ability of an organization to sift through abundance and surface value for clarity, innovation and competitive advantage.

There’s often an essence of democracy when people talk about curation. They often aspire to an organization’s ability to pinpoint the best ideas from within.

Those are all great ideas, even if only loosely connected or ambiguous. But curating has a contradictory legacy.

Two smart people I recently spoke with — one an art historian and the other a distinguished business-school professor — trashed the idea of curation in this business context. They argued the role of curator is getting twisted and confused.

Both recommended investing time to actually meet and interact with a true curator, such as from a museum or the arts.

In that world, according to these two scholars,  being a curator is not about crowdsourcing or democratically surfacing the best ideas, nor is it about innovation or competitive advantage.

The role of curator is about about control (sometimes totalitarian), oversight and expression of a single vision.

(Photo: Alfonso Salgueiro)

Published by Max Kalehoff

Father, sailor and marketing executive.

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  1. Did you discuss the Curator’s Code ( with the two smart people? Sorry if this is repetitive, but it was founded by Maria Popova of She’s a self-described curator in the way that your conversation partners would despise.

    Anyway, she launched Curator’s Code with the goal of offering credit and recognition to people like her who search the Internet for hot things to post. It sparked a huge debate between the pro- and anti-curation side based on today’s morphed definition of curation. A really great rebuttal by Marco Arment can be found here:

    Like your discussion partners, I disagree with Maria’s definition of curation. Yes, I value becoming (and staying) informed, and I believe in giving credit where credit is due. However as Marco says, “The value of authorship is much more clear. But regardless of how much time it takes to find interesting links every day, I don’t think most intermediaries deserve credit for simply sharing a link to someone else’s work.”

    To me, this new definition of curation is nothing more than a narcissistic pat on the back motivated by a desire to increase traffic to one’s site.

    1. Hey Matt. I’d never heard of Maria Popova, so thanks for sharing. She — and her cause — seem more like trend hunting. If you find something that fits your box of interesting, surface it and attribute the source — and assume attention along the way for other people’s work. That’s not necessarily superintendence over a single vision, whether your own or someone else’s.

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