If you’re doing any reading about Content Curation as part of an overall content marketing strategy, you sometimes see writers referring to this as something new. I remember when I started really getting interested in it back in 2011. So is it new? When did content curation begin to be included as a content marketing strategy?
When did Content Curation Begin?
Actually, it’s a pretty broad question, so let’s narrow it down to this: when did Content Curation begin to be discussed as a strategic content marketing tactic? I turned to our good friend Google, using time-sensitive searches to see what I could find.
- 1998 – Nothing (data curation is a different issue).
- 1999 – Nothing
- 2000 – References to curation of content for libraries (no marketing).
- 2001 – Nothing
- 2002 – O.K., you’re getting the idea, right? I spent a LOT of time trying to locate that “early seed thought”.
- 2003 – Here it is: Jakob Nielsen. Mr. Nielsen is the one I’m putting in the earliest slot for articulating the problem (abundance of flow, need for a filter) that probably fueled the discussions that would lead to solutions like ‘curation’. See details below.
- 2004 – This is the year we see some key thinkers and writers begin discussing the challenge of providing readers the best and shortest and surest path to the information they really want. No, they weren’t saying “content curation” yet, but people such as Robin Good, Robert Scoble and Jon Udell rise to the top of the stack of those that would eventually lead us to the concept of Content Curation as a content marketing strategy (see below for some detail).
- 2006 – I’m going to include Carlos Granier’s article about the need for editors as another “early seed” in the emergence of the content curation discussion. He doesn’t refer to curation, but he’s wrestling with information overload, and the need to “quickly find the good bits of content in a world of endless [supply of] content”.
- In 2007 & 2008 we begin to see a lot more action about curation (and even the use of the word) and about how curation is going to fit into content marketing overall.
I certainly cannot prove that I’ve found the earliest ‘seed thoughts’, but I believe I’ve found some of them, and want to record them here for those of us that wonder about the beginnings of something that’s become a powerful, mainline trend in the overall scope of content marketing.
Content Curation: Earliest Thoughts
- June 30, 2003; Jakob Nielsen. He wrote about “information foraging“, observing that “The easier it is to find places with good information, the less time users will spend visiting any individual website…People like to get maximum benefit for minimum effort . That’s what makes information foraging a useful tool for analyzing online media.” It’s a great article, and you ought to read it.
- February 19, 2004; Robin Good. He proposed a “new digital professional role” called a NewsMaster. Robin describes his discovery like this:
The discovery is the unlimited and yet untapped power we now have to search, filter, aggregate and create focused news/information channels with the only support of our know-how, culture, experience and a little unknown free technology called: RSS.
The problem Robin is trying to address:
how to navigate, filter and reduce to humanly manageable dimensions the gigantic flow of information coming at us in increasing amounts.
- February 21, 2004; John Udell and Robert Scoble. These two guys jump in right away giving their reaction to Good’s article about the NewsMaster. It’s a lively discussion, and I recommend you read Udell’s article here, and Scoble’s article here. (to find the appropiate part of Scoble’s article, go to the time stamp of 4:48 pm).Later, in October, 2004, Scoble said this:
It’s the new marketing, er trolling. Instead of being desperate and saying “look at me look at me” you tell your readers to get lost. Go someplace else.
What’s the philosophy? Those sites will take you to the coolest stuff on the Internet. And by doing that, Engadget and Gizmodo have BECOME the coolest places on the Internet. Just like Craig’s List, Google, eBay.
- February, 2007; Jeff Jarvis. He was talking about the ‘re-architecture of news‘, and was not yet using the word “curation” or “curate” in the article. But Jeff Jarvis was barking up the curation tree, furthering the discussion. He proposed that you “do what you do best, then link to the rest”. He observes the “news bombardment” that we were all beginning to experience, and the fact that people were going to find preferred sources for their news; places they could go, trusting that they’d find the news they were really looking for. He explained that the best service we can do for our readers, is offer them the best information, whether that’s something we create ourselves, or it’s someone else’s creation. It’s a very interesting article, with interesting comments (comments from 6 years ago!). He’s clearly wrestling with the beginnings of content creation. Read it!
By the way, I contacted Jeff, and I really appreciated his humble comment and further insight on curation. Here’s Jeff Jarvis’ note to me:
Ron,One never claims coinage, for online an earlier usage can always be found!I would like to think I was early into a word that is now, I’ll confess, overused. What this thinking really led to is what became my most quoted line: “Do what you do best and link to the rest.” Actually, in the first instance, I said, “cover“.So curation fits into a larger context: It’s not just about aggregating and selecting links around a topic, it’s also about the opportunity to specialize and contribute to an ecosystem of information, finding efficiency, improving quality, and so on.best,jeff
- February, 2008; Steve Rubel. There are plenty of references to Rubel’s article, because it set off quite a bit of commentary. It’s a hard-to-locate post, but Steve sent me this link. Steve wrote about the “Digital Curator in Your Future”. He wasn’t just an “early thought leader”, he was actually right on the money in what he was anticipating! Here is a quote from his article that shows me that he’s talking about what we now call the Content Curator:
The call of the curator requires people who are selfless and willing to act as sherpas and guides. They’re identifiable subject matter experts who dive through mountains of digital information and distill it down to its most relevant, essential parts. Digital Curators are the future of online content. Digital Curators are the future of online content. Brands, media companies and dedicated individuals can all become curators. Further, they don’t even need to create their own content, just as a museum curator rarely hangs his/her own work next to a Da Vinci. They do, however, need to be subject matter experts. (emphasis mine)
That’s exactly the mindset that eventually became known as “content curation”. If you’re interested, just take a look at some of the articles and comments that were spawned by Steve’s article. It gives you a good look at how fresh the idea was back in 2008.
Content Curation: A Developing Concept
Joseph Bachana’s post, in December of 2008, reflects the kind of thinking that was going on a year later: people starting to get used to the idea of using “curation” as a term to describe the practice of pulling together excellent content, and displaying for people in a particular context. A few quotes from Bachana show us what ‘early wrestling’ with the concept of content curation looked like:
My friend recently used a term that I had not considered before in the context of vetting all of these materials across a range of categories. She said that this content needs to be ‘curated.’…It occurs to me that content is far more than text these days — you are able to find images, video, and various kinds of textual content types (wiki, bliki, blog, microblog, forum, article/story, etc) that are all interrelated, all require some authentication, and all must be tied together in some cohesive way. This is beyond the work of an editor, in my mind, and in fact may approach more of the work that a curator performs…It also occurs to me as I spend far more time on twitter, socialmedian, digg and other social-media sites that ‘mavens’ — those we follow who are the rockstars of these platforms — are essentially curating content for us all. We would need an endless number of lifetimes to read all the content available to us on the Web, even with the available filtering technologies that search engines offer us. However, the social-media rockstar (whats a good term for those people? they’re not making news so much as filtering it and presenting it back to the rest of us) are filtering out the content — presenting important content, sorting the relevant from the meaningless or inaccurate and debunking the latter…
If [a person] begins to select feeds of content and organize it on a platform — say like Guy Kawasaki is attempting to do with alltop.com or Jason Goldberg is allowing participants in his social network platform socialmedian to do for themselves, are these not examples of content curation? No one on Alltop or socialmedian or digg for that matter is doing any editorial work on the content. They are simply selecting what is valuable or interesting or relevant, then asking the masses to rate that content and comment on it. What a remarkable trend when you consider that the combined forces of the thought leader with the vox populi can validate the quality and relevance of content like never before in history…
Let me know if I’m stretching on this one…this idea is just developing in my mind so if you’ve thought this through I’d love to hear your comments/feedback. (Dec 2, 2008)
Wow, “socialmedian” is gone, and Guy Kawasaki has successfully gone WAY beyond “attempting’ to put AllTop together! We’ve come a long way, but I think Joseph Bachana did a good job of wrestling with the conceptualization of Content Curation.
Erin Scime; December, 2009. One other article I want to include in this section is a December, 2009 article by Erin Scime called, “The Content Strategist as Digital Curator“. Erin gives a rather scholarly, insightful view of content curation, and I believe she reflects a further refining of what content curation is, and how it should be understood. She did it just before 2010, so I still consider her’s a important contribution to the development of Content Curation as a marketing technique. Here’s an excerpt:
The term “curate” is the interactive world’s new buzzword. During content creation and governance discussions, client pitches and creative brainstorms, I’ve watched this word gain traction at almost warp speed. As a transplant from museums and libraries into interactive media, I can’t help but ask what is it about this word that deserves redefinition for the web?
Content Curation: Central to Content Marketing
Once you get into 2010 and onward, Content Curation becomes more and more the “normal” way to talk about the technique (art?) of filtering the overwhelming volume of content, and providing a particular context for it in order to serve your readers.
We now have people like Seth Godin, Steve Rosenbaum, Robert Scoble and others that do the hard work of distilling, analyzing further, articulating the definitions, sharing models, and promoting further development.
Content Curation is truly in the CENTER of many content marketing discussions today. Depending on how you define it, your curation efforts will be designed to ‘support’ or ‘carry’ or ‘enhance’ or ‘speed up’ your overall content marketing objectives. It’s in the middle of all we do now, and it’s about time people stop thinking of it as a “new technique”!
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Ron VanPeursem is the Content Marketing Strategist for SHIFT|Digital Media. He also manages the Content Development and SEO Support Office in Asia. He writes about Content Marketing & SEO.
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