Reading over various prediction posts about what will be ‘big’ in social media in 2012 I can’t help but chuckle a bit when people talk about curation being the next ‘thing’. Curation on the web is not new, it’s just now more accessible and packaged much better.
Curation has been around since the start of the web. Before fancy browsers like Mosaic if you visited a little site called Yahoo on your Lynx browser this is what you saw.
Reading over the initial focus of Yahoo it was curating the web. Trying to find things of interest and grouping/classifying them together in a common thread.
In January 1994, Jerry Yang and David Filo were electrical engineering graduate students at Stanford University when they created a website named “David and Jerry’s Guide to the World Wide Web”. David and Jerry’s Guide to the World Wide Web was a directory of other websites, organized in a hierarchy, as opposed to a searchable index of pages
Fast forward a number of years and the self-publishing revolution of blogs comes into play. Now anybody could curate (I mean publish) content. By anybody I mean the early adopters who harnessed the power of the blog. Sure they published opinions, rants and daily journals, but they also began to meta-edit and curate.
The next steps were sites like Del.icio.us and Ma.gnolia.com (remember that one?). Bookmarking, clipping, curating, whatever you wanted to call it became even easier. Tagging provided another layer of meta-data. An initial list could now be segmented and sorted in different ways. People began to pay attention to not only what people wrote, but what they bookmarked. However, there was always an extra step involved. Bookmarking services didn’t pull in content, you had to visit each site. The list of sites was in a single place, but the content was disjointed.
Blogging and other self-publishing platforms continued to evolve. They became easier to use and more casual users began to embrace them. One of Tumblr’s core elements if the re-blog, not just linking to another page but the ability to re-use content from another user. Now curated content could be viewed in a single thread.
The evolution continued with dedicated services like Storify and Paper.li. Brand’s ears perked up when institutions like the Washington Post began to use Storify to evolve their content models and engage with users.
Of course the ‘hot’ new service today is Pinterest. Users such as my nieces love the ability to create an on-going custom view of their interests and share with their friends. In some ways I reflect back on the explosion of MySpace and the ability for basic users to customize their profile as an extension of their personalities. As much of as web design nightmare as that was it drew in users.
With Pinterest and other services the ability to curate and view content is a smooth and somewhat elegant experience. Add in the social layer and the ability to Tweet, share on Facebook, etc and you have a potent mix. That all fuels tremendous growth and interest.
However the notion that this is something new is a fallacy.
Maybe we’re reaching a tipping point for mass-adoption or curation with Pinterest, but for those of us using Twitter back in 2006, we thought the next year, or the next year would be when it really took off.