Curation. The word is used by new media content creators for their work in crafting web content. It prompts me to draw comparisons to bricks-and-mortar content of one of the original “internets”, the museum. How might my real world exhibits be informed by this online content creation – how it’s shared, conveyed and experienced? By drawing connections and differences between these two curated environments I hope to harness practical thoughts about bridging between curator 1.0 (museum – all the players creating the exhibit, not just the content expert) and curator 2.0 (cyber). It’s my hope that both 1.0 and 2.0 can inform each other, perhaps in something like new-curator 3.0.
In this first post in a series I’ll make observations through a few key metrics considered by both cyber and real world creators. Audience, duration, depth and validation are four aspects of many that 1.0 and 2.0 use in similar and distinct ways. In later postings I’ll look at additional measures of comparison. I’ll also present new models of curated spaces that are moving towards curator 3.0.
In a recent collaboration with Percolate and m ss ng p eces, various cyber curators fashioned a short and powerful vision expressing their view of what it means to gather and disseminate across the wild frontier of bits and bytes, and it’s well worth the 2:50 minutes to watch.
Maria Popova, the creator of the ever-interesting brainpickings.org, states that it’s “a drive to find the interesting, meaningful, and relevant amidst the vast maze of overabundant information, creating a framework for what matters in the world “. Yes, I’ll agree with that. In the real world curated exhibit I push to ask and answer the question of what will the visitor take away from this exhibit, this object, this text, and on. And I too ask of each element why it matters, and further, I ask why this matters to the viewer. If curated spaces don’t ask how they matter to the their audience, and connect to them personally, then little else will likely be achieved.
These cyber-curators speak of their work in a few broad categories:
- Finding what’s interesting in a vast sea of information (and distilling, perhaps grouping it)
- Collecting what they finding interesting, personally, and presenting it
- Contextualizing content and building connections for users to discover (this was stated to a lesser extent)
Many of these concepts are the very ideas that curator 1.0 sets as goals. But there are more and include:
- Telling new stories. If the story is not new, provide a particular lens in which to view it. Even it’s new, take a position as to its meaning.
- Letting objects and artifacts speak for themselves (for object-based exhibits only tell the viewer what the object doesn’t itself tell – develop the connective tissue between the “bones” we present)
- Focus on specific audiences and speak to them
- Developing content storylines and then use different delivery systems that strongly express that content – i.e. interactivity, video, audio, tactile elements, audio, objects, etc.
Four Points of Comparison
Below are a few keys metrics that we all consider in crafting our curated spaces, yet the tools we use between 1.0 and 2.0 have to distinct differences. They may well inform each other as well.
WHO’S IN THE ROOM – Audience
I ask the cyber-curators what they know of their audience, which is something that the museum attempts to define quite carefully. I’ll hazard a guess that in the museum we know far more in some ways and far less than curator 2.0 knows of viewers in cyberspace. Yes, through analytics there is nearly endless demographic detail on who goes to a website, how long they stay, how deeply the “drill down”, and on. These statistics are useful in knowing what’s interesting to viewers and how effectively the content populated the broader web. What’s not learned, but perhaps inferred is age, education, gender, race and a multitude of factors that tell who we “are”, not how we behave. At least not directly.
It’s work a note that clearly the 2.0 curator is often using they’re audience demographics in the “monetizing” of their venture. Museums do the same thing, but a little less directly. The museum counts heads, observes their public both formally and anecdotally, and plows through its annual visitor numbers with great intentionality. These numbers are used in grant applications, marketing strategies and donor support. We correlate that more connections to our audience the more successfully our curation has been.
DRILL DOWN– Content Depth
In exhibit crafting we caution against depth of content. We strive to delivery content in three seconds, 30 seconds, three minutes intervals – tops. Anything beyond these durations, outside of a sit down video, is mostly taboo. Visitor observations tell us that computer-based interactives with more than three layers is madly unrealistic (and two levels is even better). We think of our broad audience as the ADD child. Copy more than 75 words will be flatly ignored, and 30 words is better yet with no more than two or three galleys on a panel.
In 2.0’s world, creating great depth of content is a high priority – but more on a flat level. Depth is measured seemingly horizontally, not vertically. Depth seems to mean quantity of equally low-penetration ideas. It’s more a collection of individual topics – Christmas tree ornament style.
JUST HANGIN’ OUT – Duration
We cite “museum fatigue” factor which is basically that visitors can tolerate about 30 minutes of curator 1.0’s exhibit before they start to shut down and shut out. We craft spaces and visitor flows that capitalize on this duration – creating variety, physical and mental “breaks” and balance the need of provide a linear narrative to story and the free-choice and discovery of the visitor. We consider exhibit beginnings, middles and ends like we’re crafting a narrative experience such as a movie or a book, but know that visitors can’t and don’t engage in such strictly prescribed and orderly ways.
Curator 2.0 knows that with a single click their audience will abandon their content completely and move like a moth to light towards the next bright place. “Hey that non-profit does great work…online poker, anyone?” They battle (and sometime embrace) this fleeing through a limiting the palette of images (moving and still), text and interactivity. They look to create richness of content within their environments, but always with a navigation plan that lets the viewer control the journey, also in tiny bits. I sense that this is both liberating and burdensome. I for one even on this very website try to control you by limiting links and distractions. And when I do provide them they’re near the physical bottom and always pop into a new window to ensure that my place remains in your moment. Funny, but I do the same thing in the real spaces I craft – conceal views, hold back sight lines and by all means keep windows to the outside far away when possible.
I’d bet my next projects fees that a curator 2.0 would be thrilled beyond measure if their audience spent even half the time on their site that museums expect visitors to spend in curator 1.0’s space. And for this, I think the real world exhibit needs to think carefully about each little moment in the overall arc of the exhibit to a higher extent, and I know we all try to.
IT – Validation
This matters a lot. “Liking” something means that it connects to the viewer or its representative of their particular lens on the world and they want others to know this about them by sharing it. The museum has a high expectation of “liking it” too, but in slightly different ways. We want our visitors to enjoy their experiences, yes. We want them to share this with others so that they may come and experience it for themselves, yes. It validates our experiences knowing that we’ve influenced others and we all want to influence others. But the museum also expects that its audience is transformed by their experience, in personal and enlighten ways. Curator 2.0 can benefit from the idea that their content should aim to have a transformative effect on it’s viewers. Curator 1.0 can benefit from the idea that simply sharing is indeed a reflection of absorption and validation that “it” matters.
It’s clear that “success” in curating web space that duration and depth are perhaps the most important measures of success. Perhaps marketing, or search result status and relinking from other domains, are a close second or even tied, depending on the goals of the site owner.