Curator's Code: Can Content Curation Really Be Standardized?

Chris CrumBusiness

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Let me preface this by saying that I am all for giving credit where credit is due on the web. However, people are trying to develop standards for online content curation and attribution on the web, and I just don't see it working on any mass scale.

In theory, it sounds like a reasonable cause, and a way to keep "aggregators" and "curators" honest, but execution might be a different story. Aren't the honest ones already doing it right anyway?

There was a panel at SXSW called, "Is Aggregation Theft?" Here's the official description for that:

In the beginning, there was Slate's beloved news roundup, “Today’s Papers.” Then, in 2001, The Week magazine landed in the States with great success and pioneered the art of news and opinion curation in print. But it wasn’t until the Huffington Post crashed the party, generating huge traffic with dozens of rewritten stories from other sources every day, that "aggregation" became a dirty word, and critics began calling it theft. Join top media writers and the trailblazers of aggregation for a conversation about the art of filtering and curating other organizations’ content, and where this editorial model fits into the new media landscape. Decide for yourself: aggregation—friend or foe?

The session came attached with the hashtag #curate. Here's some of the Twitter conversation around the tag:

Are the curators here uneasy about having built personal brands & celebrity on the backs of often lesser known creators? #SXSW #curate 1 day ago via Tweetbot for iOS ·  Reply ·  Retweet ·  Favorite · powered by @socialditto

@nyegotist: What's the difference between curation and aggregation? Curation involves human choice. -@heyitsnoah #sxswi #curate 1 day ago via Twitter for iPhone ·  Reply ·  Retweet ·  Favorite · powered by @socialditto

"I'm such a token. I’m so grateful you’re all here to repackage and repurpose me.” -David Carr @carr2n #curate #sxswi 1 day ago via HootSuite ·  Reply ·  Retweet ·  Favorite · powered by @socialditto

Curators and editors are not similar. Editors work w/content before it goes public, curators find and frame public content. #SXSW #curate 1 day ago via Tweetbot for iOS ·  Reply ·  Retweet ·  Favorite · powered by @socialditto

"A moral lens is part of curation, but not aggregation." -@brainpicker #sxswi #curate 1 day ago via HootSuite ·  Reply ·  Retweet ·  Favorite · powered by @socialditto

Introducing The Curator’s Code: A Standard for Honoring Attribution of Discovery Across the Web @brainpicker 2 days ago via bitly ·  Reply ·  Retweet ·  Favorite · powered by @socialditto

AdAge editor Simon Dumenco, who was part of that panel, is behind a new effort to get web publishers on board with some standards, called the Council on Ethical Blogging and Aggregation, according to The New York Times' David Carr, who quotes him as saying,"“We want some simple, common-sense rules. There should be some kind of variation of the Golden Rule here, which is that you should aggregate others as you would wish to be aggregated yourself.”

Dumenco apparently also supports another effort (which Carr also discusses in his report), the Curator's Code, launched by Maria Popova (brainpicker) and Kelli Anderson.

Introducing The Curator’s Code: A Standard for Honoring Attribution of Discovery Across the Web @brainpicker 2 days ago via bitly ·  Reply ·  Retweet ·  Favorite · powered by @socialditto

We've been unable to find much info about the Council, beyond who else is involved, as discuseed in Carr's report, but the Curator's Code has a site. On it, the code is described as "a system for honoring the creative and intellectual labor of information discovery by making attribution consistent and codified, the celebrated norm. It's an effort to make the rabbit hole open, fair, and ever-alluring."

This includes symbols for "via" and "hat tip" - indication of a link of direct discovery, and a link of indirect discovery, story lead, or inspiration, respectively.

Direct Discovery

Indirect discovery

How these are more useful than simply saying "via" or "hat tip" is beyond me. I don't see writers who are not using these phrases to begin with saying, "OK, now that I have a symbol to use, I'm going to start attributing my sources."

This reminds me a great deal of when Google launched those source meta tags back in 2010. That system has had a tremendous impact right?

And this is what they came up with for an FAQ section for the Curator's Code?

Curator's Code FAQs

Good to see the important questions are being addressed.

The initiative does have a whopping four publications on board so far:

Publishers on board

I don't mean to be so negative, because, like I said, the cause itself isn't a bad thing. If it means people getting credit for their work that they would not have received otherwise, that's a good thing. I just don't see it happening. But, admittedly, I don't have a better strategy outlined, so who am I to judge (aside from being immersed in the worlds of both content creation and curation on a day-to-day basis)?

We'll definitely be keeping our eye out for more info regarding the Council on Ethical Blogging and Aggregation. I'm not incredibly optimistic (if that wasn't already obvious) that either of these efforts will largely impact how content aggregation/curation is done on the web at large, but at least it's not as absurd as requiring payment for links.

Chris Crum
Chris Crum has been a part of the WebProNews team and the iEntry Network of B2B Publications since 2003. Follow Chris on Twitter, on StumbleUpon, on Pinterest and/or on Google: +Chris Crum.