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The 21st century curator

Sahana Chattopadhyay 

Not surprisingly, curation has become the next buzzword after 'social business'. With coming at us with the force of a tsunami and the fury of a tornado, curators seem to have become our saviours - our sense making guide. One post out of five I have been reading in the past few months seem to be associated with curation or its close cousins - aggregation and filtering. Even as I read, I was tempted to apply some of the curation and put together this post. I like to build some context around the links because - who knows - in the world, a working link today can be a dead link tomorrow. Curation today takes on a new meaning in the context of technological affordance, information abundance, diminishing attention, hunger for contextual and timely information, and constantly shifting, globally linked landscape. In this complex and chaotic world, making sense can only be a constant endeavour, pattern matching a crucial need. And this is what today's curators do - aided and inspired by technology.

I will not delve into the root of curation as traditionally practiced by museum curators and librarians, which conferred on them the status of an expert. And those, thus, anointed went on to shape the taste and understanding of humans who arrived at their domain. For a deeper understanding of the rise of curation, I recommend that you read Steven Rosenbaum's Curation Nation.

A little reflection reveals that curation is a way of life for all of us - we are all curators. For example, we are curating when we pick the books that will adorn our shelves; we are curating when we choose our furniture etc. And in each type of curation, what comes across are unique perspectives, a sense of pattern the curator wants the world to see. But I digress.

I have also referenced some of the posts and articles that shaped my understanding around curation. In the September of 2009, Rohit Bhargava wrote a post called the 'Manifesto for the Curator: The Next Big Social Media Job of the Future?'. I stumbled across this quite recently. And one of the most telling sentences that leap out from the post is this: "…By some estimates in just a few years we will reach a point where all the information on the will double every 72 hours." While the magnitude escapes the capacity of our mind's ability to comprehend, this does beg the question: should we focus on creation or curation? How to separate the wheat from the chaff? How do we make sense? Bhargava goes on to define a curator thus: A is someone who continually finds, groups, organises and shares the best and most relevant content on a specific issue online. This, then, is an individual who makes sense of the deluge and presents it in a manner that is coherent, easily understood and relevant."

He followed this up later with five models of content curation. This post highlights potential models of curation, which are forms or manifestations of a curated output. Here is the gist of what Bhargava mentions:

1. Aggregation: Aggregation is the act of curating the most relevant information about a particular topic into a single location.

2. Distillation: Distillation is the act of curating information into a more simplistic format where only the relevant ideas are shared.

3. Elevation: Elevation refers to curation with a mission of identifying a larger trend or insight from smaller daily musings posted online.

4. Mashup: Mashups are unique curated juxtapositions where merging existing content is used to create a new point of view.

5. Chronology: Chronology is a form of curation that brings together historical information organised based on time to show an evolving understanding of a particular topic.

It is difficult to deny any more that curation is the need of the hour. Whether we depend on others to provide us with curated content or we decide to become curators in our area of expertise or interest, the need for curation as a sense making and PKM activity is undeniable. This, of course, means that we should at least be familiar with the basics of curation and the technological affordances.

The author is Sahana Chattopadhyay, L&D consultant.
Re-printed with permission. Link: https://

First Published: Mon, March 02 2015. 00:08 IST