All Things to all Men or Content Curation?

Who Needs to be Concerned about Content Curation?

Content Curation is important if you are responsible for content on the web that is likely to be referenced over time and, during that time, is likely to suffer a degradation of currency.

All Things to all Men

It was possible, once upon a time, when the technology available to support the aquisition of information/new learning ran at a very genteel pace, and when the technology available to communicate that information needed months to run its course. One person could know everything about a subject.

Traditionally, and that includes the time up to the writing of this post, a ‘source of information’ must know everything, so, build a web presence that has all the latest information about everything to do with thing-a-me-bobs and it will be amazing (the ‘all things to all men’ model).


Err, not so great.


After a while, we need to check all our information and compare it with the latest information (we need to find that first). Then we have to spot the difference and up-date all our content.

That will take ages, and hundreds of people, every day. We can’t afford it. We will be out-of-date in no time. What are we going to do?

The Problem with Content

The life-cycle of Content
Let’s first think about the life-cycle of ‘current information’ (just the main bits):
  1. The most up-to-date information becomes available;
  2. The most up-to-date information is refined and edited;
  3. The most up-to-date information becomes established;
  4. The most up-to-date information is superseded (becoming ‘out-of-date information’);
  5. Out-of-date information is archived;
  6. Out-of-date information may be moved;
  7. Out-of-date information may be deleted.

The Provider of Content
Now, think about providers of content, which could be almost anything on the web. For example:
  • Blog;
  • Chat room;
  • ‘Like’ on Facebook;
  • Search engine;
  • Social media posting;
  • Specialist web site;
  • Tweet, and any link/media in a tweet;
  • Your web site.

The list goes on.

What is Content Curation?

Well, think of Curators, you know, the chaps and chapesses you find in musea. A curator acquires, cares for, develops, displays and interprets a collection of artefacts or works of art in order to inform, educate and inspire. Now take that role and apply it to information on the web. You don’t create the content, or at least not all the content, you act as a Content Curator, providing only part of the content yourself.

Content Curation in Practice

Good Content Curation comprises five essential components:
  1. Identifying relevant content;
  2. Discrimination of content;
  3. Polling external content;
  4. Change notification;
  5. Review of changed content (and taking necessary remedial action).

I know what you are thinking, “wouldn’t it be easier to adopt the ‘all things to all men’ model?” No it wouldn’t.

1. Identifying relevant content
Identify trusted and validated providers of content that is relevant to your purpose. This may not be Wikipedia, but it could be Britannica on-line; this may not be Joe Blogg’s How-To Change a Cylinder Head, but it could be the Institute of Mechanical Engineers How-To. You get the picture.

2. Discrimination of content
Do not overwhelm your Users by presenting dozens of sources of Curated Content. Be discriminating in terms of breadth and quality. For example, the National Science Museum may present an exhibit comparing the properties of light with the properties of pigments, but it does not present copies of artwork from le Louvre.
Less is more, quality, not quantity. Remember, where you send your Users will reflect on you.

3. Polling external content
The problem with external content is, over time it can change, move, or be deleted. You need a means to automatically poll your Curated Content to see if it has been changed (e.g. the file time-stamp is more recent), or moved (a re-direct is in place), or deleted (e.g. a 404 error).

4. Change notification
Once you have identified external content has changed in some way, you need a method of being notified a change has taken place. This is likely an automatically generated e-mail/SMS including salient details.

5. Review of changed content
When the ‘change notification’ is received, you need a human to look at the content to identify what change has taken place, or to identify alternative content, if the original content has been deleted. There needs to be a policy in place to manage this process.

General Points

You may suspect 3 and 4 above require some kind of technological intervention. Yes, you are correct.

If your Curated Content is small, a human can regularly check to see if all is well, however, if you have many sources of Curated Content, or perhaps many locations that forward to Curated Content, you need to automate the process.

One solution is to have all details, relating to ‘displayed’ Curated Content, called from a database. A ‘cron job’ can regularly query the database, and a ‘script’ can run tests and send an e-mail as required.

It’s a lot cheaper, faster, and more reliable than getting humans to do it.

Losing my Users

Now you are thinking, “If I send my users off somewhere else, they will not come back, they will be lost. My boss will have a fit, we’ll loose money. You know where you can stick your Curation.”

That is rubbish. Think about it. How do you behave, how do all the people you know behave?

Why do people follow others on Twitter? When they follow a link in a Tweet, do they leave Twitter behind, forever lost to the Twitterverse? No. They come back to Twitter, time and time again, because Twitter is a Curator you can customise to your personal preferences.

The same with Facebook, you favourite bloggers, even your bookmarks.

Which Curators do you not use? The ones that are rubbish at Curation!

Be a good Curator and your Users will come back time and time again.

This is not intended to be an exhaustive treatise of Content Curation, however, perhaps you have insights to share, examples of what works well, even things to avoid. Why not share?

Thanks. Take care.


  1. Great post and summary of content curation. One point I'd like to highlight is the act of annotation. Annotation is certainly a very human element of the curation process and is pertinent if you want to retain your audience. Ensuring you provide the WHY you've chosen this content to share provides context and a reason to come back. I encourage you and your readers to always provide the WHY (through annotation) to the content you've curated.

  2. Dear Jessie;

    I very much appreciate you taking the time to comment.

    I agree, annotation is an important qualification of content curation, providing essential context to the potential user.

    With best wishes

  3. Tim,

    I've been thinking a lot about what to do with content that disappears after it is curated. One issue that comes up is if the original article is now gone, can you post a local copy on your blog?

    My software, MyCurator WordPress plugin, keeps a copy of the text of the article (which is used for its AI relevance process). I have been working on an automated solution as you suggest in this post to find and 'fix' content that disappears. My thought is that you could make available the full text you have saved, with attribution to the original 'site' and a notice that it is a copy of an article that has been removed. What do you think?

  4. Hello Mark;

    Many thanks for reading my blog and taking the time to write.

    My post is 'rather top level' and does not deal with specific implementations of 'curation', however, the real stumbling block for 'curation' is, as you suggest, when 'curated' content is actually deleted, or perhaps more likely these days, when content is moved, but the 'administrator' fails to include a re-direct to the new location of the content.

    When content is removed or irretrievably disappears (no re-direct) this is a catastrophic 'curation' failure. One needs a disaster management system and the only way to manage such an eventuality is, as you correctly note, to make and keep a copy. Again, how this is implemented will depend on the software used.

    I am not a WordPress user, however MyCurator sounds like a priceless piece of software to have.

    When considering Copyright law (which is unbelievably complex) and issues re plagiarism, one must be absolutely clear. I cannot see any problem with your suggested solution with regard to such clarity. You suggest giving full credit to the originator of the content, and making clear the content you are displaying only exists because the original content has been removed.

    I can think of only one circumstance that could 'trip-up' your solution. What if the content re-appeared on the originating site? Perhaps the content is 'put back' or the 'administrator' realised they had forgotten to include a re-direct?

    A test would need to continue to run to interrogate the original location of the content, and replace the 'duplicated content' with the original 'curated' display.

    I had not given thought to that possibility, very interesting. Thanks Mark for your comment, it has helped me identify a gap in my initial discussion.

    Take care.

  5. Tim,

    Great point, I'll make sure I take into account that things sometimes never 'disappear' from the web, sometimes they just get lost for a while!