Curation: Necessary Yet Broken

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Curation is necessary. But it’s also broken, very broken.

Please let me know if you don’t see this post on Facebook -oh wait – you couldn’t possibly tell me if you saw this because you didn’t see it. Facebook does its own curating of content from your friends and family – I could tell that this was going on over the course of time but now its gotten ridiculous – I now ordinarily miss things people who are important to me send, and my stream is full of junk – mostly ads. It takes time to scroll through the crap to get to the good stuff – and even when I see the good stuff I only seems to get a small taste of it. Makes me think of World Of Warcraft in some sense – the gamemakers purposely force you to wait periods of time before things happen in order to force you to use the product longer – I’d be very surprised if the same isn’t going on with Facebook, Twitter and most other firehoses of data.

I understand – curation is a necessary process in order to surface the most relevant information – there is no way people have the time to sift through everything coming at them in order to get at what they want. But like what’s happened with Google’s dominance and the loss of  the long tail, the same thing is happening with our social feeds.

While curation can be algorithm based, people based or a combination of both, what is happening to our social feeds is the same thing that happened to the long tail – since most people interface to the world via a small cluster of sites – and all of those sites use these algorithms – most of what we see is algorithm based. And its my supposition that these algorithms have been tweaked in order to produce the most revenue, as opposed to provide the most relevant results. In this way – curation is broken. We aren’t getting what’s relevant to us – we have to search and search to find the relevant stuff – and if this keeps going, eventually we will be back to the same hierarchical model, even for social feeds. The internet is in grave danger of shutting off all access to all of the creativity which made it an awesome place in the first place.

The other day, I was looking at a post I had made about my latest fiction novel. Beside the like button was a button I’d never seen before – “Promote” – I’d seen this for other things, but not near a post before. I clicked on it and a modal window came up. The wording was very interesting:

Promote an Important Post

Now you can promote this post to move it higher in friends’ news feeds and help them notice it. Any post that you pay to promote will be marked as Sponsored

Total: $6.99 USD

Yep – Facebook is extorting cash from me in order to post a post of mine on my friends timelines. I guess that unless I spend $7, my post will be relegated to the backwaters of Facebook, never to be seen by anyone. Is there an “Invite To Like” feature…?

Remember all of those people who exhort that you should be active on social media in order to build customers for your business? That social media is a free way to build and advertise your business? Forget it. Fairly soon, if not already, you’ll need to pay the cabal of internet fronting sites a fee just to allow people to see your personal message – not just marketing your site.

This is, of course, a nightmare to startups and other firms attempting to gain some kind of traction. The chances that someone will see your message are diminishing rapidly. There was a day, once, when you could set up a blog or a website, be reached via a search engine, and could build your audience. Nowadays, both algo based and human curation conspires to keep those companies out of the public eye.

And human curation, in some cases, is no better. There are plenty of places where startups and new businesses are featured, and in some cases, being listed on those sites is a make or break for those businesses. Alas, you can’t just apply for your startup to be listed on some of these sites – the curators of the sites sometimes don’t even accept submissions for possible inclusion – in their judgement, unless they personally stumble across a site, or a friend suggests it – it can never get into the inner circle for consideration. Your typical startup needs all of the promotion it can get in order to help gain users and traction – and once again these gatekeepers feel that their judgement is superior to others.

Being exclusive is great, unless you are the excluded. There is nothing more disheartening to a startup than being told that “due to the curators wanting to maintain the quality of the site, we’ll let you know if we let you in” – and then never hearing from them again. It’s like the internet has become high school again, with certain cliques letting only the cool kids in. Everyone else is left out in the cold.  Even if you have an awesome idea – if they decide that you don’t rate – you don’t rate.

So what is the answer? Well, I see a few things happening:

  1. People are going to start to get fed up with the results that they are getting – possibly enough to leave Facebook for something else – but what. Teens are already bailing in a big way – I’ll bet that relevance ending up in the reason list along with not wanting to hang with the parents.
  2. Facebook will need to improve relevance in order to keep people
  3. Third party interfaces to social platforms will gain more prominence as they pull together more relevant social feeds than the sites themselves
  4. New curation methodologies will start to show up – we can’t just go on the way we are now.

The important and interesting stuff used to be hard to find. For a while there, it was a lot easier to find. And now, its getting hard to find again – but this time – its our choice to do something about it – we have the people and the tech and the communications networks to properly surface the most relevant stuff – we just aren’t doing it yet.

Talk about another “next hot space”…

 

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