Value of curation

Last year the New York Times published an opinion piece titled “A Better Internet Is Waiting For Us”. I’m not much of a social media user, though I’ve been online long enough – starting with BBSs in the early 1990s – to understand some of the issues the article raises.

One passage stood out to me:

What would ‘internet realists’ want from their media streams? The opposite of what we have now. Today, platforms like Facebook and Twitter are designed to make users easy to contact. That was the novelty of social media — we could get in touch with people in new and previously unimaginable ways.

It also meant, by default, that any government or advertiser could do the same. Mr. Scalzi thinks we should turn the whole system on its head with ‘an intense emphasis on the value of curation.’ It would be up to you to curate what you want to see. Your online profiles would begin with everything and everyone blocked by default.

I’ve been thinking about the “value of curation” in the context of my digital humanities projects, such as Paradicms. I’m considering curation as a process of discovering, understanding, contextualizing, and synthesizing knowledge about the world. My focus is on how to build applications that support that process as well as communicate its results.

This sense of “curation” is akin to the note-taking system of the German sociologist Niklas Luhmann, described in the book How to Take Smart Notes. The notes are the byproduct of a reader actively questioning a text, consolidating and expanding her mental model of the world, and synthesizing knowledge as she reads, rather than passively consuming the written word.