I’ve been thinking and talking a lot about curation recently. It is one of the things that I firmly believe will be a key differentiator for companies in the future — those that curate great content beyond their own for customers, and those that don’t. Some of this curation will be of the human varietal and some will be algorithmic. One of the things I had not been thinking about, however, is the danger of what happens when things get over-curated or over-filtered.

This morning, I listened to two thought provoking angles on the danger of too much curation. The first was via John Moe who does the Marketplace Tech Report on our local NPR affiliate, KUT. The segment I’m referencing was focused on Internet radio pioneer, Pandora, and it’s recent addition of comedy to its service. For those unfamiliar with Pandora, it takes a unique approach to serving up music (and now comedy) by hand scoring each song along hundreds of different criteria (genre, number of band members, male or female singer, etc.) What struck me as interesting was the concept of using Pandora’s Music Genome Project technology against news, the potential downside being only being served up news you want to hear versus news you need to hear.

On the heels of listening to the piece about Pandora, I watched a TED video I discovered courtesy of friend (and valuable personal filter), Adam Cohen. The video featured author, Eli Pariser, author of the book, The Filter Bubble. I’ve embedded the video below which I strongly recommend watching. The essence of Eli’s talk was what happens when the things we should know about or need to know about start to get curated out of our streams based on our natural preferences. As an example, he talked about seeing the balance of liberal and conservative friends posts in his Facebook newsfeed start to tilt completely toward just showing his liberal friends’ posts. The problem with this is that while he is self-admittedly liberally leaning, he values the opinions and links of his more conservative friends.

This got me to thinking more about the role of curation and the importance of showing us things that might be counterintuitive to what we’ve selected in the past. This may include things that make us uncomfortable, or unexpected. For instance, what if Pandora gave me a little Billie Holiday in my Red Hot Chili Peppers stream? At the end of the day, I can always vote with my feet and give the song the thumbs down. The same could be (maybe should be) true with Google and Bing. Or with any service that starts making choices on our behalf. As Eli stated in his video, it’s okay to filter for us but make sure that the criteria is transparent and easily changeable.

I’m still considering what this means for companies? Do they show competitor’s products along with their own in their curated streams? Or perhaps highlight the occasional negative review to reinforce their commitment to authenticity? I would love your thoughts.


  1. says

    Thanks for the shoutout Aaron. You ask some questions about how companies need to think about this, but also think about the consumer… I highly doubt Joe Q. Public has any real idea about how much is filtered – search results, product recommendations, other web personalization, and FB news feeds. I think Netflix does a great job at allowing you to change recommendations and explaining (at least in part) why a movie is recommended to you, but most services we use on a daily basis do not make it evident or allow changes… they are purely behavioral based. Much food for thought on both sides.

    PS. Love the new blog look – very well done and welcome to WordPress. I’m way behind on my our curation with RSS feeds, nice to drop by for a visit.

  2. says

    “I’m still considering what this means for companies? Do they show competitor’s products along with their own in their curated streams? Or perhaps highlight the occasional negative review to reinforce their commitment to authenticity? I would love your thoughts.”

    This is where the conflict inherent is so much of social media rears it’s head again. The purposes of the business and the consumer aren’t aligned.

    The purpose of business curation is persuasion. Maybe not persuading your customer to buy something, but certainly to think of you in a certain way, or associate you with a category or concept. So even if highlighting a competitor, the purpose is to point back to the company in a way that adds to their credibility.

    The purpose of the kind of personal curation you talk about in your post is to challenge the way you think. Including information that runs contrary to your inclinations isn’t about persuading you to change what you think, but make you think a little deeper. That kind of challenging content works well to make us acknowledge there is another point of view — even if we don’t agree with it.

    Coming back to business, the challenge of curation is that companies want to stick with persuasion becoming their own filter bubble for what drives their customers towards a final purchase action.

    And so the question becomes: Do companies become the filter through which we explore non-commercial thought?
    Do I go to Kodak when I want to consider Photography and expect that they will curate a comprehensive and challenging stream for me to explore?

  3. Anonymous says

    Thanks Adam. And thanks for bringing my attention to the TED video. Great stuff. As for the blog, that was all Kenneth Lim’s doing. He’s a rock star. it’s funny, I’ve actually been on WordPress for my work blogs and for Quickndirty for a couple of years. Just hadn’t migrated Citizen Marketer 2.1 (next up, Big Papelbon).

    John – you’ve hit the nail on the head. And to your last point about a Kodak (former client) or HP (current client) providing great photo content/education because both provide printers and ink, I LOVE that idea. It was one of the things we actually did pretty well at Powered. Thanks again for your thoughtful comment.

  4. says

    I love the question of whether curation is actually removing information that we really do need to see. This has been rammed home twice in the past 6 months or so. The first time when when a bunch of toxic waste got dumped into the Danube, fouling one of Europe’s iconic rivers. A couple of days later, I started seeing expressions of outrage on Twitter and Facebook, friends demanding why such news wasn’t being covered more forcefully.

    Except that it was. My hometown newspaper — in a sleepy Midwestern town of a couple hundred thousand — had it in the front page for a couple of days. My SM friends who were angry about the crisis being “undercovered” had only their personal curators to blame. Not the media.

    Ditto with some of the commentary about the way that the Osama raid went differently than first reported. I’ve seen some wringing of hands about the way that most people won’t even see the corrected version of the tick-tock. Yet — once again — my local paper put revision of the we-shot-Osama narrative on the front page, lead story, above-the-fold. My Twitter curators, by that time, had gone onto making May 4 Star Wars jokes.

    That’s not to say that “curation”– as we’ve come to talk about it — is being done badly or is worthless. But it speaks to the value of giving people news that they need, not that they want. And though that sounds quaint in this era of narrowcasting and tailoring information to each individual, there is a huge trust bounty to be had by the company that can curate as objectively as possible and in a way that leaves readers/consumers not just satisfied, but smarter. Yes, this kind of approach will always in the minority (because they’re not giving the people what the people *want*), but it is one that has tremendous value in it.

  5. says

    This is a great topic Aaron. I also wonder if this is also to be said for Behavioral Targeting for Online Advertising. Many studies show people like the ‘discovery’ of news things and feel random ads achieve that vs he is male 18-25 stick with sports and beer.

    I love the news analogy because there was a part of history when news was not biased or opinionated here is the US and now it has shifted back. Someone might watch MSNBC or FOX thus curating the slant they receive.

    I think for Brands they do this already but not willingly. If you watch the Dew Tour Snowboarding. Mountain Dew is the tour sponsor paying big bucks. But Rockstar, Red Bull and Monster sponsor athletes. So often when they finish a run they are holding a can of their brand with Mountain Dew behind them. Happens with most sports events. Not sure the effect for sales.

  6. Anonymous says

    Great post and I loved the TED talk. I am surprised at the Google algorithem for Egypt News! That is disconcerting. Keep feeding people what they want and they think the world is built around them! That is just the wrong idea for growth and evolution.
    My company offers a curation platform called Our vision for curation was to give the user an editorial capability which includes both filtering and clustering. The clustering would be for example to juxtapose competing views to provide a new perspective –
    When we talk about curation we need to differentiate aggregation from curation. Machines never curate, they aggregate. Curation is a conscious exercise –
    The key point I want to make is that curation is an editorial function and not an algorthmic one. Here is a video we made to demonstrate the point –
    So I don’t think we will ever have too much curation. Human curation will enhance the findability of information on the Internet.

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