On Old-School Web Content Curation

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There’s been a lot of talk over the past few months (and really, years) about how content curation is the next wave of social media. The reasoning goes that with the massive rise in new information channels spewing a flood of content at consumers, we’re teetering in the midst of an attention crash of sorts.

Better content filtering – feed searches and such – is one way to cope, paired with dedicated tools and even people whose job it is to curate all that information into useful collections for the rest of us. The tools – social bookmarkers like Delicious for example – help everyone who uses them become a vast web of curators in effect. Newer tools like Alltop in effect attempt to curate blogs around selected topics. And link sharing via Twitter and Facebook are exploding the concept even further, with more focus on realtime push and less on the archiving and organizing aspect found in social bookmarking.

I’d like to highlight an older kind of Web content curation, that I think often gets left out of this conversation: the link blog. It wraps the “filtered and trusted firehose” style of link sharing found on Twitter with a touch of commentary and editorial that ads real value and context to those links.

By way of example, take two very popular blogs: Boing Boing and Daring Fireball. Another great tool for this sort of thing by the way is Tumblr, but I won’t dive into it here.

Boing Boing, kind of the granddaddy of all link blogs, bills itself as “A directory of wonderful things.” Which it truly is – it’s a firehose of content in its own right, but of organized content sprinkled with light editorial provided by interesting authors, serving as something of a guided tour to all the quirky parts of the Web.

Daring Fireball, the link-ish blog of John Gruber, in contrast is mostly focused on the Apple community and in particular the Apple developer community. Lots of small links, with a sentence or few of editorial, interspersed with a longer article here and there.

Neither blog is designed to really “curate” content for long term categorization and reference in the way a social bookmarking tool does, yet they do spew out links in much the way you’ll find on Twitter. The value, and the difference, lies in the commentary attached to each link, commentary coming from sources whose judgement and authority many people trust.

It’s because of this short form editorial, from authoritative authors, that they are both among my first stops in the morning. I trust the Boing Boing crew and Mr. Gruber to find and share interesting, relevant links and I enjoy the bits of commentary they provide on each.

In the current era of mass link sharing via social networks, Boing Boing and DF can appear to almost be anachronisms. After all, blogs are soooo 2007, right? But their continued success and relevance I think points to a larger point: everyone has their own preferences for how they consume drips from that grand firehose of Web content, and no one tool or format is the “right” one.

Some people prefer to consume curated content in 140 characters or less (Twitter), some want it only from close trusted friends and in lower volume (Facebook), and some enjoy it with a bit more commentary fed out via RSS readers (link blogs). Which is why I see a future filled with a variety of Web content curation tools and styles, and tend to discount all the frantic stories that surface about how the rise of App X will kill Apps Y, Z, and everything else for that matter. In the case of Web content curation, we have a wide variety of tools and styles already co-existing, as people select what best suits their needs and taste.