Curation: The Solution to Filter Failure
This was an assignment submitted for WEB309 – Web Production. This was certainly one of the more enjoyable units that I completed.
The Internet, renown for being the so called Information Superhighway and host of the World Wide Web is suffering from a major system failure. The Web is unable to organize the massive amounts of data that are uploaded to it every day. Internet search engines such as Google are now proving to be inadequate to the needs of its users. The time has come for Internet users to step away from their reliance on aggregation devices and to play their part in the curation of the Web. This essay first defines information ecologies in order to analyze the depth of the ecological problem before taking an exploratory analysis of the different ways Web users can perform identity announcement and create expansive Web presences. Finally, this essay defines online curation and arguing three roles, quality control, audience visualization and personal branding that can go some way to solving filter failure.
An information ecology is a ‘system of people, practices, values, and technologies in a particular local environment’ with the spotlight on ‘human activities that are served by technology’ (Nardi, 1999). Nardi pinpoints the characteristics of an information ecology as being ‘a complex system of parts and relationships. It exhibits diversity and experiences continual evolution. Different parts of ecology coevolve, changing together according to the relationships in the system. Several keystone species necessary to the survival of the ecology are present. Information ecologies have a sense of locality.” Further, Nardi explains that the term “ecology” is used rather than “community” as these characteristics are more evocative to ecology than to a community. With this understanding we can acknowledge that each of us are a member of a significant number of Internet based information ecologies – our social network of peers, associates friends and families, any social interests or hobbies, etc.
An important connection is made by Pór (2000) between the concept of information ecologies and the concepts of collective intelligence and the knowledge economy. Pór argues that the “knowledge ecology” was born out of “information management” and that its goal is to “develop and mobilize collective intelligent and ultimately organizational wisdom.” Collective intelligence, Pór explains, is developed through a nervous system. It is the quality of this nervous system that “affects the quality of the intelligence that flows through it.”
In having an appreciation of the massive amount of data, Five Exabyte worth every two days (Rosenbaum, 2011, p. 10) it is easy to understand Shirky’s (2008) belief that the nervous system of the Web suffers from a “general system design problem.” Shirky argues that “it’s not information overload. It’s filter failure.” He explains that a significant reason behind this dilemma is the costs of producing anything by anyone falling “through the roof” and that “there is no economic logic in stating that you need to filter for quality before you publish.” To simplify Shirky’s argument, Web users are inundated with data, much of which is inappropriate to our needs and we have insufficient or inadequate filters in place to cope with this load.
The first step to understanding how to solve filter failure is to acknowledge that we are a part of the problem. The Web contains much of what we have contributed to it long after we have done so as well as what others have published about ourselves as well. We consider this to be our web presence. Helmond (2010, p. 6-15) explains that ‘we distinguish ourselves through identity performance in a public process that involves both the “identity announcement” made by the individual claiming an identity and the “identity placement” made by others who endorse the claimed identity. An identity is established when there is a “coincidence of placements and announcements.’ Further, identity announcement and identity placement are mediated, performed and constructed in Web 2.0 by ‘cultural software in the form of social networking sites and search engines.’
Identity announcement, according to Helmond (ibid, p. 6-11) can be performed in a number of different ways including creating a personal homepage, blogging, the usage of social networking profiles, the utilization of Micro-blogs and the lifestream. Chandler (1998) explained that ‘home page authors engage in bricolage, adopting and adapting borrowed material from the public domain of the Web in the process of fashioning personal and public identities. In such sites, what are visibly ‘under construction’ are not only the pages but the authors themselves.’ Consalvo (2002, p. 22) wrote that blogs that have been used as sites for identity construction and self-invention have underlined the unruly multiplicity of the social identity online. Boyd (2006, p. 1) educated that social media ‘profiles have become a common mechanism for presenting one’s identity online’ and that they have ‘been extended to include explicitly social information such as articulated “Friend” relationship and testimonial’ and as such profiles have shifted ‘from being a static representation of self to a communicative body in conversation with the other represented bodies.’ Marwick (2011, p. 130) explains that Twitter is a micro-blogging site where users ‘speak directly to their imagined audience.’ Therefore, Twitter is a ‘collaborator in the identity and content presented by the speaker, and the imagined audience becomes visible when it influences the information Twitter users choose to broadcast.’ Finally, Blain (2009) informs that a lifestream is ‘the collection of one’s activity on various services… often arranged by time, into one central location.’ Helmond (ibid, p. 11) explains that ‘the lifestream at present is not so much about a time-ordered stream of documents as it is about a time-ordered stream of online activity that represents the diary of the online life.’
Given the plethora of ways that identity is announced online it is of little wonder that our Web presences demand curation. Curation, as defined by Rosenbaum (2012) is ‘the act of individuals with a passion for a content area to find, contextualize, and organize information. Curators provide a consistent update regarding what’s interesting, happening, and cool in their focus. Curators tend to have a unique and consistent point of view – providing a reliable context for the content that they discover and organize.” Rosenbaum (2011, p., in Curation Nation, explains that ‘curation adds quality back into the equation and puts a human filter between the individual and the overwhelming world of abundance. Curation replaces noise with clarity. The clarity comes in the things that people you trust help you to find.’
Rosenbaum’s reference of the ability of curation to add quality is of vital importance and as such is recognized by other experts of curation. Fischer (2007) explains that in much the same way that hip-hop DJs and producers remix and sample art, curators construct their own narratives through surfing, searching, tagging and sharing content and in the process transform it into multilayered multi-referential wholes that are greater than the sum of their parts. Good (2011) argues that ‘curation can be effective only as much as it effectively provides a quality filtering mechanism that can replace my need to consult multiple sources.’ Rheingold in interview with Jenkins (2012) educates that curation ‘is about the social production of decisions about which information is worth paying attention to… We’re seeing the evolution of hybrid social and algorithmic systems for transforming large numbers of individual decisions into valuable metadata. But at the fundamental level, curation depends on individuals making mindful and informed decisions in a publicly detectable way.’
Rheingold’s explanation of curation explains why search engines are inadequate to our needs by themselves and offers a solid reason into why curation has become a necessity. Trafalgar Communications (2011) explains it more succinctly by noting that curation adds the human factor lacking in search engine aggregation. Consequently, we understand that the most important role that curation plays in the creation and maintenance of a web presence is that of quality control. Good curation demands that quality added to the overall web presence.
Having ascertained that quality control as being the most important role that curation plays in the creation and maintenance of a web presence it becomes clear that the initial, and constant, role that curation plays is that of audience visualization. So integral to curation is audience visualization that Handley (2011, p. 208) defines curation as ‘the act of continually identifying, selecting, and sharing the best and most relevant content and other online resources on a specific subject to match the needs of a specific audience’ [italics added for emphasis]. Marwick (2011, p. 115-127) explains that ‘every participant in a communicative act has an imagined audience’ and that although social media users ‘don’t know exactly who comprises their audience addressed, they have a mental picture of who they’re writing or speaking to – the audience invoked. Much like writers, social media participants imagine an audience and tailor their online writing to match.’ This is especially true for curators curating their web presences. It is through audience visualization that one is able to decide on what content is best suited for the web presence. Baer (2011) believes that possessing the ability to identify your audience, who you’re working to attract to your web presence, what audience you’re trying to build and ultimately what content is most vital to meeting their needs, is the most important factor in achieving successful curation.
With successful audience visualization and quality control in place to satisfy the needs of your audience the third role of curation is able to be utilized, personal branding. It must be noted that not all curators will choose to brand themselves but doing so offers bountiful rewards. Gehl (2011) offers a four step procedure for branding in Web 2.0. These steps begin with ‘self-examination resulting in differentiating oneself via textual and hyper textual representations, ‘adopting the language of transparency and authenticity’, ‘making connections with others by offering quantifiable affective exchanges’ and finally and ‘most importantly, engaging in autosurveillance’ which is the act of monitoring one’s online persona. Rosenbaum (2011, p. 159) quoting Reuter ascertains why those who wish to brand themselves should utilize this role, “brands have the expertise, the time, and the money to be great editors and curators of digital content. It seems reasonable to conclude that one part of being a great brand is now being a great curator.”
The benefits of successful personal branding are numerous. Contreras (2011) suggests “that the creation and curation of relevant content, coupled with the cultivation of a relationship [through branding] leads to trust” while Mesa (2012) proffers that ‘content curation is an essential part of establishing thought leadership in a content-saturated online landscape. By continuously sharing articles, news and breakthroughs about your industry and expertise, you also establish trust and authority’ and Gaasterland (2011) argues that curation ‘establishes you as an expert, a trusted source and it builds your reputation gain and social capital.’ However, it is Solis (2010) who puts it best by writing ‘as your networks both grow and contextualize, your presence increases exponentially in value. Social Graph Theory suggests that the size of our social graph will grow year over year… establishing a new genre of relationships (strong ties), relations (purposeful ties) and associations (weak or temporary ties).’ Thus, it is through the role of personal branding that enables curators to achieve increased social status.
In conclusion, this essay defined information ecology as being a complex system of parts and relationships exhibiting diversity and with different parts of the ecology coevolving according to the relationships in the system. It has been recognized that information ecology has a connection to the concepts of collective intelligence and the knowledge economy. In this finding, this essay finds agreement with Shirky’s belief that the Web suffers from a general system design failure. However, rather than this problem being a case of information overload, the Web suffers from an affliction of filter failure. It has been found in an analysis of web presence that the multitude of ways that Web users perform identity announcement contributes to the problem of filter failure rather than assisting it. However, the solution to filter failure can be found through online curation. When curation is in a position to perform the roles of quality control, audience visualization and ultimately personal branding the Web is able to be filtered significantly better than when left to the devices of aggregated Web search engines.
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