The Coming Age of the Curation Economy: Building Context Around Content

/ Oct 7, 2013


By Steven Rosenbaum

The future is coming into focus. There is such clear momentum around a set of emerging behaviors that we can, without a doubt, project the exponential growth of raw unfiltered data.

Think of it like Moore’s Law for content. The speed, scale, and number of distinct elements of produced content will double every 24 months. Call it Rosenbaum’s Law — unless you know of someone who’s quantified the growth before today.

To be clear, the reason for this growth is that we’ve allowed three things to merge into one. As each of us enables more wearable technology and devices that invite us to ‘check in,’ we fill our personal channel with data. Our location, our weight, our order from Fresh Direct, our “Likes,” our Yelp reviews, our Instagram photos. This is raw data — unfiltered data — of little interest to anyone other than our close friends. But as Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, and others have increasingly defaulted our posts to “Public” visibility, we each add meaningfully to the volume of raw data on the web.

At the same time, those of us who produce content, as opposed to data, no longer look to lure audiences to find our material on our own blogs or sites. We collectively go where the audiences are, sharing our information in tweets, links, uploads, and posts. A single well-crafted post can find itself with four or five homes, each of them adding to the collective volume of information on the web. And as the web breaks free of the bonds of the desktop, and moves rapidly into mobile, our always-on, portable computers will generate content wherever you are. In fact, 2013 is predicted to be the year that mobile traffic desktop traffic.

And then there’s the emerging class of new digital devices that make content — from GoPro camera rigs, to the new video capabilities on the iPhone 5s, to the soon-to-be-unleashed Google Glass. Video is the fastest growing collection of raw information. And it is the hardest to contextualize or ‘scan’ before you engage the play button. Video consumes both bandwidth and attention in massive quantities — with little guarantee of useful data until it’s been engaged.

These things are facts. Raw data is growing at a rate we can hardly imagine — and it will only grow as devices and behaviors become more adept at raw-content creating.

A few facts to underline the trend:

Eric Schmidt, the chairman of Google, has famously said: “Five exabytes of information have been created between the dawn of civilization and 2003, but that much information is now created every two days, and the pace is increasing.”

According to Cisco, by 2016, 1.2 million video minutes — the equivalent of 833 days (or over two years) — would travel the internet every second.

And YouTube’s numbers reflect the dramatic grown in web video, with 72 hours of video uploaded every minute to YouTube, which equals more than one hour of video being uploaded to YouTube every second. Today, YouTube is also the second-biggest search engine on the web.

So, if you accept the facts behind Rosenbaum’s Law — that the creation of raw content is going to double every two years — then the nature of consumption is what is going to change on the web.

The Curation Economy is built on some important, but I would argue inevitable, assumptions.

The Five Laws of the Curation Economy

The First Law: People don’t want more content, they want less. We’re overwhelmed in raw, unfiltered, context-free data. Humans want it to stop.

The Second Law: Curators come in three shapes. There are Curation Experts — people whose background and depth of understanding makes their curatorial choices valid. If you’re looking for medical advice, you want your video viewing curated by a doctor, not a patient. There are Editorial Curators, who manage the voice and the collections of the publications and sites they organize. And there are Passion-Driven Curators, they love their particular area of focus and attention and bring that single-minded focus to every piece of content they touch.

The Third Law: Curation isn’t a hobby, it’s both a profession and a calling. Curators need to be paid to be part of the emerging ecosystem. What’s a fair fee will depend on how critical the curator’s output is in the category. But an economic basis is essential, and inevitable.

The Fourth Law: Curation requires technology and tools to find, filter, and validate content at the speed of the real-time web. Curation can’t simply be a human with a web browser — the mix of man and machine is essential here.

The Fifth Law: Curation within narrow, focused, high-quality categories will emerge to compete with the mass-media copycats who are filling the curation space with lists, cat videos, and meme links.

The simple fact is this: The web used to be a relatively closed community of makers. In the past, anyone could browse the web, but content creators needed to have tools, literacy, and time to create and publish. In the past few years, the growth in mobile devices along with the widening definition of content from contextualized data to raw data has opened the floodgates of participation. I’m not arguing against this trend — far from it. What I am saying is this: With creation now ubiquitous and overwhelming, we must adopt new content organization and consumption methods in order to find meaningful information in the fast-moving data flow of the web.

The cure for information overload is coherent curation — data-driven discovery managed by skilled, thoughtful, and in some cases expert curators. Much as the quality of a restaurant is created by the chef, the quality of the curated end-product is going to be made by the curator. And that — without a doubt — creates new jobs, new opportunities, and even new economies in a world of information abundance.

Curate or be curated — that’s the new face of digital content in the always-on world.

stevenrosenbaumSteven Rosenbaum is an endlessly hungry curator. His work includes video, text, and social network exploration. As a startup guy,  he leads – a curation platform for video publishing. As an author, his book “Curation Nation” turned a buzzword into a action plan. And in the ‘giving back’ category, he’s New York’s first Entrepreneur-at-Large — working with startups and government to help NY grow.

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  • dustin

    Many good, relevant points in the article.

  • Robin Good

    Steve, thank you for having written this one. I think your five points are right on target and should give proper encouragement to the many serious curators out there.

    If I may add, in my view, content curation is a socially beneficial activity that goes beyond the interests of a specific company or brand. In the spirit of organizing information for a purpose and a specific group of people, much higher value can be extracted than if content curation is placed at the mercy of mere content marketing efforts.

    Would you agree with this statement?

  • RobinGood

    Steve, thank you for having written this one. I think your five points are right on target and should give proper encouragement to the many serious curators out there.

    If I may add, in my view, content curation is a socially beneficial activity that goes beyond the interests of a specific company or brand. In the spirit of organizing information for a purpose and a specific group of people, much higher value can be extracted than if content curation is placed at the mercy of mere content marketing efforts.

    Would you agree with this statement?

    • Dan Kaplan

      Robin/Steve – Great piece Steve. And Robin I agree – if you put the user (consumer) first the rest will take care of itself.

  • kevolution

    Steven, you lost me at “Call it Rosenbaum’s Law.”

    • Steven Rosenbaum

      Sorry Kevolution. I’ve been writing about the need to focus some thinking around curation for 3 years, and my ‘thought’ pieces seem to be hard to get noticed. Figured Laws would surface some law ‘breakers’ and some folks who disagree. Feel free to have at it –


      • kevolution

        If it were me, I’d name it after myself at the end, with a tongue in cheek. Make your point, then try to make it stick. I literally stopped reading at the point you wrote it in the existing piece.

  • Jay Palter

    People don’t usually name laws after themselves. And none of the 5 laws are really laws at all – they’re observations, opinions and predictions.

    The first so-called law is generally a correct observation, I think. There’s too much information and people are seeking more meaning, less raw information.

    The second so-called law is really a proposed taxonomy of curators. And I disagree that only doctors can be medical experts. If you’re suffering from a disease, chances are other disease suffers can be as helpful as medical professionals – and sometimes moreso.

    The third point is silly to be included here. Yes, there’s contextual value in curation and the market will determine it’s monetary value. But this statement is the furthest thing from a “law”.

    The fourth point (I’m tired of typing “so-called law”) is just wrong. Sure, curation can be a person and a web browser. That’s how curation started. Will it evolve into a machine-enhanced function? Sure.

    The fifth point is a prediction that I tend to agree with.

    So other than those points, I’m with you. 😉

    I’d drop the “law” language and rework this as a trends piece.

    Just my 2 cents.

    • Steven Rosenbaum

      Jay – thanks for your almost entirely positive comments, rhetorical flourishes not withstanding.

      Let me respond on the one point where we disagree – My Second Law… about the need for experts and doctors. I’m a fan of public ‘crowd sourced’ knowledge, in fact I wrote about “Patients Like Me” in my book Curation Nation at length. However, anyone who’s had a pain in their side knows that the web’s huge volume of patient ‘experiences’ makes finding good data, and fact-based medical information virtually impossible. How many sites with “testimonials” for treatments or pills drives you to a Pharma site or an unregulated “supplement’ cure? It want to be able to listen to real people. But I want content curated by medical experts to be clearly labeled so I can find it first. I still believe that Dr.’s learn important things in med school that the crowd doesn’t know. Do you disagree?

      And, in terms of these ideas being “Laws” rather than “Trends” that wasn’t an accident, and I expected to get some grief for it. But, curation is currently a ‘lawless’ space, and it’s being used indiscriminately. I spend hours every day building curation solutions, thinking, testing, learning. So while I don’t expect to be the only person leading the need to focus and organize the practice, I do take it seriously.

      If you don’t like my 5 Laws – I’d like to read yours. How’s that?


  • RobinGood

    Jay, good points. …especially the one on doctors.

    • Steven Rosenbaum

      Hi Robin – appreciate your work, and your thinking. I wrote back to Jay about Dr’s, and the need to differentiate between Crowd Sourced medical knowledge and expert curation. See what you think. Best,


  • bobjenz

    Good stuff Steven! Especially the first of your laws – people want less and they expect high-quality information instantly. Curate or be curated is a catchy observation verbalized, however…

    There can only be so many curators. Lots of information out there is repetitive information – the trick is how to rise above the din of the many curators/experts (or so-called curators/experts) – is it paid search that gets those same curators to the top of the information food chain? One can curate the most informative list of all time but trusted brand credibility of the curatorial source combined with convenience (getting in front of eyeballs first) will continue to be the way that people get their info. Therefore, there’s a third element missing from your equation of Man & Machine working together to intelligently sift through the digital sea to become a successful curatorial source – Marketing/Ad Dollars for brand relevance and more Marketing/Ad Dollars to stay in front of eyeballs in Search & Social Channels.

  • Penelope Silvers

    I agree with the points presented here. #1 People are stuffed too full of information and need it filtered. #2 You must be passion-driven to be a curator. It takes a lot of time to do it right, and #4 I rely heavily on Evernote to stash my articles that I find on a daily basis. My material is never-ending by utilizing this amazing tool.
    Oh, and #3 and getting paid for curating? I’m open for that one! Let me know how this will work. At this point, I’m curating to teach myself and others.

  • Mary Goldwin

    Yes, I agree with Jay that these are not really laws at all. A “law” is called as such when a particular thing is governed by it. Like “law of inertia,” “law of nature,” “law of attraction,” etc. Something that is beyond argument since every statement against it will simply fail.

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