Can’t anybody write? …the “Content Curation” problem

Sometimes I seriously wonder. Recently I set Sergey and Larry to work on “content creation”. Limited myself to the first page of Google results; a good thing, because more would have made me feel suicidal. Sounds extreme? Read on….

Starting with the Wikipedia entry, s.v. we read “Content curation is not a new phenomenon. Museums and galleries have curators to select items for collection and display. There are also curators in the world of media, for instance DJs of radio stations tasked with selecting songs to be played over the air.” Okay on museums and galleries since that’s the traditional usage; most curators have either terminal degrees in the fine arts, or advanced degrees in art history. Not okay with the following sentence. With all due respect, DJs are simply not like museum creators, with the possible exception of classical music stations where their DJs usually have either substantial performing experience, or academic degrees in music, or both. By the way, in classical music, “songs” are Lieder, as in Schubert’s songs. The Beethoven Fifth Symphony is many things, but “song” it is not. But the worst thing in the sentence is “tasked”. The first thousand times I read it online, no problem. But it’s omnipresent nowadays in writing, both “legacy media” (another phrase that should never have been coined” and the digital. It’s useless, it’s lazy, it’s cliche.

And here’s a post on Mashable, “If You use the Web You are a Creator'”. Right. Everyone can do it. Those degreed types and real experts…who needs them? Everybody, just everybody can sort through the information flood. If you believe that…why on earth are you visiting this blog?

Finally, there’s the cliché which has entered the common vocabulary for good, I fear. “Content.” If you say “articles” or “essays” or “squibs” or even “riffs”, I’m with you. The word “content” tossed around as it almost always is…says nothing (it’s way too general), is overused, and…fills me with inertia. In the 90s Bill Gates used it a lot, but I’m sure he wasn’t the first. Besides, even though I’m now a happy Mac user, Microsoft has been very good to me in the past. Even though we all know that “GUI” does not mean “Graphical User Interface” but “Gates Understands Income”. Or, if you will, Micro$oft.

Conventional wisdom has it that we inhabit the Information Society brought on by Internet. Wrong as usual,  CW. I’ve been suffering from information overload since computers had memories measured in kilobytes, took up a room, and weren’t called computers but Electronic Brains. If you’ve read the “About Robert” page you’ll see why. Even in those days when a large hard drive was 20 MB and a lot of memory was 640K. information came in faster than I could process it, and even on those computers could process my words faster than my head could process ideas.

There has always been a problem with finding the “good stuff.” Yes, you can get more faster from having a menage à trois with Sergey and Larry than by literally thumbing The Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature in the old days. But there’s always way too much to sort through and not enough time. Even though, as the great German classicist Friedrich Leo put it, “there are twenty-four hours in the day, and if that’s not enough, there are the evenings.”

Speaking of that menage à trois. Great if you need to find out about the maker of Amalgamated Widgets. Or if you want the lowest price for a case of Fizzie Swiggles. But even the best crafted search, using Boolean operators and all the advanced search facilities that Google offers, comes up short. Some things aren’t digital, and never will be. Important things. For example, when I’ve taught Roman religion, at one point, through readings and discussion I’ve made my students experts in one small Roman festival. Then I’ve turned them loose online to see what they found, and discuss the ten best links and the ten worst. Nobody could come up with more than a couple of “barely” good links (their phrase), and everyone went way over ten for the bad links. Their comments were shrill. As one wrote “I used to think it didn’t exist or didn’t matter if it wasn’t online. I’ll never use online the same way again.” And another “I never realized how useless online could be for serious learning.”

Out of the mouths of babes.

So I’m going to do a series piecemeal about how I pursue and select, the latter term far more accurate ; cf. above on  the c-word  traditionally applied to museum curators. Further, I’m hoping that by showing what I bring to the table you’ll have your own additions or, at least, find mine useful. Why? Because as a successful academic, I’ve learned how to weed out the great from the good, the bad, and the ugly. It won’t be biased to my own area of academia (fear not!) nor will it be one post after another; it will be biased and totally skewed towards finding good stuff for anyone who realizes that her/its/his head is not for decoration. To coin a phrase.


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