Sunday 10 March 2013

Matt Langer: "Stop Calling it Curation"

Matt Langer on content curation and "the Curator's Code":

What we do online every day is no different, and neither the introduction of an audience nor the torrent of information we wade through on a daily basis does anything at all to alter or enhance this fundamental behavior. Call it sifting, call it filtering, call it editing even, but it sure as hell isn't curating.

Which makes it all very curious to me that those most eager to self-desribe as "curators" are often the most vocal in their concerns with "proper" attribution. And attribution I can get behind! Footnotes, endnotes, bibliographies-I'm a big fan! I'm also a big fan of the internet's native form of attribution, the hyperlink. Yet the Curator's Code seeks to bolt an additional piece of ultimately vestigial metadata onto this native form-the "ᔥ"-an addition only made necessary so as to distinguish this one particular form of attribution from that other one which Popova and others are so eager to see elevated: the "via."

Now the "hat-tip" has long been a simple courtesy, not some kind of moral commandment; its omission from any citation is in no way the sort of punishable offense that failing to attribute any borrowed content would be. That's because usually the greatest sin of omitting a "via" is denying someone else the moment of flattery that comes with the recognition that some other person follows whatever it is they have to share, whereas omitting a link to original content is, you know, stealing.

But as far as value-adds go the "via" generally offers little more than a cookie crumb trail of others who have also read the material in question-the digital equivalent of finding the previous borrower's name scribbled on the card in the back of a library book. Which is neat, I guess? But come on now, none of us here is Averroes rediscovering Aristotle or Poggio Bracciolini serendipitously plucking Lucretius off a dusty shelf-this is people posting pictures of yawning kittens on Tumblr blogs we're talking about here.

And yet we see this sort of thing happen all the time on the internet, all these great hand-wringing debates over "proper" attribution ("proper" usually meaning "sending traffic my way as a reward for finding something first").

And it all stinks to high heaven of self-importance.

Think of how often the words "broke the reblog chain" get bandied about in breathy Tumblr scolds, as if the put-off bloggers behind these scolds are all willfully ignorant of the possibility-hard to believe! I know!-that someone could have run across the same piece of original content elsewhere on the internet. Or think of how often one link aggregator complains that another link aggregator has "stolen" his material without giving proper credit. Aggregators! Arguing about who aggregated what first!!

So much ink has been spilled over something so ridiculously petty. People seem downright incapable of the innocent excitement that comes from seeing other people enjoy a piece of solid writing-and this sadly seems unlikely to change, at least until we change the very language we use to describe it, since by calling the activity of people who traffic in links "curation" instead of "sharing" we imbue it with all sorts of hollow importance and circumscribe it as something wholly apart from the selfless and benevolent sharing of knowledge.

The self-described "curator" of the modern day web seeks special recognition for what is nothing more than a pattern of behavior that distinguishes an individual from those with uncurious, idle minds. Rather than issuing demerits on the latter we're instead being invited-no! implored, rather, via an "actionable code of ethics"-to heap praise upon the former. And I'm sorry, but I refuse to be bullied into giving people credit for shit they're supposed to be doing, especially not when that comes at the price of devaluing the most important object of attribution-original content-by setting it up as just one among a multitude of things deserving of attribution.

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