Content curation isn’t new to the Internet. In fact, it’s not even new in the offline world – it’s what the Reader’s Digest has been doing since 1922!
But that was 90 years ago. The speed and volume of information flow has increased exponentially since then. Society’s means of communicating new developments has progressed from newspapers and ticker-tape, through telex, radio and TV, to fax machines – introduced as late as the 1980s and largely redundant even only a decade or two later. With the innovation of the Web, the flow’s turned into a deluge.
There’s just so much information around these days that it’s too difficult for people to visit countless sites to find all the information, read it all, and distil it all so they can understand the subject and the arguments for and against, and all the different view points on any given idea.
That’s why content curation has come into its own.
Why people like curated content
If you are able to read all the various articles about your chosen subject, decide what the significant points of interest and debate are, and report back on them with a single easy-to-understand article, then you’re providing a useful service and your website visitors will come back time and again for more. You’re not just protecting them from information overload by providing this service, you’re saving them a lot of time, too – time which may enable them to maintain their competitive edge.
The Huffington Post is a good example of how successful an online content curation site can be. The site was sold to AOL for $315 million in February 2011, and launched UK and French versions later that year. (Of course, curation is not all HuffPo do – they generate their own content and publish readers’ contributions too. But it’s at the heart of their business model.)
Be a gamekeeper, not a poacher
Let’s be clear, though, that content curation is not about stealing other people’s content. It’s more about finding, organising, analysing, commenting and sharing the content. The curator is there to do the work so others don’t have to do it too.
As with anything on the Internet, there are many dodgy practices, and if you don’t want to be a dodgy kind of person, then there are are things to avoid. Scraping is the first and most obvious one. Scrapers are automated systems that steal other people’s content and aggregate it on one site. That’s very naughty, although it was profitable for a while. But now Google has clamped down on the scrapers and sent a big Panda to bite them.
Providing a platform for individuals to do their own content curation (like Pinterest) is another business model where the ethics are dubious. Some people say Pinterest is a great way to promote your business. I don’t agree and in fact I think Pinterest is based on an entirely dodgy business model which more or less boils down to:
Hey! Post other people’s content here! What about their copyright? Well, what the heck – that’s your responsibility. We ain’t the police. Let them sue your ass.
There are also things you can and should do if you’re going to be a content curator rather than a content thief. Foremost of them is to give proper attribution to your sources – especially if you’re quoting from them directly. Not only is it a courtesy to the people who did the research and other work to create the original content; it also means that any of your readers who wish to dig deeper can readily do so.
Another thing you should do, of course, is to check on the copyright terms of anything you may be reproducing – which may vary quite widely between jurisdictions, so don’t assume that they follow the terms you’re familiar with.
- Published images are often accompanied by a copyright statement somewhere on the website, or embedded in the images themselves (so-called EXIF data). If they aren’t, then ask the publisher. (Bear in mind the possibility that the images itself may have been ripped off, and steer clear rather than possibly compounding an earlier copyright violation.)
- As for text, the whole question of what constitutes “fair use” is a vague one with varying answers. Lengthy quotations are almost never justifiable. Short quotations to illustrate a point of topical interest or engage in discussion may well be OK, but tread carefully – recently a court in Germany ruled that the use of short quotations from theatrical reviews for promotional purposes was a violation of copyright.
If you’ve got the analytical skills and writing ability and nose for a good story to be able to peruse a lot of material in a short time, pick out the important and interesting stuff and present it in an easily understood way, then content curation can be a very powerful way of building traffic. But to achieve solid, lasting success you’ll need to make sure that you’re adding value of your own without stealing any from others.