Content Curation: Learning from others and sharing their knowledge

Over the past few months the subject of content curation has been coming up more often. Some of you have actually been curating content for years, others are just hearing about it, so it seems a good topic for discussion.

Armor CourtCurators at the Cleveland Museum of Art took care to select the right pieces, placement and accompanying art when re-doing the museum's Armor Court.

The process of content curation is pretty simple. Basically one reads a variety of blogs, articles and sites on a given topic, then picks out the best ones to share, just as an editor might choose the most appropriate stories for an anthology of fiction, or a museum curator might choose the right combination of paintings for an exhibit.

In the early days of blogging, the process of choosing and sharing links to various noteworthy sites, was one of the most popular ways to blog. People have been curating content for ages, but the phrase "content curation" (in the context of social media) really only began to gain traction in 2009* and has been growing in popularity ever since.

Why curate content?

Some people choose to curate content because it takes less time than writing your own posts, but as you know we shouldn't be building our strategies around "shortcuts." Instead we should tailor any content marketing strategy to our end goals. Ideally you should be using content curation (if appropriate) to augment the self-created content you are using to communicate with your audience. I find content curation compelling because:

I learn in the process.

In order to build useful Web sites, and develop effective social media and marketing strategies, I have to keep up with changes in the field and continue to learn new things each day. I keep up with trends and information by reading blogs, listening to podcasts and conversing with peers on Twitter, LinkedIn and other social media channels. While doing this I also discover links that may be of interest to my own followers.

I can be a more effective resource on a topic if I share more than my own thoughts.

No matter how much time I might spend doing research, I will never have all the answers you may need about Web development, social media, marketing, etc. But if I pick through the noise—to find the best items to share on these topics—then I may become a useful go-to resource on these subjects. This helps my followers find relevant information more easily, and it supports my brand—by positioning me as someone knowledgeable enough to pick out what is useful.

Ways to find content worth sharing

As mentioned above I consume a lot of information in order to keep learning—and I find items to share as a part of that process. Setting up a system to find information on a given topic usually begins with a bit of preliminary research. This could involve setting up keyword searches on specific terms, subscribing to leading blogs, identifying pertinent podcasts, etc. Once you've done that you can then focus on monitoring the resources you've selected. Below are some of the ways I find content.

Blogs, E-zines, Aggregators

cats who code
"Cats Who Code" offers good how-to tips. Here I may find articles to share with peers on Twitter or to save on Delicious for future reference.

I'm currently subscribed to hundreds of blogs and other online resources in Google Reader. There are so many that it is impossible to read all of the posts, but if I organize them by topics, such as social media or Web/tech, I can skim the headlines to find the posts that pique my interest. As I read through the posts I'll also note which posts seem most likely to resonate with my followers so that I can share those links in the appropriate places.

I subscribe to the obvious leaders in my industry such as A List Apart and Mashable, but I also try to subscribe to smaller niche oriented blogs and those that may only have a passing relation to my field. For example, I'm neither a video producer nor a film-maker, but I often find cool things on Motionographer that I can share on Twitter. Reading about design in other fields also helps me gain new perspectives when thinking about the Web, so blogs such as Lovely Package and Drawn! are also on the reading list.

Once I've identified a few blogs as being leaders in a particular niche these usually lead me to other blogs (that they may mention,) so in time the list just keeps growing.

Search Feeds

News readers aren't just for blogs. If I know I want to monitor a particular topic I can run searches in Google News search, Yahoo News Search, Twitter search, Google Blog search, etc. and subscribe to the resulting feeds. Similarly I can set up search columns in Tweetdeck on phrases like "Web design" or "CSS" to see what people are saying about those topics."

Podcasts

CreativeXpert
Listening to podcasts like CreativeXpert is a great way to gain knowledge and discover new bloggers worth following.

Podcasts are a great way to learn on the go and discover new blogs to read, articles of note, etc. After subscribing to podcasts in iTunes I can copy them to my iPod so that I can listen to them at any time, without being tied to my computer.

Many of the podcasts I listen to are an hour long and may feature multiple speakers. This allows them to dig deeper into specific topics than one could in a single blog post. Thus when I listen to This Week in Tech I may glean the latest insights on the Facebook privacy issue of the month. On Boagworld I might learn about a new wireframing tool or discover new methods for usability testing. These podcasts may also lead me to particular articles worth sharing, or after listening to a guest speaker I may decide I should also follow his/her blog.

Crowd Sourcing/Bookmarking/Social Media Recommendations

Sites such as Digg, StumbleUpon, and Delicious can be great places to find content that other people have liked or found useful in some way. While you can follow specific people on these sites, you can also browse by topics such as tech news or view commonly shared tags such as contentcuration.

People I'm following in social media channels

I've met a lot of great minds on Twitter (and other services.) The people I follow range from designers, developers and marketers to scientists and a sea captain. Many of these Tweeps are also curating content for their niche so I often discover new blogs or posts through the links they share in their Tweets, on Facebook, Buzz, etc. Some of my favorite blogs are those I've discovered via friends on social media.

Ways to share curated content

HeidiCool.com Facebook Page
On my Facebook page I typically write a descriptive blurb about the link being shared. These are geared towards a mixed audience of clients, potential clients and peers.

There are a variety of ways to share the content you find. Some bloggers write link posts in which they share the top links they've found this week. Others might write a short paragraph about a post they've read, then link to the article. One can also share links via social media.

When perusing blogs, I'll share some posts via Google Reader Share. These feed directly to my Facebook and LinkedIn profile pages as well as my What I've Been Reading in the Blogosphere page. I also post links with short descriptive comments on Twitter and share one link per day on my Facebook page along with a paragraph of commentary.

With rare exceptions I do not cross-post the same links to each space. The links I share on Twitter are different than the ones I share on my Facebook page. I do this so that I can choose links specifically for each target audience and to avoid redundancy for those who follow me in multiple places.

Digg, StumbleUpon, Delicious and numerous other sites are also great places to share content links, with or without your personal commentary.

Just say no to plagiarism: do not republish articles without permission

While there are many ways to share content there are also ways you should not share it. When I was looking for more links to include with this article I found, Why Content Curation is BS, in which BlogBloke rightfully rants that content curation should not be used as an excuse for plagiarism. His post served as a good reminder that we should take care when we share.

There are bloggers who will copy the content they find to their own blog. Sometimes they give attribution to the source, other times they don't. Either way you should never copy someone else's content (or even paraphrase it) without getting their permission to do so. Doing so is a violation of their copyright. Most of you already know this, but it's an issue that is often confusing to new bloggers, so I thought it was worth mentioning.

In most cases it is perfectly acceptable to include one or more quotes from an article as part of your commentary, just as you might include quotes in a research paper, but don't quote a post in its entirety. A good way to share curated content on a blog is to start by explaining what the post is about, and why you feel it is worth sharing, then adding your own opinion about the subject along with a link to the original article. MetaSpring does a nice job of this in their monthly Blog Carnival posts. (They also contact the authors to ask permission and give them information about the upcoming posts, though their usage would be perfectly acceptable even if they didn't ask.)

If you are unsure about what is, and is not, acceptable, I've included links to copyright resources in A writer’s obligations: ethics, law and pragmatism, Part 1: Law. You can also learn more from Plagiarism Today which publishes both a blog and a podcast.

How are you curating content?

What other methods have you used to find content? Where and how are you sharing it? Are you posting article links to the news tab in your LinkedIn discussion groups? Are you sharing links via Tumblr or Posterous? Do you include curated links in your e-mail newsletter? Please share your experiences or suggestions in the comments below.

Content Curation Resources

The links I regularly share here at the bottom of my posts are another example of content curation. I include these to provide additional reading material on the topic. These links were found via Google Reader, Google Search and Delicious.

* A Google search on "content curation" turns up only 282 mentions of the phrase in 2007, 568 in 2008, 17,400 in 2009 and 55,000 so far this year.

P.S. As I was going through Google Reader today I realized I'd left out a great example of content curation. Arts & Letters Daily is a service of The Chronicle of Higher Education. It compiles a great collection of intellectual fodder, adding 3 short blurbs with links to full articles each day. It also includes a list of the source publications it uses in the left sidebar. Added June 30, 2010.

Fan me on Facebook—Follow me on Twitter

We all know these blog posts don't get written as frequently as I'd like. But that doesn't mean you need to go weeks without hearing me babble. Over on http://www.facebook.com/heidicool, I'm using content curation to share one link per day. At one tip per week day it won't clog your Facebook stream, but hopefully you'll find something useful.

And for more links (and ramblings that may not always be related to the Web) I usually Tweet and reTweet a few (or several) times per day at @hacool.

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14 Comments »
  1. Great info, and I LOVE the facebook link-of-the-day. Thanks so much for sharing your expertise.

    Comment by GinnyR — June 29, 2010 @1:03 pm

  2. Thanks Ginny! When I set up my Facebook page I came up with the one link plan because it seemed like most pages were either always out of date or flooded with too much stuff. Picking out 1 link per day, and making sure it was a decent one, seemed like a nice way to share a bit of something while not overwhelming people.

    Comment by Heidi Cool — June 30, 2010 @2:24 am

  3. I totally agree. My only issue is with indiscriminate content sharing. It becomes difficult to cut through the clutter to find the good stuff.

    Comment by Dave Cunix — June 30, 2010 @10:32 am

  4. By the way, I don't know how I got this Avatar on your site, by I kinda like it.

    Comment by Dave Cunix — June 30, 2010 @10:33 am

  5. Dave,
    Indiscriminate content sharing is exactly what we're trying to move away from with content curation, but you and I both know it still happens. When someone on Facebook shares 20 links a day they just become part of the noise. I have friends who post that way and I now rarely read the links because there are just too many and the quality isn't consistently high. One also needs to really read things before sharing them, a process which some also skip. The point with this is to clear through the noise to help people find what is actually meaningful.

    On the flipside, I have several friends on Twitter who do this really well. The links they share are consistently good AND relevant to my world. Frankly I could probably reTweet those without reading them, just because I know the person who sent them has already picked out the best.

    As for your avatar, I chose the option to post funky little monsters for people that didn't have their own avatar. If you go to http://en.gravatar.com/ you can sign up and assign a photo to be used with any e-mail address you put on the account. Then the blog will pick up your gravatar based on the e-mail you put in the comments field. It's rather handy, and a pretty large percentage of bloggers use it.

    Comment by Heidi Cool — June 30, 2010 @12:43 pm

  6. Wow, I don't know where to start! Heidi, This is the first time I've been to this blog, and I can't agree more with the things you've mentioned. The way you value content is very admirable. I don't have a blog, and my social media interactions are unfortunately lacking, but this post has really "picked me up" so to speak. I was starting to think that there wasn't many people left out there that appreciated original ideas/content anymore. It's good to know that I was wrong. Thanks again!

    Comment by Jared Carrizales — July 1, 2010 @5:46 pm

  7. Great information. I love it "Learning from others and sharing their knowledge" I totally agree! I also share knowledge about seo and sem at http://www.jaenovationblog.com Thanks Jae

    Comment by Jae — July 19, 2010 @2:34 am

  8. Thanks for sharing these ideas. I believe that these days content is being shared without reading those in detail.

    Comment by Ashish — July 19, 2010 @9:09 am

  9. It's certainly hard for companies trying to create real and useful content with social media to compete with those who want to just create a sea of links for other purposes.

    Comment by Neville Greenwood — July 29, 2010 @7:44 am

  10. A content curator collects the best of information and showcases it at a single place. No more frustrating search expeditions. In a sense, content curation is an offshoot of the minimalism trend. We are trying to get the clutter out of minds, closets, lives and of course, our browser. This link here has got a good analysis why people want curated content - http://www.brandpilgrim.com/2010/08/why-content-curation-is-here-to-stay.html

    Comment by anne potter — August 17, 2010 @5:05 am

  11. Content Curation or sharing ones knowledge on the web is what makes this technology so great. What I find however is that too much information on building web sites and blogs can become overwhelming until you become comfortable with it. Anyone expecting the "field of dreams" affect when they put a web site together with good content is in for a surprise too. But, "Content Is King", and original should be the focus. For newbies, there needs to be a system combined with good guidance. This will give them confidence which will encourage expansion of their blogging or writings. My advise, don't go it alone. Find someone you can mentor such as Heidi and/or read how we assembled a web site that gets the click that keeps us writing.

    Comment by John — August 31, 2010 @12:17 pm

  12. [...] content,” that he considered ill-fitting and ineffective. Heidi Cool told us to “to augment the self-created content you are using to communicate with your [...]

    Pingback by The curation for what ails us? When good ideas are oversold — September 20, 2010 @11:49 pm

  13. [...] content can be of value if the curator is using it to compliment their own original content. Heidi Cool succinctly puts the argument forward that… we should tailor any content marketing strategy to [...]

    Pingback by » Content Curation versus Content Creation — November 29, 2010 @3:59 pm

  14. Hi Heidi, This was a really well thought out article. With your blessing I've quoted you on a piece I was writing entitled: Content Curation versus Content Creation http://invisibleinkdigital.com/online-media/content-curated-systems/

    Comment by Tom E — November 30, 2010 @5:07 pm

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