The Internet has a history of hyping concepts. Gartner popularized the term “hype cycle”, where a “peak of inflated expectations” follows the initial “technology trigger”. I believe we’re at that peak with Digital Curation.

I’ve been to that movie before in 1999 when the advent of electronic marketplaces was a hot trend that was supposed to turn into a trillion dollars opportunity. The “hypers” suddenly realized that electronic marketplaces will replace bricks-and-mortar business because e-commerce was possible. It made a lot of sense, on paper: frictionless commerce, lower transactions costs, borderless reach, infinite number of users, large markets, etc… At the peak of these inflated expectations, more than 300 such marketplaces were predicted to flourish, each with billions of dollars in revenue potential. Then, it all collapsed, and only 2 marketplaces survived. I won’t go into the reasons for that, but the lesson learned is that when everybody starts to grab a term and use it loosely, it loses its meaning. It becomes over-used, abused and mis-used. It becomes hyped.

Here are 4 reasons why I think Curation is hyped, today:

1) Companies touting “curation” as the business model are being generously funded, whereas these are just features that no clear benefits or end-state. I already wrote a post saying that Curation is a means to an end, not the end itself. If your company relies solely on curation features, it’s dead-ended. A lot more is needed on top of that.

2) Several companies offering social readers that rank your social content by popularity of sharing and liking are calling themselves Curation services. Sharing and Liking is not curation. Sharing and Liking allows us to see the signal from the noise, but its loose interpretation of what curation is about.

3) Content farmers and SEO-hungry blog post are writing about “Content Curation”, just to appear in SEO searches. You go there to read it because of a catchy title, but these posts are empty SEO-optimized regurgitations. I’m not going to name these blogs, but enter a Google Alert for “content curation” and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

4) More curation by the masses is not necessarily better. It will come with a heavy toll: disorganization, poverty of attention, lower quality, and an end-state where noise is higher than signal, again. Curation by experts or incented users is more useful. Curators must be “trusted”.

I don’t want anyone thinking that I’m against Curation. I’m not. I’m betting my future on it. The company I founded offers a comprehensive curation, aggregation and re-publishing platform, with tons of curation features. We even have have a resident, full-time Chief Curator, a position I established about a year ago.

But I don’t want this concept to be hyped or belittled. When something difficult is made to look trivial and easy, it’s the beginning of hype. Curation is hard work, when done right. The end result should be a reference point for others, not incomplete sets of content.

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  • Dan Epstein

    Interesting post. I don’t know enough about the space to say whether it’s now overhyped.

    In regards to your last paragraph, hype or no hype, there’s something to be said for taking something complex or difficult, and making it look easy. That doesn’t mean it is easy–I get that. But if you can take something hard, do it for people or provide that service, and make it look easy, you’ve probably got a product or service of value.

  • William Mougayar

    Thanks. What I meant in the last part, is that some services are trivializing curation, and just saying – here’s content, just select what you like, re-publish, and users will flock to your beautifully “curated content”. There’s more to it than that.

    There’s probably several levels of curation. Liking, sharing, organizing, editing are at the lower end of the totem pole, in my opinion.

  • Steven Rosenbaum

    I have two thoughts here. First, if by ‘overhyped’ you mean it is being used to generate ink, capital, and PR – sure. But so is ‘social media’, twitter, foursquare, and lots of things.

    But – the complexity here is that while there is a good deal of random buzz around curation -there’s also a TON of work to do to embrace the concept of human filtered data, and to differentiate between professional curators, amateur curators, and what I call accidental curators.

    The first, and I think most important thing – and i’d love your opion on this William; is curation a human enterprise, or do you think there is such a thing as ‘computer curation.’ Clearing that up would help replace hype with actual products.

  • William Mougayar

    Hi Steve,

    My biggest concern is that the word is starting to lose its real meaning, as it gets misused and it starts to mean anything, almost.

    To answer your question, I think that computers can add a lot of value to the curator by suggesting content for them to consider in their curation efforts. Depending on the sophistication of the filtering/aggregating mechanisms (which are also curated by the way), this suggested list of content will range from poor to excellent. The better it is, the less human effort will be required to complete it. On the other end, you have a social curation method (if I may, like Magnify) where the value increases with the network effects, and that’s a perfectly great model. So, we probably agree that there is not one way to curate, as long as the goal is to end-up with quality and relevancy. I enjoy my Magnify feed as it tells me what my friends are curating, but I also value my Eqentia curated content that’s more deterministic and is the result of a targeted discovery process.

    I certainly appreciate what you are doing for the Curation cause.

  • Tom Foremski

    What makes your statement “official”?

    It’s too early to call it hype, and it would be incorrect anyway because curation is becoming vital to the wuality of user experience on the Internet. That won;t go away. We might get fewer posts about “curation” but curation itself, is becoming intrinsic to te fabric of the Internet. It’s like saying “search” is over hyped. Search is vital to the Internet. And curation will do for search what search did for the web – make it useful.

    More here: http://www.siliconvalleywatche…

  • William Mougayar

    I’m not saying it’s not useful or necessary. It’s vital and on-going. However,- building a business entirely on the curation angle is what is flawed and being hyped. Curation is part and parcels of other things. In my other post, I’m saying “it’s a means to an end, not the end itself”, therefore the business models should be tilted towards what it enables.…

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