As I discussed in another article, Steve Rosenbaum’s Curation Nation is very striking to me because its major theme of the importance of human input in Web curation is so similar to what I’ve written about on this blog. Extending the parallel between Rosenbaum’s thought and mine is the background of our work.

The experience that’s especially sensitized me to the importance of human input in curation has been my work to improve the discoverability of medical pictures in Hardin MD, as I discussed in the first two articles in this blog. In the process of doing this, I learned how much more difficult it is to make pictures findable on the Web than it is for text, which is its own search handle.

With my background of working with pictures, I can’t help but notice that Rosenbaum’s background is in video — We’ve both been sensitized to the importance of human curation, I suspect, by working with non-text media. As difficult as I’ve learned it is to curate pictures, it’s certainly even more difficult for the MOVING pictures of video. As an example of this, it’s difficult to tweak pictures in Hardin MD so they can be found in Google or Google Image search, but there’s not even anything comparable to Google Image search for video.

As difficult as it is to make video findable, it’s not surprising that Rosenbaum sees the future Web being so heavily dependent on curation over Search. I’d guess this is what gives him the many valuable insights about curation that he discusses in the book. And as the mix of media on the Web grows, the need for human curators will certainly grow with it. Good news for humans!

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

As several reviewers of Steve Rosenbaum’s Curation Nation have discussed, a major theme of the book is the importance of human input in curation. Rosenbaum repeatedly hammers home the idea that high-quality curation, which makes it possible to find things on the Web, has to be done by human beings rather than computers. There are many passages in the book on this theme. I’ll quote a few here from Rosenbaum’s introductory comments to give the flavor (boldface added):

(p 3-4) Curation is about adding value from humans … Curation is very much the core shift in commerce, editorial, and communities that require highly qualified humans. Humans aren’t extra, or special, or enhancements; humans are curators. They do what no computer can possibly achieve.

(p 12-13) No longer is the algorithm in charge. Human curators have become essential software. What emerges is new human and computer collaboration  … The important news of the emergence of a Curation Nation is that humans are very much back in charge.

Rosenbaum’s emphasis on the importance of humans especially strikes me because that’s also been a major theme of this blog, starting with the first article in the blog, on the importance of human input for organizing pictures. Other articles on the theme are listed in the category human input.

A subject that’s closely connected to human input and to curation, that Rosenbaum also stresses, and that I’ve written about (category: Pattern Recognition), is the quintessentially human capability of pattern recognition. He has several good snippets based on prominent blogger Robert Scoble:

(p 134) Humans are essential. So exactly what do they add? Is it magic, or something more quantifiable? Taste, judgement, serendipity? Scoble says what they add is uniquely human. “Algorithms are good at picking the big stuff, because computers are good at counting numbers or links or numbers of clicks or numbers of retweets. Humans aren’t going to compete with that. But as humans, our brains are pattern recognizers. I can look at the tree across the street, and in a millisecond I know it’s a tree. A computer has to look at an image of a tree for hours and spend a lot of processor time to figure out it’s a tree.” … (p 140) “I think curation is seeing a pattern in the world and telling someone else about that pattern.”

The exciting bottom line for librarians — As several library people have noted in discussing Curation Nation, this is right up our alley! The sorts of skills that Rosenbaum discusses are just what we’re good at — Careful, Caring Curation of the world’s information.

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

I’m reading Steve Rosenbaum’s new book, Curation Nation — He talks interestingly about social media like Twitter as being tools for curation, which he says are often better than Google in helping people find what they’re looking for.

As a prime example of why he thinks curation is the wave of the future and “search is broken (p 252),” he talks about googling his name (steve rosenbaum) in Google Image Search, and getting many false hits, including pictures of women and a pomeranian dog. His use of Google Image Search here rather than the standard googling tool Google Web search is puzzling — I guess he does it to prove his claim that “search is broken” — In Google Web search, though, searching for steve rosenbaum works just fine — All of the top 10 results are for Steve the book author.

So I think Rosenbaum is confused when he asserts that “search is broken” or “search is dead” (see below*) based upon his experience in searching Google Image search. But in bringing pictures into the discussion, he IS on to something important, which goes along with the book’s “curation” theme, and which I’ve hit upon frequently in this blog. As Rosenbaum discusses repeatedly, an important element of “curation” is that it’s done by human beings, as opposed to automated tools like search engines. This very much echoes a major theme of Seeing the Picture — starting with the very first article — which is the idea that pictures require a large amount of human input, on many levels, starting with the process of “curating” them so they can be found.

I’m finding Rosenbaum’s book especially interesting because, in addition to pictures, he also touches on other curatorial themes that I’ve discussed here:

Twitter – As mentioned above, he mentions Twitter prominently as an example of curation, and I’ve written about tweets being superb curatorial tools to focus the eyeballs of the Twitterverse on valuable information nuggets.

Wikipedia – At its tenth anniversary in January, I wrote about Wikipedia in very much the same vein as Rosenbaum, contrasting it as a tool for human curation in contrast to the machine-mind of Google. When I wrote this article, I was surprised to find that Wikipedia is not often discussed as an example of curation, so I was glad to see that Rosenbaum does.

*In Rosenbaum’s talk at TOC 2011, he goes over the same story of googling his name in Google Image search, to show the problems with Search — In the talk he says search is “dead” instead “broken,” as he says in the book.

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

The tweet shown here, by Dr. Ves Dimov (@DrVes), is interesting on different levels. The tweet is about Huffington Post, but it gives good advice on how to write a blog article in general — Find a juicy nugget in a news or blog article that’s unnoticed by most readers and feature it in your own article, quoting it prominently and adding your own spin to it.

But beyond its application to writing blog articles, Dimov’s tweet applies at least as much to writing tweets. Even more than a blog article, a tweet needs to strip a subject to its essence, and put it into a 140 character message that combines the arts of narrative writing and headline writing.

A twist of Meta …

Another layer of interestingness here is that Dimov’s tweet itself applies exactly the stripping to the essence technique that’s featured in the tweet  — The words in the tweet are taken from far down in a NY Times story, where few human eyeballs (or the GoogleBot) are likely to see them, and brought to the attention of the Twitterverse and Google by @DrVes — Here’s the NY Times quote, with words in the tweet in boldface:

Huffington Post is a master of finding stories across the Web, stripping them to their essence and placing well-created headlines on them that rise to the top of search engine results, guaranteeing a strong audience.

A great example of combining the simple elegance of Twitter and the power of human judgment to search out an interesting nugget in a long page of text, and bring it to the attention of the Web’s eyes. With Google’s spam troubles recently, there’s been much discussion of the renewed importance of human curation, with Twitter being seen as a prime vehicle, and I think this is a nice example of that.

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

Google has been under attack recently, because its search results often seem to be overwhelmed by spam-generated links. On the other hand, Wikipedia has gotten many laudatory commentaries on the occasion of its tenth anniversary.

The timing here is interesting — Google, which is driven by computer-generated algorithms, is being “outsmarted” by human SEO engineers who have figured out how to “game” the system to get their sites a high ranking in searches. And Wikipedia, powered by smart human curators, has risen to become “a necessary layer in the Internet knowledge system.

I’ve looked at several of the tenth-anniversary commentaries discussing the uniqueness of Wikipedia, and it’s surprising that I haven’t seen any that note the significance of its being a human-generated tool. TheAtlantic had a good round-up of commentaries by 13 “All-Star Thinkers” — Some of them do talk about the importance of collaboration in the working of Wikipedia, but none of them make the more basic, and, to me, even more acute observation that, in this age of the computer, it’s done by human beings!

In the Wikipedia article on Wikipedia, in the section The Nature of Wikipedia is this interesting quote from Goethe:

Here, as in other human endeavors, it is evident that the active attention of many, when concentrated on one point, produces excellence.

Indeed — As my library school teacher used to say “if there were enough smart humans we wouldn’t need to rely on computers.”

So — Librarians Take Note! Have you ever considered becoming a Wikipedia editor? — On the occasion of the tenth anniversary, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales is making an effort to foster more diversity in curation — He especially mentions reaching out to Libraries for help.

Finally, on a related thread — Another notable aspect of Wikipedia that hasn’t been mentioned in anniversary articles — Not only is it done by humans, but it’s done by humans on a volunteer basis — As I discussed in an earlier article, Daniel Pink uses this as a classic example of “intrinsic motivation” >> Wikipedia vs Encarta: The Ali-Frazier of Motivation.

Related articles:

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

Sarah Houghton-Jan reports in an article a few days ago that a new PEW report shows the growing tendency of people to get news from the Web. She suggests that librarians should jump on this, and offer our skills in filtering, teaching finding-skills, and creating tutorials. I like Sarah’s idea, and take it a step further — As Sarah mentions, one of the findings of the PEW report is that mobile devices are providing a growing portion of online news, so I suggest that an area of news curation that especially needs librarians’ skills is mobile news — I’ve been watching for news sources that have mobile apps or mobile-friendly sites, and I find that they vary a lot in coverage and quality — They’re in great need of the curatorial skills of librarians!

Sites that I like (with screenshots below) are: New York TimesAP-News, The Guardian, The (London) Times, and Reuters. I especially look for good pictures. The best of the sites listed here for pictures is AP-News — Note that the bottom left screenshot below is a report of the recent earthquake in Chile, with an AP-News gallery.

For news-related pictures, I’ve found that the best sites are not traditional news sites, like the ones listed here, but other, blog-like sites — As I discussed in an earlier article on Haiti earthquake coverage, great pictures for that (and for the Chile earthquake as well as other news subjects) are at The Big Picture/ and the Hyderabad News WordPress site.

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

Curation seems to be a trending topic, so I’m doing research for an article or two on it. Little did I suspect that the popularity of the subject had reached the heights shown in the story below, that I discovered serendipitously in a Google search (scroll down to see it documented). Shaquille O’Neal’s first art show is, in fact, opening Feb 19 in New York, with 66 works selected by Shaq, including Ron Mueck’s “Untitled (Big Man),” a 7-foot-tall sculpture of a naked, bald man (at left below). Credit for the “Big Curator” wording goes to the writer of the Yahoo article, JE Skeets.


How I happened upon this little gem: At the bottom of the Google search screen below for “Curation” there’s an entry for the Shaq story, with an attention-grabbing Shaq picture, under “News results for Curation” (How often is CURATION a subject for news ;-) ) … Sure looks like another case of controlled serendipity!

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey


The memorable phrase Controlled Serendipity, from the title of Nick Bilton’s recent much-discussed NY Times article, keeps going through my head. That phrase, as well as other catchy language, is attributed by Bilton to Maria Popova (@brainpicker). Surprisingly, Popava has not been mentioned much in the buzz, so I’m excerpting her striking language


Here’s Bilton quoting Popova (with my boldfacing of the Librarianesque, Meta-ish phrases that stick in my mind):
“Another purveyor of fine content is Maria Popova, who calls this curating ‘controlled serendipity,’ explaining that she filters interesting links to thousands of strangers out of her thirst for curiosity. Mrs. Popova uses a meticulously curated feed of Web sites and Twitter followers to find each day’s pot of gold. She says, ‘I scour it all, hence the serendipity. It’s essentially “metacuration” — curating the backbone, but letting its tentacles move freely. That’s the best formula for content discovery, I find.’ ”

Looking at Popova’s Twitter page and blog, more creativity jumps out (again, boldfacing some of my favorite words):
… From her Twitter Bio: “Interestingness curator & semi-secret geek obsessed with design, storytelling & TED” … And the byline for her blog: “Curating eclectic interestingness from culture’s collective brain.” (What a lot packed into that!)

Beyond America: The *Wide World* Web – Maria Popova is apparently a native of Bulgaria (although her Twitter page says she lives in LA) — Which brings up something I’ve noticed for many years — Often some of the most creative, innovative work on the Web comes from countries other than the US. I thought about this again recently, when researching an article on Apple honchos Steve Jobs (whose biological father is Syrian) and Jonathan Ive, who’s from Britain. Leaving aside the question of why this non-US strength in quality web-work happens, I think it’s worth noting that it does. I’ve been thinking about making a tag to describe this (which I can use for several articles already), and I’m thinking about what to call the tag. Surprisingly there doesn’t seem to be a smooth, non-negative phrase for this (offshore, international, non-US don’t feel right). So I’m thinking of using the tag Wide World — Not strictly accurate, of course, since the US is part of the world, but I think it communicates the sense of the idea. I’m open to suggestions, via comment or email.

Related articles:

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey