Refocusing on Quality: A Review of Curation Nation by Steven Rosenbaum

Written on:April 28, 2011
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I first began reading Curation Nation by Steven Rosenbaum on my way to a conference in LA. I had just finished reading Rosenbaum’s definition of curation as it pertains to the digital world when I looked out the cab window and saw some painters slathering fresh paint onto a façade, calling attention to a store that sold rockers and gliders. Yes, rockers and gliders. I thought, “How can they possibly afford to stay in business?” The more I thought about it, the more it began to underscore Rosenbaum’s point: we seem to be reverting to habits (shopping or reading) that reflect an appreciation of quality. There is a strong parallel between the highly specialized knowledge these shop owners provide to visitors and the service that digital content curators provide to their own visitors.


Rosenbaum’s book was my introduction to the term “curation” in regards to digital content. The more I read this book, the stranger the foreignness of this word became; it is such a precise word for a relatively common practice in content management, yet I had never heard it used outside of the art world. By the author’s definition, even my grandma is a content curator; she has been snail-mailing me newspaper clippings that she thinks are right up my alley ever since I could read. Rosenbaum goes to great trouble to illustrate how deeply seated content curation is in American media; people have been curating content since the days of Readers Digest, and perhaps even earlier.


I must admit, the author almost lost me (a digital native) on just the eighteenth page. He wrote, “Most readers of this book will be reading it through the fog of their nondigital selves. We are not digital natives. How do I know this? Well, first of all, you’re reading a book.” Okay, I get it, I’m not at all your target reader, Mr. Rosenbaum. So, I asked myself, who is this book meant for? I think people from widely varying backgrounds could sink their teeth into this book. Journalists who are skeptical of blogging might appreciate it because it shows how they, the journalists, are primed to lead the digital revolution of the news industry. Their skill set is so needed yet pretty scarce in digital publishing. This book could also serve as the perfect textbook for a college course in social media since it documents some history of the industry, discusses relevant case studies, and provides a really solid foundation of concepts, vocabulary, and practices in which all marketers will soon need to be well-versed.


One topic the author wrestles with is the promulgation of curation: if everyone becomes a content curator overnight, will that “lessen the value of what curators contribute?” Quite possibly. Everyone who averages more than 3 tweets per day calls themselves a social media “expert,” which has in turn diluted the pool of those who actually have up-to-the-minute industry knowledge and substantial experience working in the field. The difference is, however, social media is an infant field of study, whereas the curation of varying media has been around for centuries. Though Microsoft Word does not yet recognize curation as a legitimate term (it is angrily underlined in red as I type this article), I think the rest of the world soon will.


 In the end, this book seemed to highlight the human role in the future of content publishing. Rosenbaum says, “Readers trust human editors, not algorithms. They reward trust with attention, engagement, and loyalty.” These are words that have the potential to finally get brands to buy into the digitalization of media instead of fighting it. 


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