What if instead of relying on search engines to get our information, we relied on each other - friends, experts, journalists - to deliver us information by way of carefully curated websites? Steven Rosenbaum, CEO of Magnify.net and author of Curation Nation: How to Win in a World Where Consumers are Creators tells Bob that our curated content future may have already arrived.
BOB GARFIELD: So is this the immutable destiny for online content, the constant battle for position on Google among websites and the constant battle with Google over how much optimization is optimum? Is there a better way to organize and choose content than eternal fealty to an algorithm? My friend Steven Rosenbaum thinks so. Steve is the author of Curation Nation: How to Win in a World Where Consumers are Creators, and he’s also CEO of video curation site Magnify.net. He says that curation, the filtering of content by devotees who earn your trust, will free us from Google hegemony. Steve, welcome to the show.
STEVEN ROSENBAUM: Well, thank you very much.
BOB GARFIELD: We've been talking about search engine optimization and building your content model around what the Google algorithm puts forward, but you say there’s a second path that has to do with curation. What is curation?
STEVEN ROSENBAUM: Well, curation begins with this idea that Google, as remarkable as it is, is beginning to show kind of some wear and tear around the edges. And the reason for that is simply that there’s just so much out there that their methodology, which says we can find everything with a robot, starts to kind of fall down a little bit. And what it gets replaced with in, in my world view, is this shocking idea that, in fact, the way you find things is by working with humans, as opposed to robots.
BOB GARFIELD: Okay, working with humans, how?
STEVEN ROSENBAUM: So the thing about curation that makes it such a sexy idea is that is both something we all do now and something that a new class of kind of professional curators will begin to do in the future. So, for example, if you on your Facebook page today recommend an article that you saw you’re already kind of curating, and some number of the people that you follow on Facebook are people who have made a decision that they want to be the leaders in their little world of Lower East Side restaurant fans or global travelers or bowlers, or whatever it is that you choose to do. But the idea that goes from being kind of a hobby to being really quite necessary in the noisy world is the thing that I find most exciting.
BOB GARFIELD: I get the top headlines, as aggregated by Google, based on what everybody else under the sun thinks is interesting. Tell me how in the curation nation I'm gonna get my news.
STEVEN ROSENBAUM: So the odds are you’re already beginning to kind of wander into it. I mean, if you play with, for example, on the iPad, FlipBook, FlipBook is already this device that takes, kind of in a rudimentary form, all of the things your friends are, are reading and following and lays it out in a newspaper-style layout. It’s very attractive. Now, as you get more people in your community, as you follow more people and listen to more voices, that will get noisy, as well. And what’s exciting for me is that people get to raise their hand and say, you know what, I'm going to jump into this noise and become the clarifying voice around any particular topic that I'm passionate about.
BOB GARFIELD: I wonder if the world you’re describing is sort of the anti-content farm?
STEVEN ROSENBAUM: I don't believe that the future of content is people being paid piecemeal to work as quickly as they can to rewrite pages out of Wikipedia. I'm much more a fan of Clay Shirky’s worldview, which says humans like talking to one another and like making things, and we're good at it, and we don't necessarily only do it for money. The idea that content is inherently commercial and a business is a relatively new idea in modern history. And I think that what we're now seeing is people sharing with their friends and neighbors the things that they discover and that they want to share amongst themselves. It’s a massive change in the way the Web works. And I don't think it should come as a surprise that there’s huge changes going on at Google, that the CEO has been replaced and one of the founders is back in charge, in part because Facebook caught them a little by surprise.
BOB GARFIELD: Well, I want to ask about Facebook because if the power of the algorithm is diminishing, Facebook would seem to be awfully well positioned because of its vaunted social graph. In a curation nation, does Facebook become king?
STEVEN ROSENBAUM: Facebook so far, I think, has done a lot right. The thing that I would say is the most interesting and puzzling is who’s going to figure out the way to say, you know what, I want to follow Bob’s restaurant advice but, you know, his advice about politics, I don't agree with him, so I'm going to tune out that part of his persona.
BOB GARFIELD: Now, I know as a matter of philosophy you don't think that every trend can somehow be monetized, but if what you’re saying is right, if we are headed into an online world governed by curation and not the Google algorithm, someone’s gonna make a lot of money. There is going to be some killer app out there. What are the killer apps?
STEVEN ROSENBAUM: I think the first thing is that if you think about humans as kind of the icing on the search cake, and there’s going to be a, a, a human that will be the human that organizes all things barbecue sauce and a human that organizes all things bowling and all things NASCAR, and then within each of those little verticals there'll be all the little tributary subsets - do we mean searingly hot barbecue sauce, do we mean Southern barbecue sauce, do we mean New Orleans barbecue sauce? - every one of those people, by their nature, will deserve to be paid based on traffic and based on selling barbecue sauce and based on clicks on the ads on those pages. But I don't necessarily think that everyone who’s on the Web organizing content and making content is looking to become wealthy. I think they'd like to make a living. And the thing that I'm excited about is I think that there’s lots of evidence to say that that will happen.
BOB GARFIELD: Steve, good luck with the book.
STEVEN ROSENBAUM: Thank you very much.
BOB GARFIELD: Steven Rosenbaum is the founder and CEO of Magnify.net and author of Curation Nation: How to Win in a World Where Consumers are Creators.