Brass Tack Thinking - Curation SaturationFrictionless.

It’s a word that’s taking root in some places to describe the ease of sharing things on the web, specifically through social technologies. I’m not entirely sure it’s a good thing.

Lately, I’ve been in a bit of a writing rut. Well, not so much a rut, really as contemplating what’s motivating and driving me these days. As we continue to build SideraWorks and frame out plans for that business, it’s clear that my blog here will need its own focus, separate from that of the work we’re doing in social business. I have a few ideas about where that’ll go, but the point is that all writers and thinkers take their inspiration from somewhere. Or lots of places. I’m no exception.

For me, it’s been by absorbing a lot of the information around me, both in the larger business world and the stuff that’s specific to my professional work and industry. That means I read a lot. And lately, I’ve been paying a lot of attention to the patterns of sharing, who I pay attention to, and how information circulates on networks like Twitter, Google+, and media sites or blogs.

Curation And Noise

Being a “curator” is all the rage. But it’s become a practice – and a term – that’s completely diluted and distorted through an online lens.

To me – and by definition – curation requires conscious thought with the purpose of adding value, context, or perspective to a collection of things. It’s deliberate work, gathering things together for a reason and lending a keen editing eye to those assets, whether it be pieces of art or pieces of writing. There’s also an element of curation that involves preserving things, which is a more challenging proposition when you’re talking about the fleeting nature of the digital world.

Turning your Twitter feed into a clockwork-scheduled stream of all the stuff you find in your RSS feed is not curation, it’s distribution. And since collecting and redistributing content is arguably easier than creating it, everyone does it. Which serves to create a great deal of noise, and as we’ve lamented for some time now, it becomes increasingly difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff and home in on information resources that are consistently valuable, and favor mindful selection and sharing over optimizing a feed to populate a bunch of links and drive traffic or gain fans and followers.

Can curation be accomplished online? I think so. But it’s rarely what we actually see happening when we immerse ourselves in social networks, and it’s not what we’re doing when we click the “share” button over and over again.

Valuing Information

Back to the idea of friction, or lack thereof.

If we no longer have to do a shred work to find, share, or get information, do we value it as much? Do we appreciate the work that it took to unearth it, to research it, to create it? And how discerning is our eye for good, valuable, or unique content, let alone the kind of content that has the elusive power to truly drive changes in our thought patterns or actions?

The business case for curating content has long been that you can become an expert resource for others, a trusted source of information or expertise that sets you apart. But becoming a trusted source of information implies a willingness and ability to apply filters, to have exacting standards, to discern the good from the simply popular, the valuable from the gimmicked and hyped. Which requires work. A lot of it. Not just an app and the ability to put your collection and distribution on autopilot.

Finding the Good Stuff

My lack of inspiration these days isn’t anyone’s problem but mine, and I take responsibility for my own need to adjust my lenses and sources and do my own work to seek out and find the most excellent of resources for what I’m trying to do.

But I can’t help but keep wondering about the diminishing returns we’re going to get (or that we are getting) when this much-lauded lack of friction and everyone being a publisher means that…well…everyone is a publisher. Or a critic. Or a “curator”.

How do we preserve the value of some content over other content? Do we? Is there value in having to work a bit to find the good stuff, or is greasing the skids for the flow of content always the best possible scenario? If everyone is a curator or a distributor, how must our tools and thinking continue to evolve to help us find the curators of the curators? How do we continue to evolve our valuation of resources and information?

I don’t have the answers, and I most assuredly still believe that widely available information and choice and the openness of the web’s platform is a positive thing. But in terms of how I absorb and learn, it definitely has me looking around me more thoughtfully these days, wondering how and where I’ll continue to find the writing, thoughtful dialogue, and resources that help inspire me to do my very best work.

And it certainly makes me ponder whether this growing ease of sharing – our increasingly frictionless online world – will become yet another dent in the side of critical thinking and an incremental triumph of the lazy brain after all.