Like many people, I was glued to my computer and smart phone much of last Saturday monitoring news of the massive earthquake in Chile and awaiting, with morbid anticipation, the possibility that it could trigger deadly tidal waves in other parts of the world.
As the predicted 4 PM arrival of the first tsunami on Hawaii’s shores approached, I turned my attention mainly to Twitter. Three years ago, it probably would have been CNN or the New York Times, but Twitter brought a dimension to the coverage that I couldn’t get anywhere else: thousands of perspectives from around the world.
A tsunami is a visual event, a fact made clear to us more than five years ago when videos of the tragic waves that swept across Indonesia were posted on YouTube. News junkie that I am, I wanted to see the events in Hawaii in as close to real time as possible.
Instead of clicking around to various websites or hunkering down with one and hoping for the best, I was able to monitor a constant stream of advice from people pointing their followers to WebCams, live news coverage and reports from observers at the site. Most of these sources would have been unknown to me if it weren’t for Twitter. It was like having 1,000 eyes watching the media for me. Thankfully, the fears turned out to be unfounded.
No media organization would have delivered this many options for monitoring events. In fact, media organizations are hard-wired to do the opposite; an NBC affiliate would no sooner send viewers to a CBS station than a Ford dealer would send a prospective customer to buy a Toyota. But when the collective eyes of a geographically dispersed crowd are put to work without a competitive agenda, they can deliver a tapestry of views unlike anything we’ve ever seen.
This story dramatized to me one of the realities of new media landscape that I think will have huge implications in the future: curation is an increasingly important part of the information value chain. Wiktionary defines curation as “The act of organizing and maintaining a collection of artworks or artifacts,” but today the term applies equally well to information. Think of it: a decade ago we had relatively few sources of news about what was going on in the world. Even in the first decade of the Internet, we still relied mainly on traditional media for the story.
Today, three billion people carry around pocket-sized devices with built-in cameras, many capable of capturing full motion video. Some can even upload videos in minutes to a server. It won’t be long before wireless live WebCams are ubiquitous.
No longer is our problem lack of information; it’s that we’re drowning in information. That’s why curation is so important. Trusted curators who point us to the most valuable sources of information for our interests will become the new power brokers. Matt Drudge figured this out many years ago and a host of popular aggregators like BoingBoing.net, Digg.com, Metafilter and Fark.com have been building upon it with great success for more than five years.
Twitter adds a new dimension because it introduces so many new voices to the process. But Twitter is also imperfect; its great shortcoming is that no one can possibly keep up with it all. Another opportunity for curation.
Marketers should take this trend into account. Creating new content is important, but an equally valuable service is curating content from other sources. This demands a whole different set of skills as well as a new delivery channel. It also means ditching the “not invented here” mindset that prevents content creators from acknowledging other sources.
In a cacophony of voices, the leader is the one who can make sense of the din. That’s a role that any editor — or business — can play.