2 years ago • 40.0X social lift

Curated Thoughts on Curation

Here’s Maria Popova responding in the comments to a post on Gizmodo by Matt Langer titled “Stop Calling It Curation”:

This isn’t a new conversation, but it’s a necessary one. If we fail to recognize those who author our intellectual and creative direction by pointing us to the rich and meaningful, then we have failed to build a true information society.

As Matt noted, the conversation has been happening for a while. And yet, pictured below is the entirety of Popova’s contribution to the discussion, which is a response to Choire Sicha (who Popova, amazingly, has apparently never heard of). (For extra lols, here’s Anil Dash reducing the whole thing to a “semantic debate”.)

To date Popova has published pretentious hand-waving about creative authorship on Nieman’s Journalism Lab, Wired, and wherever else will publish this stuff, and the occasional defensive blog comment or email, but no public conversation about the feedback she’s been getting outside of vague accusations of not getting it. Although her pet project, The Curator’s Code, which I refuse to link to, did get an update in response to a constant stream of criticism: a new (permanent?) popover/interstitial thing with even more art-speak that a) ruins the website, b) means absolutely nothing to unevolved philistines like me:

The internet is a whimsical rabbit hole of discovery. Acknowledging where information came from helps keep the rabbit hole open and makes the Web Wonderland better for all of us.

Ok.

Like many things on the internet, this thing is largely about ego. I believe that Popova is genuine in her concern for proper attribution into the rabbit hole of web wonderland. I also believe that she runs a glorified link blog and would like some credit for that. But here’s a fun game! Spot the attribution in this screenshot:

That, gentlemen, is pure 11px text stuffed away at the bottom of a post [that doesn’t have enough meaningful sentences for most humans to even finish reading, thank god it has pictures]. It is also one of few instance of the Curator’s Code on Brainpickings because - twist! - Popova pretty much never uses it. (Nobody else I’ve seen uses it at all, even her studio mate Swiss Miss.) What happened to leading by example? What’s readily apparent is that this is about people attributing Brainpicker. She claims to spend 450+ hours a month doing this (which is about 16 hours a day), which one would assume precludes doing much other work. Curation and “intellectual labor” needs to be legitimate enough to earn a living from it, thus the painfully overwritten Curator’s Code attempting to recodify the ethics of attribution. People like Popova already know that stringent attribution is a losing game - only top-tier bloggers like John Gruber and Jason Kottke have the traffic to send an appreciable number of pageviews or fucks given to the creator of the discovery of a link. Once you go down just one single level in the chain, the hits drop off and nobody gives a damn where it came from. Via links can’t be adapted and molded into something that creates what Popova wants - a giant web of links pointing back to her - the attention isn’t there.

It’s clear to me (with a few years under my belt of posting to The Feature) that the simple act of passing along a link or nugget of information really isn’t particularly valuable. Someone that’s good at it can gain a reputation and a substantial following, as Popova has, but the discrete acts that contribute to that reputation aren’t that valuable on their own. Whenever I’ve seen something that literally adds value to its source material by transforming it in someway before passing it along (be it an essay, a mashup, a piece of art, or, sure, a gif) it seems to me that its creative forefathers are consistently well-credited. Is it maybe the case that just passing it on isn’t an act loaded with creative authorship at all?

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