on filtering vs. curation

I’ve been thinking about the distinction between filtering and curation lately. “Social media” is described as bringing a form of curation to the internet, when it is really providing layers of filtration. What’s the difference? Filtering is crap detection, wheat-from-chaff separation. Useful and important, but only the first step of curation. Curation is when a knowledgeable expert crafts an experience based on their understanding of context, in order to guide others through a collection. Curation is so much more than simple crap detection. Examples?

Crap detection

Twitter is a great platform for crap detection. People whom I trust post links to stuff. They typically suggest either a) the links are good and worth reading, or b) the links are crap and worth avoiding. Useful things, and important in raising awareness. But not curation.

RSS readers are great for crap detection. Resources are linked to by people that are trusted on some level. An example is the Fever˚ Hot dashboard, showing the most commonly linked resources across all 355 subscribed feeds:

The Most Awesome Thing Ever is a multiuser thing ranking system – letting people choose which of two options is more Awesome, storing the win/loss scores for each, and ranking the Things by Awesomeness. It’s simple, straightforward, and an effective filter. But it’s essentially mindless.

Filtering is critical, but it is just the first step.


The Sputnik Observatory is a great example of a platform for curation. A collection of videos on a wide range of topics, with paths crafted by experts and novices alike. The Observatory provides a set of paths to lead people through a series of videos, winding their way through a narrative that builds as each node is viewed.

This goes beyond simple crap detection. A basic star-rating system would have solved the crap detection problem. Instead, Sputnik went beyond that to provide a set of tools that essentially let people construct narratives through the collection, building a story and context. That is where curation gets its power.

Another fantastic example of curation is the CBC Radio 3 Artists Series – where an artist is brought into the studio to share some of their favourite music and tell some stories about the background and history of their band and career. This is completely different than a “Top 10” type of show (crap filtering), as it provides context and meaning that are only possible when crafted by such knowledgeable experts.

Curation is a profound act of creation, of teaching, of learning.


podcastsI just spent a few minutes updating my podcast subscriptions – I haven’t really listened to podcasts for several months, and want to get back into more curated audio presentations, as opposed to the relentless randomness of Shuffle Mode music playlists.

I decided my previous set of subscriptions were essentially a self constructed echo chamber. I had subscribed to several edu-podcasts, all talking about various interpretations of the same issues. I need to break out of the echo chamber, so I unsubscribed from most of them (sorry – nothing personal). I added several music related podcasts, and a couple talk radio shows.

I’m not sure when I’ll have a chance to listen to them all, but I’m going to try. Perhaps as good background distraction while writing…