From Randy Murray:
There are times when our use of language shifts and the meaning of words is altered. I typically don’t fight against it. But this current hijacking of the word “curation” to mean “a list of things on other web sites that I link to” is a poor word choice. […]
A web site or a blog with links pointing to other web sites or blogs is not being curated. Such things are lists. There may be commentary, but by the very nature of the web, the person assembling the links does not have primary responsibility to care for the linked things. He or she has no control over them. They are not preserved and maintained by the one who links to them.
It’s the wrong term. […]
There’s another, better term that is more accurate, a better fit. It doesn’t sound as highfalutin’, though.
It’s called “reporting.” All of these sites are doing journalism. It’s news, not a museum.
Note: I love semantic debates. I find I often learn more from them than I do when I attempt to tackle an entirely new subject. If semantics aren’t for you, I’d suggest you sit this one out.
Unlike Randy, I believe that the sharing of links or text as well as the embedding of pictures, audio or video, when presented without any additional context is a form of curation. And in the unlikely event that curation is the wrong term1, I’m confident that reporting is as well.
Every day, I read and take things in. Every day, I’m inspired, moved, angered, enlightened by the words of others. Every day, I fall in love with a specific turn of phrase and since I have the memory of a goldfish, store them for myself while sharing them with others. I offer these up with no context, hoping that others see them and draw their own conclusions. That they decide to dig deeper and visit the source content. I want the words speak for themselves and that is something apart from reporting, at least in its most popular form.
If this isn’t doesn’t have a name, it needs one. Although I think it already has a fairly good one in digital curation.
In our discussion on his site, Randy made it clear that he believes that:
Caring about things and sharing them isn’t curation. It’s the caring FOR things that makes it curation.
I certainly care about the things I share, but I also care for them to the extent that I can. I make sure that the quotes are copied down and saved on the site just in case an image, audio or video embed breaks. I back these posts up to ensure they live on in case Tumblr goes down. I may not possess the original source material, but my referenced versions are certainly cared for.
As for the act of sharing, this is a vital role of the curator. According to Wikipedia:
Curator responsibilities: In smaller organizations, a curator may have sole responsibility for the acquisition and care of objects. The curator will make decisions regarding what objects to collect, oversee their care and documentation, conduct research based on the collection, provide proper packaging of art for transport, and share that research with the public and scholarly community through exhibitions and publications.
That last bit is an important one, or at least it is to me. Curating in private is all well and good, but curating in public is where I truly believe the work becomes important.
Even if Randy is right, and what many of us are doing isn’t true curation, it certainly isn’t reporting and it isn’t editorializing as Stephen M. Hackett suggests. There is no context and no opinion being added (other than the implicit opinion that some thing was worth sharing). Perhaps the correct term is less lofty. Something along the lines of referencing, amplifying or storing, but curation (even if it is not being used literally) feels right. It’s a term we claim because there is nothing better to describe what we are aspiring to achieve.
As Shadoe Huard so aptly put it in his own response to Randy:
I don’t work for a museum but I certainly feel like the above precisely describes what I do here everyday. Last time I checked, “reporting” wasn’t the exclusive domain of people with journalism degrees anymore, so I don’t see why only curators should be allowed to curate.
We’ve seen so many of the boundaries and beliefs of journalism shift over the past few years, why not curation? And even if it started out as an incorrect use, the use has become so common that the literal side of this whole argument might already be moot. As Patrick Rhone pointed out on Twitter:
While I agree, I don’t want it to go unnoticed that words often change through misuse from an etymology perspective.
Perhaps, the definition has expanded or maybe we’ve misused the word to the point where it is now ours2. If not, let’s keep the debate going and come up with the right name already, because I would love to know what the hell it is I’m doing every day…