The Case Against Curation

by Randy Murray on November 28, 2011

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 curator is someone who is responsible for the care and conservation of something. A curate, for example, is responsible for the souls in a congregation. A curator is responsible for a collection in a museum. A curator is not responsible for a list of favorites in other museums.

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.

To force its use brings in all sorts of unhelpful, dissonant associations. Curation is more about care than collecting and displaying. And its use takes on air of false academic rarity and sophistication. You can’t call it a thing and make it so. If my grandmother had wheels she’d be a wagon.

Be honest. Providing links and commentary is a valuable service. It is an art form, but it is not curation. Some of my favorite daily reads do just that: sites like Boing Boing, Fark, and MinimalMac are terrific. But they’re not museums or libraries or zoos. They exercise no care or control over the things that they link to. They spread the word, but they preserve nothing.

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.

And my suggestion is this: embrace the term reporting. It’s a noble profession. And it needs more good people practicing the art.

Update: See more I have to say here: More about (and against) Curation.

The Case Against Curation by Randy Murray, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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