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October 20, 2010
Curation Curation Curation and The Next Social Media Business Model

Curation, the word of 2008-2009 within the eCommerce world, popularized first by the entertaining shopping site Woot, has now officially expanded to the social media space (see examples).
It used to be the long tail that made the internet so full of
potential, but it seems information reached its peak and we can no
longer search, find and make sense of it ourselves. We only need one
result–maybe even just one result per day–if we’re expected to take any
action. And action is the key word here. Even Google has tried to make
search easier. Instant search
gives you exponentially more results but more importantly, allows you
to self-curate as you type each little letter of your inquisition.

Not only do museums subscribe to a curated model, but so do retail
merchandisers and just about every brick and mortar personal, local, or
service business I can think of. Why? Because there is too much for us
to discover and access on our own. We need these agents, and we evolved
as consumers to learn not how to discern quality products but rather
how to discern quality curators. I’m typically a believer in what’s old
is new again and cyclical reinvention, but this whole curation trend has
me wondering: are we really back to the dawn of time–as offline as a
curated museum–in reinventing the way we should discover new information
online, too?

There are two problems I foresee as curation is applied to social media: one functional and one economic.

  • Functional: We consumers are in a decade long limbo between searched
    and curated social media. The informational world—linked, tweeted, and
    blogged–has not been adequately curated and because social media grows
    exponentially daily, search will never work to solve this problem. I
    believe social media is not a search experience it is a lean-back style,
    served medium. Curation is required for serving media. However,  given
    the breadth of information, the best curators are hard to surface and we
    gravitate instead to whomever has the loudest voice vs. the best
    researched content or perspective. It’s a traditional problem typically
    caused by marketing dollars and media machines, but they have been
    equalized by social media mechanisms like Twitter’s trending topics
    (which currently include #myhomelesssignwouldsay) and Facebook campaigns as simple as getting Betty White on SNL.
  • Economic: Curated businesses command a larger premium over long tail, search driven businesses. Example: Apple vs. Google.
    I buy that curation creates value.  However, curation also requires
    greater expense. Think of the margins of your local specialty retail
    shop vs. those of Google. Curation requires procurement, procurement
    requires personnel and expense. Higher price points + Lower margins =
    Lower price points + Higher margins. I don’t know how it will play out
    with social media but the framework remains which typically equalizes
    value.

The social-media-o-sphere has been buzzing about Malcolm Gladwell’s article in the New Yorker on social media
last week. What he touched on is the lacking ability of social media to
spark action online. Passive and pensive agreement with social media
exists online today, but action is hard to create through the same
medium. Curation, in my mind, could bring this call to action. This is
what the activists described by Gladwell in the Greensboro, NC
Woolworth’s essentially did—they focused on a simple message,
distributed via social connections to similar spirits in Virginia and
South Carolina.  I think we’ll be stuck in the social media chasm until
the curation problem is solved in this sphere. The question is when it
happens, will we have solved the ultimate problem or will scale be
encumbered by the economic downside that typically accompanies curated
businesses? Depends on how we solve it I suppose . . .

Dayna Grayson is a Principal with North Bridge Venture Partners.  You find this post, as well as additional content on her blog titled Primary Entrepreneur.  You can also follow Dayna (@daynagrayson) on Twitter by clicking here.