Are curators the missing thing in enterprise 2.0 approaches ?


Summary :in a few weeks, a new concept burst into the web : the curator. It can be defined as filter and broadcaster for qualified and targeted information. Is it a new fad or a key element of a successful approach. With hindsight it seems that it’s the perfect complement to community managers when the latter makes no sense, one targeting actual communities, the other those who want informations without interactions as well as those who need to be stimulated to interact. The curator may be the person who feeds “social skeptics” as well as community discussions or community managers themselves when they need expert contents to do their job.

Sometimes, there are themes that emerge from who knows where and find themselves at the heart of the discussions. That’s how what what supposed to be an insignificant on twitter with Anthony Poncier and Benoit Faverial ended in a real debate that lasted long at night with Xavier Bartholome, Vincent Berthelot and Mark Tamis. In this post I’ll try to sum up what was said.

Why talking about curators here ?

Because, in my opinion, it’s one of the most important levers to successfully achieve 2.0, social (use the words you prefer) projects within the organization.

What is a curator ?

As for any emerging concept we need to be very cautious when trying to define what anything is. We can say that curators are people who process, rate, contextualize, enrich and broadcast information.

Here’s the diagram shared by Anthony.

There’s something I like a lot with the concept of curator and what it refers to. Like curators in museums, they do not transform the primary matter but understand it, explain it, expose it in a context that increases its value. We can consider that their contribution is rather about meta-data and meta-information.

What’s the difference with KM ?

At first sight I can see three major differences with KM : feeds, maturity and the exclusive nature of the role.

• Curators are not processing information to tidy it up but to broadcast it. KMer ended in a container filling role while curators are rather broadcasters. So, curators are more “filters and pumps” than meticulous archivists.

• KMers don’t address the same level of information as curators. KMers deal with mature, validated and consolidated information while curators are more focused on emergence and weak signals.

• Kmers were, in some ways, knowledge depositories, a mandatory agent any knowledge related thing had to go through. Curators act rather by subsidiarity : anyone can do one’s own sourcing and filtering job without dealing with curators. But, for those who don’t want, don’t know how to, can’t, the curator is here to make things easier.

That’s a watch work isn’t it ?

Yes, there are lots of similarities. The difference is that curators are not necessarily “institutionalized” and depends on a less structured, managed and constrained approach. On the other hand, curators may work at a narrower level and be in a more instantaneous logic when watch often needs time to finally reach employees.

To be also taken into account :

• Brokerage. Curators directly transmit information to employees while watchers make it through a complex and  nebulous intermediary called enterprise or organization which has its rules and constraints that make the system less reactive.

• Scope : watchers watch what’s happening out of the enterprise while curators are also dealing with internal information. So they’re the possible missing link between internal social and community activities and conversations that only interest those who participate and those who need the information that can be found here but don’t have the time or will to find it…or are even convinced that these activities are useless and don’t believe in social approaches.

Curators can even be seen as those who facilitate a P2P watch system in complement to an heavier and institutionalized one.

So, who can be a curator ?

Originally, curation was not an assigned role but a stated one. I mean that no one has ever been assigned a curation role but that the observation of the way things work on the web demonstrated the importance of people having a certain kind of behaviors. They were called curators because a word was needed to identify them. Nothing more.

So many curators are curating without even knowing they’re doing it. Because they’re curious, they love to share…and dont’ think they play a special role in the life of the net.

It’s the same in the workplace. There are lots of curators who search, watch, enrich, share information because that’s their nature. But it’s often harder than in real life because enterprise rules makes it hard if not impossible to discourage such behaviors.

This is a very important point : should curators be institutionalized in the workplace ? The answer is not that easy. One may be tempted to appoint curators but it would be better to let those who have it in their DNA make it freely without being  prevented by the organization. Most of all, if curation needs specific expertise on some business topics, using the expertise of some employees rather than hiring a skilled expert for the only purpose of filtering of broadcasting may be much more cost efficient. The only point for the organization is to decide whether the added value of such an activity deserves time allocation and rewarding for those who’ll help…or not.

We can also think about a collaborative/community kind of curation.

May curators be the “miracle men” of enterprise 2.0 approaches ?

Rather start with THE question : what’s th value ?

I can see it at four levels (at least) :

• Communities and social activities generate an impressive potential that is not harnessed at all by those who don’t believe in it, have not time etc… But maybe following only a curator that spoon-feed them will make them experience the benefits or social activities. A little bit like serving them meals at their table to make them taste the food and  feel like going to the self-service to get more.

• Not only organizations discourage any proactive behavior toward learning and information…but many employees are not comfortable with information, weak signals and flows that compose the world they have to work in. Curators may bridge the gap between old and new usages and may be a change lever for organizations in a transition phase and people “lost between two worlds”.

• When a community manager is rather a community management expert and knows few things about what the community is talking about, he may appreciate to be fed by a curator.

• In a world where 1% produce contents, 9% process them and 90% consume (or not), it’s clear than the 9% are key to leverage the production and make it useful and used for the 90%. Curators are part or the 9%

A few word about these last years rock star : the community managers who was expected to be the person that will make things work. What’s the difference between a CM and a curator ?

• There are information fields inside and outside the organizations, people who need them…the missing thing is the person that put the first in flows to feed the seconds. CMs only manage communities and communities do no exist everywhere and can’t be created on demand.

Curators are not miracle builders but they can inject some dynamism into information networks.

I can remember of a manager, years ago, who wanted to brings all his staff on their recently born social network. He spent his time notifying people that “this info may interest you”, “you should answer this one”, “you’d better read that”. After a few month, everyone understood the value and he was have to let the system live alone.

By the way, isn’t this job of putting people and information together what is often said being a part of the future of managers ?

Is curator necessarily an human being ?

Excellent question. At first sight it should…but with the emergence of social analytics, that are a king of social BI, in some tools, things may evolve in the future. What if a tool could suggest contents, people, communities, sources depending on my interests, my history ? Ok…it’s still a little bit to early to think of it as the only way to curate. But one day..

Will curation be a new opportunity for bullshitters ?

Read my anser above. Globally speaking, forget the word “curator” and think about the role of a person that makes information flow and irrigate one’s ecosystem. You don’t see the difference with community managers ? Curators are focused on information flows without thinking they’re leading or managing any community. There are people who read and follow them but they’re managed as a sum of individuals, not as a community, what prevents from doing many mistakes and have irrelevant expectations.

Any conclusion to make the story short ?

There are two kind of people in the workplace ; those who want to gather to interact and produce knowledge and those who find it useless…but would like to get the knowledge in question and need the proof that social activities are valuable before, maybe, joining. Even some communities may need to be fed by pilot fishes…

The first need a facilitator, the second a delivery person. We can call it community management and curation…or anything else. It does not matter. But both put together allow to address nearly all kinds of needs in day-to-day works as well as in transition phases.

From this point of view, curators may reach more people than community managers and, in addition to that, can be very helpful to bridge the gap between internal and external information ecosystems as well as between internal and even social silos.

In short, stop being obsessed by words but let’s tool the usages, sharing and broadcasting approaches we need. And if it can be done by grooming sold old activities instead of throuwoing everyhting away and reinventing the wheel…why not !