The Dark Side of CurationDark Side of Curation


The topic of content curation is extremely relevant on the Internet today. More and more sites are offering curated views of videos, images and articles. However, as laudable as the concept might be,  there is danger involved as well.  The problem is that the curated content will inevitably reflect the mind-set of the curator(s).


While doing some research on the topic I found a post By Jenna Wortham on Bits, a blog on the New York Times website, on which she explained the necessity of curation. However, it was eventually one of the comments that caught my eye:


There should be no problem with consulting curators’ picks provided we do not forget the dictum:


“What is true may not be popular
What is popular may not be true”


[A rephrasing of the take home lesson of “An Enemy of the People” by Henrik Ibsen. Just substitute “true” with “best” and it will apply to this initiative.]
It is true that curators can help us winnow the choices, but there is a very grave danger too, if we rely too much on them.


The works of “impressionists” painters were once considered scandalous and bad taste at the turn of the 20th Century. The art curators of the time did not consider it art. I was reminded of the irony the other day when I was visiting some of the small galleries in Boston. I overheard a lady ask a guy who entered one of the galleries: What kind of art do you like? “I guess, classical?”, he asked more than stated. His lady companion volunteered. “You mean like impressionists?” “Yeah?”, he answered reluctantly.


The exchange was not surprising because works of impressionist artists have been very much hyped, especially by institutional museums and curators for several decades now. What was once bad art had become classical art.


van Gogh

van Gogh - Vase with Fifteen Sunflowers

Even Vincent van Gogh, a post-impressionist painter could not sell most of his paintings during his time. Without the support of his brother, he might have withered, if not gave up painting altogether. Who would have thought then that all his paintings now would fetch millions, one (‘Fifteen Sunflowers’…see image above) sold for a record of US$40 million almost a century later.


Arthur Rimbaud, now considered one of the greatest influence in modern literature, and definitely, the hero of the Beat Generation, was considered vulgar during his time. Were it not for the efforts of his lover, Paul Verlaine, and his sister, Rimbaud’s works (done during a short three year burst of his life, from 19yo to 21 yo) would have perished.


Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, now considered a classic was not popular when Melville was alive. To this day, Cavafy remain obscure but some of his poems were considered a great influence among some poets and writers.


I could go on with more examples. While there were indeed many works that were recognized to be good even during their time; there many works of art, literature that were obscure during their time but got recognized many years (decades later). It is likely that there were many gems that never got discovered.
We should consult “curators”. However, if we wish to develop our own personal preferences, we have to take the time to explore and turn stones — to find hidden treasures that fit our personal sense of what is “good, noble, beautiful and true”.



Agreed. Yes, we (content curators) should be careful not to suppress or filter out information unnecessarily. A curator’s main job is to separate the wheat from the chaff, and make the viewers visit to the site a better experience. In fact, one of the subsequent comments picked up on exactly this point:


…When you think of a major museum, like MOMA or the Metroppolitan, they have hundreds or even thousands of more items in their collections than they put on the wall at any one time. Their curators determine what you see when you walk through the halls. The analogy is an apt one; YouTube preserves hundreds of millions of videos but it takes a human-driven editorial curating site like to find ways to show us what’s worth watching.


To me, “filtering content” is not what Jenna’s excellent post is about; filters are tech-driven; like search and most viewed during past week or month. The sites that can most effectively curate the best of the web will be where audiences will go, not to POST and preserve their videos, but to find what’s worth watching.
— Jonathan


There you have it. I do not think we could have said it better ourselves.

To your success,






Related posts:

  1. What is Content Curation?
  2. What is a Content Curator | Manifesto for a Content Curator

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