March 22, 2011

‘Curation Nation’ & ‘Mediactive': A new era in media

Two new books chronicle a new era of participation

Curation Nation: How to Win in a World Where Consumers are Creators
By Steve Rosenbaum
Publisher: McGraw-Hill
$17.90, hardcover
Buy it at Amazon.com

JD LasicaWhat’s this? Even in an age of democratized media, where the barbarians have not only stormed the gates but made a nice bouillabaisse out of the media guardians formerly known as The Gatekeepers, there’s a need for curators?

Well, yes. In fact, curators are needed now more than ever, Steve Rosenbaum argues in his fun, insightful, passionate and satisfying new book Curation Nation.

Curators, you might say, are the distant cousins of gatekeepers. Where gatekeepers once decided what news to dispense to a pliable, passive audience of mass media consumers — and, just as important, what news not to dispense — curators serve a different purpose. In this age of information overload, we need curators to find, organize, contextualize and repackage data to make it accessible to us. We’re moving from an age of making stuff to one where we organize, filter and reconceptualize information.

Rosenbaum recounts a dinner conversation Esther Dyson had with Bill Gates, quoting Dyson:

Bill Gates uttered one of the smartest things he has ever said: “The future of search is verbs.” To me, the meaning was clear: when people search, they aren’t just looking for nouns or information; they are looking for action. They want to book a flight, reserve a table, buy a product, cure a hangover, take a class, fix a leak, resolve an argument, or occasionally find a person, for which Facebook is very handy. They mostly want to find something in order to do something. A lot of the social web is or will be directed towards helping people select stuff for other people, because the automated things get the topic, but not the meaning.

Enter the curators. “Curation, whether accidental or intentional, is rapidly becoming the future of media, commerce, and community,” the author writes.

Aggregation as media’s new business model

‘Pick some niche that you’re passionate about that you can totally own.’

At turns serious and lighthearted, “Curation Nation” has a good deal of fun with the subject matter. In the chapter “Are Content Aggregators Vampires?,” Rosenbaum lays out the varying contenders: Mark Cuban arguing that aggregators suck your blood and offer nothing of value, Seth Godin defending the value of aggregation and blogger Robert Scoble observing that the New York Times aggregates the work of its 1,100 staffers. (I don’t agree: These folks are on the payroll. That’s not aggregation as we understand the term in the digital age, and the Times pays for pretty much all of the content in its pages, unlike aggregation sites like the Huffington Post. But I agree with Robert’s overall point. New media has wrought a new age — so get used to it.)

Scoble offers solid advice to folks just getting into the game: “Pick some niche that you’re passionate about that you can totally own. If somebody says something about that niche, you should be able to see it in real time and be able to explain it to other people. If you do that and do that well, then you’re going to be able to build up for that.”

In the end, Rosenbaum offers readers a roadmap for how to win at the curation game. He turns to various experts, like Chris Brogan, About.com founder Scott Kurnit and Twitter conference organizer Jeff Pulver, who offers this pithy gem: “Curate yourself.”

Rosenbaum overstates the case on occasion, as when he declares (drumroll please): “Search is over. Curation has begun.” In truth, traditional search will be wedded to social search — what your friends recommend and, yes, what your network curates for you — for years to come.

Mediactive
By Dan Gillmor
Publisher: Lulu
$14, paperback
Buy it at Lulu

mediactive‘Mediactive” might well have been called “New Media Literacy 101,” but I like the term that Dan Gillmor has coined to describe the new responsibilities thrust on us as both creators and active users of news and information in our hyperconnected age.

Besides, it’s a sexier title.

Gillmor — whose previous book, We the Media, chronicled the rise of citizen media — here takes us on a tour of the churning, still-evolving media landscape, where blogs and independent websites figure prominently in the discussion alongside the usual traditional media giants of print, broadcast, cable, radio and the Web. It’s an age not just of “radically democratized and decentralized creation and distribution” but also an era of “information confusion.”

Gillmor writes in the Introduction:

For many of us, abundance feels more like a deluge, drowning us in a torrent of data, much of whose trustworthiness we can’t easily judge. You’re hardly alone if you don’t know what you can trust anymore.

But we aren’t helpless, either. In fact, we’ve never had more ways to sort out the good from the bad — a variety of tools and techniques that are emerging from the same collision of technology and media that has created the confusion.

As Dan and other colleagues (like Howard Rheingold) have pointed out in recent years, not all information is created equal in quality or reliability. Dan’s recent sojourn into academia has put him in close quarters with the next generation of journalists, and this book is intended as a steely-eyed look at news and information in the emerging mediasphere, the precepts and standards that set journalism aside from speculation and rumor, and why it’s important for us to get this right — as a society and not just as a profession. Its message goes to the very heart of civic engagement and what it means to be an informed citizen.

Dan has positioned Mediactive not just as a new book but as a multifaceted project at mediactive.com. And the final chapter in the book makes clear that the answers to many of the issues outlined here — payment systems for quality journalism, digital identity, proper use of aggregation and curation tools, community-based networks of trust, the education community’s role in all this — have yet to be written.

A note about the book’s production: Dan circulated the book proposal to various major book publishers, but he ultimately decided to write the book he wanted to write on his terms — he has released “Mediactive” through publisher Lulu‘s VIP Services and under a Creative Commons Attribution NonCommercial ShareAlike license, meaning that most of us are able to reuse his work to elevate the culture. Bravo!

Update: Dan points out: “We did more than circulate the project to NY publishers — as noted in the book, we had an offer that I turned down when they refused to go with a CC license.”

In a past life, I was an editor at the Sacramento Bee, including a stint as book editor. See my reviews on Amazon.com and on my personal website. Disclosures: Steve and Dan are both friends and sent me pre-publication galleys of their books.
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10 socially conscious online bookstores: Alternatives to Amazon (Socialbrite)JD Lasica, founder of Socialmedia.biz, is now co-founder of the cruise discovery engine Cruiseable. See his About page, contact JD or follow him on Twitter or Google Plus.