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curate

verb [transitive]

to select, organize and maintain a collection of resources

curation

noun [uncountable]

curator

noun [countable]

'LinkedIn is in the midst of a major redesign this week, with the company rolling out its revamped LinkedIn Today, its curated news portal for professionals …'

Washington Business Journal 9th May 2013

'The argument for content curation has always been one of efficiency. It allows you to cover more ground, in less time …'

Folio Magazine 2nd May 2013

'Shopkick is searching for an exceptionally talented Content Curator to develop and source a wide variety of inspiring retail-based content. Our Content Curators are responsible for inspiring shoppers to visit brick-and-mortar retail locations through great curation.'

Fashionista 17th April 2013

Ten years ago, the word curate would more than likely have conjured up images of antiquated objects in glass cases, and curator the museum employee who painstakingly organizes their display. Of course the business of curation isn't restricted to dusty relics, the word also widely used in the art world to describe the careful selection and maintenance of a collection of paintings. It's fair to say though that, in the past, use of curate has conventionally been confined to these specific cultural contexts, and mainly associated with a particular type of learned professional. But all that is changing. In the last two or three years, the concept's profile has been raised courtesy of the online universe, which has broadened exposure of the word and opened up the concept of curation to the masses.

the term content curation is … now commonly used to refer to the process of identifying, organizing, and sharing the best and most relevant online content in relation to a specific topic

Broadly speaking, to curate is the act of examining a number of items – concrete objects, pieces of music, printed or other media, etc, i.e. anything that the public might look at, listen to, or otherwise 'consume' – and selecting what you consider to be the best of the bunch. These items are then presented in a way which makes them easy to digest and thereby of maximum benefit to 'consumers'.

With all the information that comes raining down on us in cyberspace, it's easy to see that the concept of curation might be relevant here – that someone, somewhere, should stop and think about what pieces of information are really worth displaying for the world to see. Recent estimations suggest for instance that, every minute, nearly 600 new websites are created and almost 50 hours of video uploaded. All this 'stuff', now often simply dubbed content, needs organizing, and anyone who does so effectively functions as a curator. The term content curation is therefore now commonly used to refer to the process of identifying, organizing, and sharing the best and most relevant online content in relation to a specific topic. Anyone involved in this process is described as a content curator, and though there are people specifically employed in this role, it's not exclusive to professionals. In principle, there's a kind of ad hoc process of curation going on whenever anyone takes the decision to point people towards a particular item of information on the web.

Given our ever increasing potential to create and share new media, the process of selecting and effectively organizing information seems a critical one in 21st century life. This has made the word curate, a concept which once had pretty highbrow overtones and associations with the culturally elite, relevant across all walks of society.

Background – curate

Having assumed a new significance in the digital age, the word curate now often appears as a participle adjective (e.g. curated content). The concept's application in online contexts has significantly boosted the frequency of nouns curator and curation. All these words have however been knocking about in the English language for a very long time. The noun curator dates back to Middle English and is based on the Latin form curare meaning 'take care of'. The verb curate first appeared some time later in the 19th century, an example of what linguists sometimes refer to as back-formation (a process in which a shorter word is formed from a longer word that already exists in the language).

In technical contexts, the expression content curation is often contrasted with what's known as content aggregation, the automated gathering of (links to) information on a particular topic.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

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This article was first published on 9th July 2013.

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