Options for curating online content

Curation is an answer to the problem of information overload. There’s so much stuff online these days – how do you read it all? Or rather, how do you decide what’s worth your attention?

A way for an individual or organisation to build a community or network digitally is to become a trusted curator – in other words, getting popular by sorting the wheat from the chaff on other’s behalf.

There are quite a few tools out there to help you do it. Here’s a few.

1. Social bookmarking

I use Pinboard, but there’s also Delicious and Diigo, amongst others. You see a site or page you like, so you save it to your bookmarks usually using a button on your browser. You describe the link, tag it with keywords, and it joins a public list that others can browse.

I also republish all my bookmarks as occasionally posts here on the blog – I doubt if anyone ever actually looks at my Pinboard page.

2. Storify

Storify is a neat tool for bring content together in a single place around a certain event or topic. So whether it’s photos, videos, tweets, blog posts or whatever, every type of content can be added to a single page, making it potentially the top destination for someone wanting to find out about that topic.

3. Pinterest

A pretty new site this, and still invite-only I think. Pinterest is all about visual stuff, encouraging users to ‘pin’ images and videos they see on the web to their own ‘boards’ or group boards along shared themes.

There’s a big social element to Pinterest too, with users encouraged to ‘repine’ things they’ve seen on others boards to pass them on to their friends, and so on. Bit like retweeting I guess.

4. Paper.li

Paper.li is an automated curating thingy that pulls tweets and stories linked to in tweets together for you, publishing them in a daily ‘newspaper’ of useful content. This is all based on your own followers’ activity, so hopefully all the content ought to be relevant and interesting.

It’s good because it’s automated and you don’t have to do a lot to make it work. It’s bad because it’s automated and you don’t have a huge amount of control over what it publishes.

5. Tumblr

As well as being a blogging tool you can use to publish your own original pearls of wisdom, a lot of people use Tumblr to curate, by ‘reflagging’ stuff they’ve seen elsewhere. Again, Tumblr makes this easy by using a button in your browser. Increasingly popular amongst young people who wouldn’t normally be seen dead doing something as dorky as blogging, Tumblr’s a huge and growing network of people sharing, resharing and reresharing content.

It’s also home to some hilarious themed sites – like Glum Councillors, for example.

That’s it

There’s five from me – any more?

What I do

DB business cardMy role at Learning Pool is a hard one to define exactly. A couple of weeks ago, we had a big company meeting where everyone got together to discuss the last year’s efforts, and what we want to achieve in 10/11.

At one point Paul asked everyone in the room to raise their hands if they knew what I did for the company. I don’t think anyone raised their hands. I know I didn’t.

That’s ok, though, and I stood up and rather incoherently tried to explain it all. I don’t think I did a great job, but I do think I managed to get across that it isn’t just about going to conferences.

My job title is Community Evangelist, and the first thing to say is that I’m not a Technology Evangelist. The role of technology evangelist is a pretty well established one in the techie sphere, pioneered by Guy Kawasaki at Apple in the 80s. Robert Scoble fulfilled a similar role for Microsoft in the mid-noughties.

This is important, because I’m a newcomer to Learning Pool’s core technology, based on Moodle, and would probably be a pretty terrible evangelist for it. Not only that, but my actual technical knowledge is sketchy at best, and I’m as good an example as any that a little knowledge can be a very dangerous thing.

Instead of technology, my focus is people – as individuals, members of communities of practice or interest, and organisations. My aim is to promote the behaviour and culture of the internet: collaboration, openness, generosity, curiosity.

So what do I actually do?

  • Well, I do go to conferences. I speak at them, sit and listen at them, wander around chatting to people at them. I collect business cards, I give out my own. I enthuse about the wonders of the internet and what it can do for people and organisations.
  • I also turn up at organisations, like Councils – occasionally invited – to talk to groups of people, whether management teams or whole departments about the work we do and why it’s important
  • I manage communities. This will be really important once the new LP website is launched, which will be full of online networking goodness. Encouraging participation, getting more people to join, providing real value for both members and for the company.
  • I convene. One of the things Learning Pool effectively invested in when they recruited me was my network: as a result of the past 5 years I’ve spent writing this blog, whoring myself on Facebook and Twitter and attempting to be as helpful as possible, I’ve built up a group of people who find knowing me occasionally useful. I introduce people who may not have otherwise known one another, and hope that interesting things happen as a result.
  • I curate. I spend a lot of time following hundreds of blogs and Twitter streams, picking out the best bits and distributing links to them via Twitter, Delicious, Google Reader, and of course this blog. As I like to say, I find this stuff so you don’t have to.
  • Of the stuff I read, a lot comes from sectors other than the public, and so I spend time thinking how emergent technology and ideas can be applied to public services. I guess I just put stuff into context. It isn’t that hard, and the joy of it is that I don’t need to have too many original thoughts of my own.
  • I write longer pieces than blog posts, like the Twitter guide – and I have some more of these planned. Hopefully they are useful for those that download and read them, and they promote LP as a helpful company who know more or less what they are talking about
  • I have ideas. 99% of them are stupid and never go anywhere. The other 1% are stupid but get made less stupid by someone else, and may end up actually happening.
  • I get wind of potentially interesting projects for Learning Pool to be involved with, which are often way outside the usual day to day business of the company. I do my best to win the work, and after completing it, we decide whether it is an activity that could be ‘productised’ and marketed as a service we could offer more widely.
  • Finally, I share stuff. Pretty much everything I ever think gets written up and published, whether here or on Twitter. I also try to share the interesting stories I come across in local government, finding the pockets of great innovation that are going on and making more people aware of it, so everyone benefits. My recent interview with Mark Lloyd is an example of that. I’m always looking for more.

So that’s a brief run through of what I do. In practice, I spend a lot of time reading, mainly off the screen and mainly within Google Reader, and a lot of time out and about meeting people. There are worse ways of making a living.

Find what I’m reading

I’m still having a couple of technical problems here getting my delicious bookmarks posted up to the blog.

Just in case this is causing you a great deal of anguish – and I completely understand if it isn’t – you can find out what stuff I think is worth reading in two places:

  • there’s my delicious page itself, which also of cause has its own feed
  • and I have just started sharing things in Google Reader, and you can find all these items onĀ my public page – which, again, has a feed as well

Hopefully normal service will be resumed soon.

Update: This should now be fixed. The issue was, I think, with Delicious blocking access to the RSS feed – presumably they didn’t like me checking it automatically every hour to see if there was anything new there. By piping the Delicious feed through Feedburner, the problem is averted.