They scour the Internet for interesting but obscure links and tweet them. They are the content curators of the information age
“Ours is a culture immensely rich in trash as it is in treasures,” wrote author Ray Bradbury in ‘Zen in the art of writing’. Sifting these treasures from the trash of the World Wide Web is what ‘curators’ of the digital age do. They find interesting links that have lost themselves in “the whimsical rabbit hole of discovery” - as curator, Maria Popova, calls the Net – and tweet their findings.
The notion of cyber curatorship has floated on the Web from when the immensity, but indispensability, of the Internet became too pertinent to ignore. While technology provided the maze of the Internet’s wealth, human editorial and curatorial wisdom was requisite to navigate it, blogged marketing speaker, Rohit Bhargava in 2009.
The word ‘curate’ originates from the Latin word curare (to care) and initially signified ritualistic preparation of the body for transition from one stage of life to the next. While the word has evolved to its modern connotation in the art world, curators online not only discover cyber gems but also link them together for context; in a sense, ‘curate’ them for transition from obscurity to familiarity.
The editorial discretion involved in finding and contextualising links has prompted curators such as Maria to call for an acknowledgement of their skills. Thus, in March 2012, ‘The Curator’s Code’ was established to “honour the creative and intellectual labour of information discovery”. The Code encourages netizens to credit curators as their information sources by placing “via so-and-so” before links they directly re-post, and “HT (hat tip) so-and-so” before links they indirectly came across.
While discussions on how exactly to acknowledge curators abound, their value in today’s age of information overload remains undisputed.
Over the years, most cyber curators have established their areas of expertise, and the quality and frequency of their tweets have earned them devoted followers.
However, few international big names currently address issues of the global south. Among Indian curators, Business Standard columnist Nilanjana Roy (@nilanjanaroy) has gained a reputation for finding interesting links in English, while Cricinfo co-founder Badri Sheshadri (@bseshadri) does the same in Tamil.
“The trend of Indian content curators will pick up in the fullness of time but for role models in content curation, go back before Twitter: sites like Kamat’s Potpourri or India Uncut did fantastic work,” says Nilanjana.
A short-list of major curators on Twitter from a world of 140 millions tweeters can by no means be exhaustive; nevertheless here are a few reputed international names.
Name: Maria Popova
Twitter Handle: @brainpicker
Bio: An MIT fellow, Maria calls herself an “interestingness hunter-gatherer”, who focuses on “combinatorial creativity” - the process whereby the brain links together inter-disciplinary ideas to create something new. With over 1,88,169 followers and 52,307 tweets, she is the definitive source for links on creativity and intelligence, psychology, design, art and music, writing and books.
Recent tweets: ‘John Cleese's suggestions for a creative life', ‘Bertrand Russells' 10 commandments on teaching' and ‘Remembering Ray Bradbury in 11 quotes'.
Name: Steve Silberman
Twitter Handle: @stevesilberman
Bio: Steve is a science journalist who runs a popular blog, NeuroTribes on links between the mind, science and culture, as well as features his investigative journalism for The Wired, The New Yorker, GQ, etc. He was listed on Time's 140 best twitter feeds in 2011 for his links on science-related topics.
Recent tweets: ‘An autistic child's father on the importance of listening to autistic adults', ‘Undisagnosed adults with Asperger's go through hell' and ‘The importance of placebo in sports'.
Name: Dan Colman
Twitter Handle: @openculture
Bio: Director and Associate Dean at Stanford, Dan began his website Open Culture in 2006 to bring together the best cultural resources available on the Internet. Open Culture also currently hosts links to 425 free online courses in subjects as diverse as the aesthetics and philosophy of art to behavioural finance, 40 free language courses and 300 free e-books.
Recent tweets: ‘Rembrandt's Facebook Timeline', ‘A 2002 documentary on Derrida – the Abstract Philosopher and the Everyday Man' and ‘Andrei Tarkovsky's very first films'.
Name: Matthias Rascher
Twittter Handle: @matthiasrascher
Bio: Matthias teaches high-school History and English in Germany and tweets on linguistics, literature, history, technology and music. He's especially revered for his collections on photography and film.
Recent tweets: “Bird's-eye view maps of Victorian London', ‘Stunning short film on how a spider lays its eggs' and ‘Tornadoes and lightning: pictures by British storm chaser James Menzies
Name: Jason Kottke
Twitter Handle: @jkottke
Bio: Jason has run kottke.org for the past 14 years with help from a few other editors. The site hosts links on movies, design, food, sports and photography among others.
Recent tweets: ‘Time lapse video of the transit of Venus', ‘A musical version of the TV show Wire' and ‘An atlas for the blind'