what is the best way to curate content?

“curation” is a big buzzword on my mind right now – since we are drowning in information, curators of quality content are some of the most valuable fixtures we can find. my previous job was at a boutique that only brought in the best of finely made men’s clothing. jenny nicholson, funnily enough, curates “bad media” with her critiques. my friend lito is an invaluable resource to me, as he visits a ton of restaurants and curates a list of his favorites.

part of me just wants to make lists and share them (a google doc makes sense). i would love to have an easily navigable collection of lists somewhere of quality resources and content. i guess the best thing i have going for that need right now is are.na (link) which is kind of a minimalist, pinterest-like website where you can save your favorite internet things in a pleasing way.

as we curate, patterns emerge. the trick is starting and then refining the process. i love books, cafes, people, and walking. i am sure there is a way to somehow collect data and to make it pretty, which is what museums do, and what any good curator does as well. how will you share your collections, and how will you focus the themes of your finds?

generative vs. non-generative systems

i’m currently reading “the future of the internet and how to stop it” by harvard law professor jonathan zittrain. the chapter i am currently on defines generative systems, or things that people can build other things with. a lot of tools online are generative, though some or non-generative. jonathan suggests that generative systems push innovation a little bit better, and are more receptive to new ideas.

there are a delightful couple of pages in which zittrain tells us the difference between generative and non-generative products. legos are generative, while a dollhouse is not. a knife is generative, while a potato peeler is not. you get the gist – a generative tool allows for its user to do a lot of creative things with it. currently, i use a generative system called glitch (link). it’s a website that teaches its users how to code. it is full of tools and building blocks intended to build web apps. i’ve made some tiny vr environments, algorithms that write poems, and yesterday i toyed around with maps.

if you are lucky enough to find yourself in a generative situation, i encourage you to play. you’ll innovate and create something new just by having a good time, and by seeing what directions your new tools create.

agility is a superpower

in joi ito’s book “whiplash”, he states that in a changing world, agility triumphs over strength. today, i am thinking about this maxim in terms of honing in on my ability to develop products and systems more quickly than any competitor.

lady ada at adafruit also speaks to the power of agility. in her conversation with joi ito she tells us how she will share videos weekly of the products she is making. viewers wonder aloud why she would do this – won’t competitors steal her ideas and release the product before her? the answer is no, because lady ada can make the product significantly faster than anyone trying to imitate.

for us, this means experimenting with how quickly we can provide a product or service. another concept that i think about on a regular basis are “ooda loops” (wikipedia). this is a method of strategic thinking that allows someone to make quick decisions in a very powerful way (observe, orient, decide, act). in your sphere, how can you create and ooda loop? and what can you do faster than all other competition, using the tools available to you online and off?

idea: curators or internet librarians

there are some people i trust for recommendations on the internet. since search results are prioritized by how much a person pays, i often trust specific, credible folks on twitter to recommend books, movies, and media for me to consume. joi ito, as i have mentioned in a couple other posts, provides this service: he interviews folks who do things that i am interested in, and because he is the director of the mit media lab, i trust him.

further, my friend lito is a software engineer and an artist. as a result, he is doing a lot of research that overlaps with mine. if i have a concept or idea that i need to figure out, lito is the first person i ask. now, on the internet, credible experts like lito and joi ito become de facto curators. their twitter accounts, and any other content they produce, is informed by stuff that i would like to investigate anyway.

an example: let’s imagine that you are really into gardening. there may be a particular gardener on the internet that you really like and trust. thus, you will click on any link they share, or read any book they recommend, simply because they are doing the kind of work that you find meaningful. what i’m trying to get at is that this kind of curation is happening now, and it possibly works better than googling by yourself. these people serve as internet librarians, curators that know what they’re looking for that can help you navigate a dizzying sea of information.

suggestion: read some joi ito

i am really into joi ito’s book “whiplash”. i mention it to all of my friends, and reference it in a ton of my blog posts. this likely indicates that i should read more books (don’t worry, i’m on it), but there is something about “whiplash” that really excites me: it’s about how to prepare your brain for a world of accelerating change.

if we can expect technology to change our world at an exponential rate, this kind of thinking is essential. we can’t rely on systems to remain the same when computers get exponentially faster and cheaper every two years. so, what does that mean for human beings? joi ito explores this in his book, and with his conversations with colleagues, which he shares online as a free podcast! these conversations serve as further springboards for reading and investigation, and i cannot recommend this content enough.

“prototyping” is a fancy word for testing

i know i fall into this trap: i think a lot about an idea and don’t do anything about it. if you have the time, the best thing you can do with an idea is put it to use. for example, i wanted to see what it was like to sell products on a retail platform called gumroad. i thought about it for months, until finally this past week i tried it out and learned 10x more than i would have from just reading about the site.

startup-lingo and innovators call the testing your ideas “prototyping”. you build a simple, shitty version of the think you’d like to try and see if it works. making a paper boat is prototyping for building a bigger, more complicated boat. the question with prototypes is often “will this work?”. and, more often than not, we discover that we have a lot more questions than when we initially started.

if you are interested in new and emerging technologies, prototyping is indispensable. theory must be paired with practice. all the things you learn in school should ideally be applied in the real world to see how they work. true learning, in my opinion, is hands on in this sense. if you build a small prototype of your business, your product, or artistic idea, you are positioned to continue to learn one thousand times more than the folks who just sit around and muse.

instagram matters

instagram is a little portfolio. it could be of your life, your art, your shop, your products, or your perspective. but the truth of the matter is that it can do almost everything a website does but better. i am not suggesting that you game the platform, but maybe figure out the best way to use it.

as with any creative endeavor, find the people who do it well and identify what makes their profiles work. i am a huge fan of the way aoc uses instagram, so i tried to think about what was good about it. her posts feel authentic, not over-polished, and full of useful information that relates to her mission. thus, i try to shape my presence in a similar way.

i recently did a bit of consulting work for a cafe. “why do i need instagram?” the owner asked me. i told him the truth: when a customer considers coming to your cafe, instagram will likely be the first or second thing they check when they decide whether or not they’ll stop in for the first time. and, being near a train station, this is especially true for out of towners.

for you, how can you make a first impression on instagram to show your audience what you’re all about? who does instagram well, and how can you take parts of what they do and make them yours?