Refinement is the essence of curation

Describing curation Rohit Bhargava says - "a content curator is someone who continually finds, groups, organizes and shares the best and most relevant content on a specific issue online". The most important component of this job is the word - continually.  In the real-time world of the Internet, this is critical."

I like Rohit's description and his emphasis on the word continually.  We have practical experience and a real world case study that emphasizes the notion of continual refinement when it comes to curation.

Background

The vision for our authoring tool Optimal Desktop was conceived by my partner and chief designer Stefan Ritzi when he was working as an IT consultant.  Through his consulting practice he recognized a common desire by various groups within organization for personalized information access solutions.  The desire was specifically for curated information access solutions.

In a white paper based on a 2 year case study (we wrote this paper in 2005 before "Curation" was coined) in a real world environment we describe the problem in this way:

"Optimal Access is a software company dedicated to solving the problem of saving and sharing search results. With wider usage of the Internet, individual users and institutions of all size, search, capture and save information from a growing number of sources. Yet, the traditional solution for bookmarking, managing, accessing and sharing a large volume of links fails to satisfy this universal need. Optimal Access products empower project managers and researchers to aggregate and organize information from multiple sources by subject or project making it easy to store and share links in context hence improving the findability of information."

Case Study

Over two years, we studied the use of Optimal Desktop (Our Desktop Authoring and Curation solution) for 4 operational groups (70 people) within an information-based organization - FirstAssist in London UK.  The subjects worked in 4 functional call centers providing Medical, Travel, Claims and Legal assistance to their clients.  Using our products they managed access to an average of 916 links to Intranet pages, web applications, Internet news sources, files and folders.

Here is how Geoff Tothill Chief Medical Officer and our chief evangelist describes the problem with traditional solutions and the need for curation (tools that can continuously reformat information access):

" The problem with the traditional concept of a web portal is that structure and direction is 'designed into' the portal and the addition of new material, or the personalization of this information for use in a restricted part of an operation can be very time consuming. Using Optimal Desktop as a universal client we have solved many of the traditional problems associated with the structuring of information which is derived from multiple sources. We have built individual cabinets (Panels - The top tabs in a KBucket page) for each of our teams, with information grouped together logically in drawers (Groups - The bottom tabs in a KBucket page). This has allowed a large amount of information to be deployed in a coherent and understandable way."

Process of curation

What is critical and the point I want to share in this post is how to create superior value in curation.  Curation becomes real valuable when its refined by a group and reflects the needs of the people that are actually using the curated product.  Here is how FirstAssit curators explain their process:

"Our Curated pages are built by our Project leads and with the input of the entire team. We have found that it takes roughly 2 months to optimize the taxonomy of our Curated pages so our employees can easily find the information they need to do their jobs. The flexibility provided by Optimal Desktop to easily organize and re-organize the taxonomy of our curated pages makes it possible for us to optimize our information access needs."

Value of curation

Value of curation can be summed up in time saving and education and that's exactly what First Assist case study shows:

"We have reduced the time to train new employees in our International Call Center division from 8 months to 3 months. Our new employees quickly learn to find the information they need to perform their jobs. Since call center operates in 3 shifts the standardized access to information provided by Optimal Desktop has improved the efficiency of call center employees staying up-to-date with the latest manuals and reports.

Using Optimal Desktop, group managers are now able to quickly add content and make it searchable for their staff. Eliminating the need to depend on specialized staff (Programmers and IT staff) has improved our publishing time from 2 days to one hour.

Optimal Desktop has empowered those in service provision to actually design client specific portals with specific navigational interfaces targeted at their staff, reducing training and dramatically increasing speed of deployment. This certainly gives us a competitive advantage."

My 2 cents

In general I think we can say that curation tools are there to help people find the information they need faster.  As we can see from the value conclusions above, both people who helped create the curated products and new people who came to use them benefited from the curated results. 

Another important value of curation is editorial control by everyday users, a function that until now was reserved for web developers and magazine editors.

In summation I believe that tools that incorporate refinement as part of their philosophy can inevitably offer better curated products.