Like A Baton, I Hand You This Story

Maria Popova of Brain Pickings has some interesting things to say about content curation.

Finding a way to acknowledge content curation and information discovery (or, better, the new term we invent for these fluffy placeholders) as a form of creative labor, and to codify this acknowledgement, is the next frontier in how we think about “intellectual property” in the information age. IP, as a term, is inherently flawed and anachronistic in its focus on ownership (“property”) in an age of sharing and open access, certainly. But it also challenges our most fundamental notions of authorship. As Bob Stein put it in his thoughtful 2006 critique of Jaron Lanier’s Digital Maoism, there’s an “emerging sense of the author as moderator — someone able to marshal ‘the wisdom of the network.’”

The concept of author as moderator, or guide, is ancient. But we’ve gotten away from the oral tradition, and with that authors have become detached from their audience, just as readers are removed from the author’s voice and inflection through the act of reading.

Earlier this week, I posted a podcast featuring my friend Tom Asacker. Tom discusses storytelling on the show, and how it is essentially a community function. “When you tell a story, you’re basically co-creating the story with your audience,” he says. “Why do we tell a story? We tell it so we can help our audience create their story in their mind’s eye, the scenes, the meaning.”

Note that Tom says “their story,” not “your story.” It’s not a slip of the tongue, it’s an indication that the community owns the material and the author, like a musician, is merely a vehicle by which it is delivered.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my own approach to storytelling of late, particularly the storytelling that I do here, on this site (of which, curation is one part). I feel like I’m not getting the community part right, because on most days, there are very few comments, Facebook comments, Twitter replies and email requests from readers. It’s like there’s no one there, and that’s a weird feeling that doesn’t jive with our traffic reports. The reports say you are, in fact, there. But experience says only the tiniest percentage of you will engage. It might be the new normal, but it doesn’t feel right to me.

About David Burn


  1. Makes you wonder if more people are using blogs as a way to fuel their own curation efforts. In other words, I find something you say on your blog interesting and rather than add my perspective in the comments, I simply run off to curate your content to my blog—adding my perspective—as “new” content for my audience. Whereas in times passed (before everyone became content creator), people were more apt to discuss ideas in a more centralized forum.

    • Thanks Hal. It’s a good point. We once used Trackbacks to monitor this activity, but that’s an ancient technology now. Still, I think Google Alerts would point me to much of this curating the curator material. Although, if it’s being curated on Facebook, I don’t believe Google Alerts is delivering those results.

  2. Hal, you’re exactly right.  And David, Google Alerts won’t find it since the content that you curated is being rewritten as “original” curated content. The age of “hat tips” is quickly coming to an end, since everyone wants to be thought of as a “source” of breaking news and original thinking.