The Seven Needs of Real-Time Curators

I keep hearing people throw around the word “curation” at various conferences, most recently at SXSW. The thing is most of the time when I dig into what they are saying they usually have no clue about what curation really is or how it could be applied to the real-time world.

So, over the past few months I’ve been talking to tons of entrepreneurs about the tools that curators actually need and I’ve identified seven things. First, who does curation? Bloggers, of course, but blogging is curation for Web 1.0. Look at this post here, I can link to Tweets, and point out good ones, right? That’s curation. Or I can order my links in a particular order. That’s curation. Or I can add my thoughts to those links, just like Techcrunch or VentureBeat do. That’s curation. Or I can do a video like Leo Laporte does and talk about those links. That’s curation. Or I can forward those links to you via email. That’s curation. The editor who sits in a big building at New York Times or your local newspaper that chooses what content you’ll see in your newspaper is a curator. So is the page designer who decides what story is at the top of the page.

But NONE of the real time tools/systems like Google Buzz, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, give curators the tools that they need to do their work efficiently. That’s why I’m writing this post, to try to get the industry to see that there’s an unmet need that — if they were met — would mean all sorts of things from better scrapbooks for family photos and events to better news systems like what CNN or Huffington Post are trying to build on the Web. More on that after I get through the seven things.

As you read these things they were ordered (curated) in this order for a reason. If you give me #7 without giving me #1 first your tool will suck and you won’t be used by curators. If you give me #1 without #7, you’ll be way ahead of some tool that gives me #7 only.

This is a guide for how we can build “info molecules” that have a lot more value than the atomic world we live in now. First, what are info atoms? A tweet is an atom. A photo on Flickr is an atom. A conversation item on Google Buzz is an atom. A Facebook status message is an atom. A YouTube video is an atom.

Thousands of these atoms flow across our screens in tools like Seesmic, Google Reader, Tweetdeck, Tweetie, Simply Tweet, Twitroid, etc.

A curator is an information chemist. He or she mixes atoms together in a way to build an info-molecule. Then adds value to that molecule.

So, what are the seven needs of real time curators?

1. Real-time curators need to bundle. We need to be able to bundle certain tweets together. What do I mean by that? Well, let’s say a news event, like an earthquake, happens right now while I’m writing this post. Which are the best 10 tweets that describe that event? Can we bundle those together easily? Bloggers can bundle, but making Tweets look like Tweets is actually pretty difficult for normal people and even for geeks like me. Gotta take a screen shot of the tweet, upload that, then build an image tag in WordPress, then link that image up to the original tweet’s permalink. Whew. What a lot of work for something that should be simple. This could look like tagging, but calling it tagging is pretty limiting because tags won’t get you to full curation. One question: why can we bundle Flickr photos together by applying a tag to them, but we can’t bundle Tweets together by tagging Tweets? For instance, here’s two photos I shot at Techcrunch’s offices showing their new TV team. How did I bundle those together? Simply by tagging them with “Techcrunch TV” tag. Now, what if I could bundle in Tweets about Techcrunch TV? How about a YouTube video? How about other people’s Flickr photos? How about photos on other services like Smugmug or Picasa? How about Google Buzz items? Now you’re starting to understand why we need bundling cross-platform so we can start pulling valuable atoms out of the real-time streams.

2. Real-time curators need to reorder things. Look at just those two photos. One is more important than the other. Now, imagine a bundle with dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of items. Why can’t curators put the most important ones at the top of the bundle, just like the New York Times front page editor puts the most important news at the top of the page? Or, even better, why can’t we organize them into sub bundles? During an earthquake, like the one in Haiti, some things happened on first day, other things happened on second day, etc. Why are they all in one flat stream? Or, look at Apple’s iPad launch. Some things are about the specs. Some things are about the people involved. Some things are about apps. Some things are about accessories. Why can’t we organize them all into sub bundles? All curated in order of importance?

3. Real-time curators need to distribute bundles. Let’s say I put together a report for my bosses at Rackspace about what is happening at YCombinator (they just had a launch this week of a new crop of companies). Let’s say I built a bundle of not just the Techcrunch article I just linked to, but the Tweets from the event as well as the reports from other tech journalists like those who work at GigaOm, who also had a report on that event. Now we need to distribute that bundle. Of course we’ll Tweet it. But that means a headline of less than 140 characters that must include a link to the permalink of the bundle. But what about Facebook? That can include a thumbnail. Google Buzz? That lets you upload items with longer headlines and multiple pictures. What about emailing this bundle around the way Chris Brogan emails his blog posts. Why can’t a curation tool be smart about distributing bundles and let you see and manipulate previews of how that bundle will distribute itself to the various places you need your bundles to go to get the right audience.

4. Real-time curators need to editorialize. So, now we have a bundle of Tweets, YouTube videos, Flickr photos, Google Buzz items, Facebook status messages, et al. We’ve seen a new pattern in the world and now we want to explain our view of that pattern. For instance, I was at the YCombinator event this week. What if I wanted to add my two cents into the patterns other people saw? I might want to blog like here. Or add a video of my own. Or a Cinchcast (audio recordings done on my iPhone). Or add a bunch of photos I shot, like this one of Paul Graham mentoring his startups at that event with what they did wrong and right. But why did I just need to click “img” and copy and paste a URL to do that? A curation tool would let me drag and drop on my new iPad that I’ll have next weekend.

5. Real-time curators need to update their bundles. When the Haiti earthquake happened, the news story changed over time. We had more information and many many more Tweets to bundle in, not to mention that the mainstream press started flowing stories into RSS and Twitter. If you can’t update a bundle then it will greatly limit the ability for us to communicate. Blogs are pretty bad at this. If I come back in two hours and update this post you probably won’t see the update. In fact, not only can I update this post, but everyone who leaves a comment underneath is really updating it too. Yet early readers won’t see the later comments. They are missing part of the story. Of course, once you update you need to redistribute. IE, let your Twitter and Facebook and Google Reader friends know that the story has changed and there is important new information on the bundle that you need to see.

6. Real-time curators need to add participation widgets. On some bundles you might want to ask your audience to take a poll. Some might want to add comments. Not everyone will. Seth Godin doesn’t have comments on his blog. Other bloggers might want to leave comments open for a few hours or a few days. Even here I’ve made it so you can only comment for 30 days on my blog posts. Why? Because of spammers and other bad actors. I can see a TON of widgets that would be available to get participation on widgets. These would be a great way for these systems to monetize, too. Would you pay $1 to add a poll to your bundle? I would.

7. Real-time curators need to track their audience. Look at this blog post. It has a TweetMeme button on it. That shows you how often this item has been retweeted. I would add such a button to every bundle I do. I’d also add Google Analytics and a few other things that would track where you’re coming from, what kind of engagement my items are getting, and even, how relevant you are based on your own participation in the system. Don’t think that’s already happening? Look at the curation system Spigit built for large enterprises. I met with them yesterday and their system does just that and is getting used by many of the world’s biggest companies like Wallmart and Starbucks.

Does such a curation system exist today? Yes, blogs, but blogs are HORRID for tracking this real time world. Just this post took me 30 minutes to bang out and that was after I had it in my head and I wrote it very quickly. Imagine I was talking about a real time event. The news is already 30 minutes old. We need a new system for real-time curation of what’s happening on my Twitter stream.

It’s interesting that no one has gotten close to even giving us the most basic curation tools. Why is that?

Why are companies ignoring our needs? In talking with CEOs at companies in the real-time space I’ve identified a few reasons:

1. Building-cross-platform tools is difficult. Each real-time feed has different APIs and isn’t set up to interoperate with other real-time systems. Twitter has no API to share its feeds with Flickr. Flickr’s tags don’t have any idea what YouTube’s tags are. WordPress is blind to all of it. Etc Etc.
2. Fear of platform vendors. No one builds these kinds of features because they are scared that Facebook or Google will build these kinds of APIs and kill their businesses. Not unfounded, either. Tweetdeck built lists into its product and then Twitter came along and added lists in a way that was far more useful than the ones Tweetdeck built. So, companies like Tweetdeck and Seesmic choose to work on things that Twitter will be unlikely to do.
3. Assumption that these features are only going to be used by “weirdos or professionals or both.” I hear this all the time “oh, Scoble, you need these features, but what about normal people.”

The first two I can’t do much about. I agree that these are features that would be best built in at a platform level and have told many of the players to do that. But the third is provably false if entrepreneurs would do some customer research (shocking, but many San Francisco area social networking companies do very little real customer research, which explains why they so often screw up around privacy and fail to find new features that dramatically improve our lives).

Let’s consider the mother who has a 1-year-old son. She invites 30 of her friends to a birthday party for her son. They take videos, do Foursquare checkins, one or two might blog about the party for their mommy blogs. Many take photos, but some of those photos end up on Facebook. Some on Flickr. Some on SmugMug. Some on Picasa. Lots of them Tweet about the event, or Facebook status messages, or put some Google Buzz items up, not to mention FriendFeed, Whrrl,, or other systems where you can capture your life’s most interesting events.

Now, how does that mother build an online scrapbook of all the items that were poured into the system? Sure you can use a tool like Scrapblog but how do you get Tweets into that? It’s not a curation tool for the real-time web.

Let’s also take on what would happen once we move into such a molecular world:

1. Search would INSTANTLY improve. (I need a whole blog post on why this is so).
2. Trends would INSTANTLY improve. (You’d have real meta data about important events, look at just the ordering data that would be available to study).
3. Brands would be able to advertise on bundles. (CocaCola would love to advertise on bundles of movie feedback, for instance, especially on bundles curated by the best movie curators — they will never advertise on raw tweets because the risk is too high that their brand would be next to something nasty).
4. A new monetization strategy would INSTANTLY become available for platform vendors like Twitter and Google Buzz.
5. Location services like Gowalla and Foursquare would be able to add real value onto bundles (showing location trends would be a key part of bundles, where they have no real play in augmenting “atoms” like Tweets or Flickr photos).
6. A new form of relevancy, credibility, and authority data would be available for systems to automatically present the best news. Look at how Techmeme appeared after blogging did. Imagine all sorts of new displays of best bundles that would now be possible. Even Techmeme would be able to recommend the best curators on topics, which would greatly improve the real-time news available there.

Anyone feel the need for this kind of new curation tool? Join in, please curate this post and push it around your networks. Let’s see if we can find some companies who are working on providing this new kind of real-time curation system. I’d love to work with startups who are working on just this. +1-425-205-1921 or or leave a comment here and let’s work together in public.