The Breakdown: In this week’s SXSW Q&A, we talk with Max Linsky, co-founder of Longform.org, and moderator of the panel The Curators and the Curated. Panelists from The New York Times, Brain Pickings, Flipboard, and Percolate will discuss the relationships between content creators, content publishers, and those who curate content.
S/G: What is content curation?
Max: Curation has come to mean so many different things on the web, maybe it’s easier to define it by what it isn’t: aggregation. The idea of curating—whether it’s through a Twitter feed or in a museum—means making choices. It’s about sharing a limited amount of stuff culled from dispirate places that, when taken as a whole, becomes its own thing.
S/G: How has the rise and evolution of the paywall affected the business of content curation?
Max: The answer is not very much—the web is a pretty big place. On Longform, for example, we don’t link to anything paywalled and we’re certainly not hurting for stories to post. More importantly, though, paywalls and curation services appeal to opposite instincts—paywalls serve people who care most about a specific source, while curation serves people who care most about a specific kind of content, as opposed to where it came from. There just isn’t much crossover.
S/G: Sites like Techmeme and Mediagazer rely, in part, on automated aggregation to choose their content. What can a human curator do that an algorithm can’t?
Max: Make decent jokes? I guess the main difference is that automated aggregation struggles to find the unlikely and the unknown, and that’s exactly what human curators value most. It’s interesting that you bring up Techmeme and Mediagazer—they have this incredible algorithm that finds 98% of what they want, but both of those sites employ human editors whose job, in part, is to add a handpicked layer on top of what the algorithm pulls. Even an audience as plugged-in as Techmeme’s needs a little serendipity every now and again. That’s hard to automate.
S/G: Who are your other panelists and what do each of them bring to the conversation?
Max: I’m out-of-my-gourd excited for these folks; my whole plan is to just get out of the way.
Maria Popova, aka @Brainpicker, is one of the heroes of the internet and probably the most voracious consumer of media I know. She’ll talk about she built a massive devoted following simply by following her own taste and sharing what she finds.
Mia Quagliarello, curator of Flipboard, will explain what she looks for—and what she avoids—as she shapes the app’s featured content. She’ll also talk about Flipboard’s relationship with original publishers, which is a big part of this conversation.
Noah Brier is the founder of Percolate, a new service that allows brands to curate. Percolate also delivers one of the best emails I get every day, pulling links from Twitter and RSS based on what my friends are reading.
David Carr is the media columnist for the New York Times. He’ll put us all in our place.
S/G: What are you looking forward to seeing at SXSW?
Max: I haven’t thought about much aside from the panel, to be honest. But beyond our conversation, I’m excited to show people Longform for the iPad, which we just launched—SXSW is an ideal place to get in-person feedback. That and to eat some barbecue, of course.
Explore the rest of the SXSW 2012 Q&A Series.