Consumers want to access the Web’s bounty yet search engines don’t sort and filter in the rich way that humans do. “Curation Nation” tells entrepreneurs and marketers how to become a trusted source of high quality information and context.

From the beginning of human civilization through the year 2003, a total of “five exabytes of information” was created, pointed out Google CEO Eric Schmidt at the 2010 Techonomy Conference in Lake Tahoe. Now “that much information is created every two days, and the pace is increasing,” he said. “People aren’t ready for the technology revolution that’s going to happen to them.”

Google was launched as a commercial enterprise in 1998, with the mission “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Today that company operates more than one million servers around the world, and processes more than one billion search requests and 20 petabytes of user-generated data every day.

And yet many people feel overwhelmed with information, not necessarily enlightened.

So entrepreneur/filmmaker Steven Rosenbaum (click here for bio) set about seeking to understand the trend and the best solutions to this information overload. He began by interviewing 70 of the top thinkers and actors in this space, including corporate leaders such as News Corp’s Jonathan Miller, brand marketers such as Pepsi’s Frank Cooper, and privacy experts such as Stanford University’s Lauren Gellman. He talked to critics too–Mark Cuban who calls all content curators “vampires,” and Andrew Keen who argues that curation is “just another attempt of the liberal elite to control the conversation under cover of democracy.”

What is “Curation”?
Rosenbaum’s roadmap to this “brave new information world” is built on two premises: first, “curation is about adding value from humans who add their qualitative judgment to whatever is being gathered and organized.” Second, there is valuable “amateur and professional curation, and the emergence of amateur or pro-sumer curators isn’t in any way a threat to the professionals.”

He argues that humans are the ultimate curators by nature, that “There’s far too much nuance in human tribes and the taste of groups and individuals” for computers to outstrip what humans can achieve in this activity.

(insert Table 1 here, on components of curation)

The Curation Revolution Advanced in 1876
After the monks curating and copying illuminated manuscripts, and after the advent of the printing press, Rosenbaum reminds us of the huge curation revolution that took place in 1876, when Melvil Dewey copyrighted his proprietary system of library classification, the Dewey Decimal System. The result was that a given book could be found in the same place in any library in the world.

Then after World War I, DeWitt Wallace built a media giant by condensing and publishing articles from monthly magazines, in READER’S DIGEST. The business was launched in 1922, and some 50 years later, there would be 40 international editions and a worldwide circulation of 23 million. Now with more than 100 million readers around the world, READER’S DIGEST “is the most popular magazine of all time.”

Big-Time Curators on the Web
These amazing advances in organizing books and publishing condensed articles were swamped by the Web; the Google Page Rank, named for Larry Page, was built on a complex and changing algorithm that lets Google “determine a page of data’s relative value for a particular search term.” Larry Page had understood that it was pages—not domains, URLs, articles, authors, sources, or any other dimension—that was the most powerful unit of measure. It’s one of the ironies of the age that the man who helped build an empire with an algorithm that ranks pages is named Page.

What is rising to the top now on the internet is websites that combine original content and curated content from other sources, and that enable readers to create, comment and participate in the discussion around the content.

The Huffington Post, for example, has a core team of paid reporters and editors who cover beats, such as politics, media and technology, producing about 60% of the site’s content. 40% of the content has been published elsewhere. A large group of mostly unpaid bloggers also contribute—people such as Barack Obama, for example, and Henry Kissinger. Readers are able to comment and contribute content, and HuffPost has a staff of 20 just to review and moderate the comments. In June 2010 alone, the site “received a staggering 3.1 million comments.”

Rosenbaum writes, “Behind the curtain, HuffPost editors watch every link, every page, every post, and make changes in headlines, layouts, and images—testing just what results in readers clicking on links.”

He explains that for HuffPost and other aggregators and curators, “it comes down to where the law says they can link and share content without crossing the line into stealing.” The “Fair Use” rules allow linking when no more than two paragraphs are copied from another source and when a link is then offered to the original story on the original site. By February 2011 the Huffington Post had 40 million unique monthly visitors according to Google Analytics.

Forward-Looking Brands Start to Take Action
People born after 1983 first were called the digital generation, and then some marketing experts dubbed them the Content Generation—eventually the term Generation C expanded to include content, creativity, connectivity, and curation. In 2004, the website Trendwatching.com described the emergence of consumer brand advertisers who were inviting Generation C to make content around their favorite brands. This was the early stage of some brands beginning to interact directly with their customers in a variety of ways—not just passively shaping the brand’s positioning through advertising and other well controlled marketing programs.

Two examples come from Pepsi, an international marketing powerhouse. It launched Pepsi Refresh, a crowd-sourced grant program to which it has pledged $20 million that will be awarded based on public voting. Frank Cooper, Pepsi’s chief consumer engagement officer, said, “We knew that our consumers wanted to play a central role in developing and promoting ideas that they believed would move the world forward.”

Pepsi Refresh was developed through collaboration with organizations that “are dedicated to making a positive difference in the world.” The program accepts 1,000 submissions each month in six categories: Health, Arts and Culture, Food and Shelter, The Planet, Neighborhoods, and Education. It posts the submissions that meet its guidelines online for a public vote. Then it awards up to $1.3 million each month to the winning ideas.

Frank Cooper said, “We want to become a catalyst in the culture rather than act like a big brand announcing something.”

The second innovative Pepsi program came from a question: “What if we gave the power to our consumers to lead product innovation?” The Pepsi Mountain Dew brand launched the DEWmocracy, engaging its core fans to campaign and vote on which of three new Dew flavors would be rolled out by PepsiCo. Fans were invited to “rally friends to participate in creating content, including posting photos and video content online, and to vote for their favorite flavor.”

Ultimately, on The Flavor Campaign tour the company distributed 60,000 samples of flavors, met 100,000 consumers, and generated more than 1.5 million total impressions. The result was the creation of Mountain Dew Voltage, “one of the most successful product launches in PepsiCo beverage history,” says Frank Cooper.

Part 2
In Part 2 we’ll look at how branding is changing and what more marketing innovators are doing in the “social media-conversational marketing revolution” with their customers. In addition, we’ll describe some of the best tools and techniques for marketers to consider.

By Christine Arrington. Published March 2011.

Short Biography of Steven Rosenbaum
Steven Rosenbaum is an entrepreneur, filmmaker and digital curator. He is well known for having created MTV’s groundbreaking User-Generated-Content series “MTV Unfiltered,” a pre-Web television project that put video cameras in the hands of young storytellers.

He is an Emmy Award-winning documentary filmmaker, having created “7 Days in September” chronicling the events of 9/11. The film gathered more than 500 hours of video about the bombing of the World Trade Towers in New York, and created a curated journey through the eyes of 28 filmmakers and citizen storytellers. The result was “The CameraPlanet Archive,” the world’s largest collection of 9/11 videos, which Steve and his producing partner Pamela Yoder donated to the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum.

He has created long-form documentaries for National Geographic, HBO, CNN, MSNBC, Discovery, A&E, and The History Channel.

Steve is also a blogger who contributes to Fast-Company, The Huffington Post, Silicon Alley Insider, Mashable, TechCrunch, and MediaBizBloggers.

He is the founder and CEO of the Web’s largest real-time video aggregation and curation engine, Magnify.net.