Curate to See Broader Information Set

A tweet this morning started me thinking about information consumption, and in particular, the tension between doing the work and just letting information come to you.  The post contrasted individual curation and algorithmic news presentation.  Even within a single platform, you can see how this breaks down, leaving one set of information seekers without answers.

I use three sets of tools for most of my information intake:

  • Android news apps Flipboard and Google Newstand.  Each one is set up using specific information sources – newspapers or magazines – which brings a bit of serendipity to the news gathering, since I often get topics I wouldn’t normally look for.  I’m not quite outside my information bubble but it’s a start.
  • Twitter is my bookmarking tool.  I don’t use it as a social tool (I have a different Twitter account for that) but link it to Ifttt.  Each tweet and retweet is archived into a Google spreadsheet, so I can go back and find information when I need to.  Twitter often enables me to tumble to new content and resources I wouldn’t have seen otherwise.
When a tweet or retweet occurs on my account, it’s auto-archived into a spreadsheet
  • RSS feeds populate my RSS reader.  Most of them are site-specific, which creates a filter bubble.  I supplement those with search terms using Google Alerts.

In other words, I’m doing what lots of librarians are doing.  But the reason I spelled it out really comes down to that last one.

Easy or Hard

People prefer to just have information show up.  (I’m making that up – I don’t have any data to support it)  So it’s hardly surprising that they would rather go to a site that aggregates all the relevant information for them, or get it from close connections.  As law librarians know, a case watch or client marketing intelligence alert service can be a compelling service to busy lawyers and business development folks.  Otherwise, they’d be in the position of most information professionals, who spend their time identifying sources, following them, weeding them – your basic online collection development.

Take, for example, Google News.  It would appear to be the sort of site that bridges the gap a bit.  You can set it up for particular news sources but also for topical keywords, your location, and so on.  I usually stop by Google News to see what’s trending but also to visit a couple of keywords I’ve set up.

One is “law librarian”.

We’re sorry, no news on law librarians today.

More often than not, I’ve started to see this page.  You might think that law librarians were no longer active.  Google News isn’t a great site for surfacing law librarian news, though.  Even “library” as a topic will turn up just as many stories about Javascript libraries as it will about public ones.

The easy way suggests there’s no news about law librarians.  But I’ve got a similar Google Alert set up, and it is always spitting out new items.

RSS feed for Google Alert about law librarians, law libraries

Those two screenshots were taken the same day.  Which makes me wonder why the Google News algorithm doesn’t surface anything when the Alert service does.

One benefit of doing it yourself is that you may create, or hone, the natural skepticism of the information gatherer.  Since it’s not a single source that you might be liable to just take at face value, you may dig a bit deeper to understand whether something is really relevant or true.

I don’t really like the word “curate” because it sounds like an attempt to elevate or make special something that anyone can do.  In the information context, it’s still just selection, organization, and tending.  It’s something that people might be better off feeling confident they can do themselves than feeling like using algorithmically prepared content is a better, easier choice.

David Whelan on EmailDavid Whelan on FlickrDavid Whelan on LinkedinDavid Whelan on Twitter
David Whelan
I improve information access and lead information teams. My books on finding information and managing it and practicing law using cloud computing reflect my interest in information management, technology, law practice, and legal research. I've been a library director in Canada and the US, as well as directing the American Bar Association's Legal Technology Resource Center. I speak and write frequently on information, technology, law library, and law practice issues.