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The Curator's Code

Posted by Rob Alderson,

Barely a day goes past without a row over attribution, or a tetchy Twitter exchange between people who feel something has not been properly sourced. But that could become a thing of the past if Maria Popova of Brainpickings has her way. She has created The Curators’ Code in a bid to standardise the way in which we all credit things online, and it’s provoked strong reactions. As it goes to the heart of what we do and could impact on all creatives with an online presence, we decided to delve a little deeper…

In a passionate and eloquent post Maria introduced the project on her Brainpickings blog late last week.

In this information-saturated age, Maria believes that finding and flagging up useful, important and entertaining stuff is a “form of creative and intellectual labour, and one of increasing importance and urgency… A form of authorship, if you will.”

And yet she feels this “service” is being undervalued because people either don’t bother to credit the sites/blogs/Twitter accounts where they discovered something, or because the current ways of doing so are fragmented and confusing.

The internet, Maria says, is a “whimsical rabbit hole of discovery” which works thanks to “an intricate ecosystem of ‘link love’" and the code is an “an effort to keep this whimsical rabbit hole open by honoring discovery through an actionable code of ethics.”

A “codified common standard,” can, she believes, do “for attribution of discovery what Creative Commons has done for image attribution.”

In simple terms the new symbols proposed are:

ᔥ for “via” – denoting “a direct link of discovery” – used when reposting content without adding, changing or expanding on it.

↬ would replace “HT” or “hat tip,” – used to flag up the springboard or initial inspiration for content you then created.

The responses have been many and varied. I liked the way The Atlantic’s Megan Garber put it, opening her post by asking: “How do you avoid being a jerk on the Internet?” and going on: “On the web, the line between sharing and stealing – between being a helpful conduit of information and being, on the other hand, a jerk – can be frighteningly thin.”

Tina Eisenberg, who advised on the project, was persuasively pithy on the topic too. It was interesting to see that she remains open-minded about how the nuts and bolts of the code work: “I don’t care if anyone adapts to Maria’s proposed symbols for attribution or if people continue using a simple via/HT or, all I care about is that people do attribute their findings. Why? Because it shows respect and most of all, it allows us to discover news sources. The ‘via’ is oftentimes a virtual door into a magic new world that I didn’t know existed.”

But for Siteinspire founder Daniel Howells, the proposed symbols represent a major problem: “If I can’t reach those symbols with some simple keystrokes, I won’t use them.”

In his post he suggests the word “curation” might be a bit overblown in some contexts and questions the need for such a standardised approach. He writes: "Here’s the thing: I couldn’t give a damn about not being attributed.

“Sure: a ‘via @siteinspire’ may mean one extra follower, but the point is the great piece of design was shared amongst our community; it doesn’t matter if I’m the person who found it first. Hell – I have seen entire blogs that repost siteInspire’s entire canon of content. I couldn’t care less–it just means I’m doing something right.”

So what does it all mean? Here at It’s Nice That we do consider ourselves curators and we do believe there is a value in what we do – in that respect it is good to see someone taking this thorny issue by the horns and trying to simplify it. We also believe that linking to original sources and sending people to the source is what readers want, and we aim to facilitate that wherever possible.

Is the new system perfect – maybe not. But with hand-wringing over the collapse of traditional media models, we are pleased to see someone making a move to recognise and protect skills that can go under-appreciated.

Ra

Posted by Rob Alderson

Editor-in-Chief Rob oversees editorial across all three It’s Nice That platforms; online, print and events. He has a background in newspaper journalism and a particular interest in art, advertising and photography. He is the main host of the Studio Audience podcast.