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Exchanging ideas, building networks and the detail of content curation

December 1st, 2011 by Tim Greenhalgh

Image of DNA strand as example of online content curation

Content curation as an online concept has matured quickly since Brian Solis laid out terms in his book Curation Nation in April this year.

I found the book a puzzle but it helped me form new ideas around content curation online. I went back to basics and developed a working model of how to store, link and add value to online information.

This is work in progress and centres currently on:

· Understanding the specific values of all content forms

· Finding the appropriate format: text, video, animation, audio, image

· Assessing what is timely, useful and relevant; and what is background

· Knowing how to label and store information so that it is findable and visible

· Continually rethinking the details

· Understanding the current limits and possibilities of curation automation.

The work of DNA researchers, touched on in a Radio 4 programme today, helped to further crystallise these thoughts. Research teams are working on a rapid form of DNA identification (DNA barcoding) and the system is designed to provide rapid, accurate, and automatable species identifications by using short, standardised gene regions as internal species tags.

Wikipedia says that DNA barcoding “is a taxonomic method that uses a short genetic marker in an organism’s DNA to identify it as belonging to a particular species. It differs from molecular phylogeny in that the main goal is not to determine classification but to identify an unknown sample in terms of a known classification. Although barcodes are sometimes used in an effort to identify unknown species or assess whether species should be combined or separated, the utility of DNA barcoding for these purposes is subject to debate.

“Applications include, for example, identifying plant leaves even when flowers or fruit are not available, identifying insect larvae (which typically have fewer diagnostic characters than adults), identifying the diet of an animal based on stomach contents or faeces, and identifying products in commerce (for example, herbal supplements or wood).

The current DNA barcoding project aims to curate information on 500,000 species over the next five years. I hope we can find ways to speed this process to include the 8.7 million known (and dropping) species on Earth.

As Paul D. N. Hebert and T. Ryan Gregory write in their Oxford Journals article: “DNA barcoding allows a day to be envisioned when every curious mind, from professional biologists to schoolchildren, will have easy access to the names and biological attributes of any species on the planet.

“In addition to assigning specimens to known species, DNA barcoding will accelerate the pace of species discovery by allowing taxonomists to rapidly sort specimens and by highlighting divergent taxa that may represent new species. By augmenting their capabilities in these ways, DNA barcoding offers taxonomists the opportunity to greatly expand, and eventually complete, a global inventory of life’s diversity.”

A crude taxonomy of internet data has been in process since the advent of Google but it is a half-hidden process. Given the lack of truly open explanation about how online data is sorted, we do need to work on content curation theory and practise informed by the DNA research ideas while half-understanding and deploying practices informed by the ‘secret sauces’ held by the search engines.

While we work towards this, the debate around online content curation continues to be engaging and useful. The internet is much more than a marketing tool but the commercial imperative should help to drive forward our ideas towards a coherent Online Content Curation Theory.

Towards this, Lee Odden recently published an article on TopRank that pulled together ideas from 10 market industry leaders, which is well worth a read: Content Curation Definitions & Context.

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