An introduction to curation tools

I realised when looking back over old notes that someone asked me to write this for them and then never published it. So here’s a quick post about curation I wrote a couple of years ago: 

For all that digital technology offers the academy, it also presents new problems. The instant availability of information from all over the word poses the inevitable challenge of how to collect, sort, evaluate and share this information. These are tasks which those working in universities, across the full range of roles, have always performed. However the sheer abundance which characterizes our modern knowledge environment too often results in information overload for those whose professional and personal interests give them no choice but to engage with this torrent. It is for this reason that curation tools, often ‘seen as the next big thing’ of social media, offer the potential for such enormously gainful use by university staff.

Curation is the broader concept behind Pinterest, by far the most well known of these tools. The service operates as a virtual ‘pinboard’, allowing the user user to explore the internet, collecting images they find through the use of a convenient browser button (in a similar way to creating new browser bookmarks) and make these titled pinboards available online. However Pinterest is just one tool amongst many and, with its central focus being on images, in many ways it is less versatile than some of the others. Here are three of my favorites:

Storify allows users to search multiple social networks and knit together items they find into sequential stories. I’ve personally found this useful for preserving Twitter debates that I’ve found particularly intellectually stimulating. However this only represents part of what the tool is capable of if you combine a sufficiently diverse range of elements, whereas my uses have been merely been reconstructing conversations on one medium that I was actively involved in. The most impressive uses I have seen have tended to revolve around covering events, either live or retrospectively.

Bundlr is my personal favorite and I can’t recommend it enough. As with the others, you use a browser button to ‘bundle’ content. When you’re on a web page which you want to curate, press the button and either choose an existing bundle or make a new one. What’s most impressive about Bundlr is how it combines the ability to handle many types of content (e.g. youtube videos, images, tweets, presentations, web pages) with effortlessly making the finished product look aesthetically appealing. It’s also incredibly easy to pick up and use. Within a few hours of signing up to Bundlr I had multiple bundles which had collectively received hundreds of hits.

Scoop.It allows you to publish ‘magazines’ based on content you ‘scoop’ through a browser bookmark. Whereas some of the other tools focus more on collating items, offers more room for curation in the strict sense of the term: it gives you more opportunity than the other tools to control what aspects of your ‘scooped’ items are highlighted and what commentary you offer about them. It also has an interesting, though in my experience not quite perfected, tool which automatically offers you ideas about things to ‘scoop’.

If the concept of curation interests you then I would advise experimenting with a few tools to see which one is right for you. While there are undoubtedly objective differences between them, there is also a large aspect of subjective fit: each of them rests on some underlying embodied metaphor (e.g. pinning on your pinboard, putting items in a bundle, scooping up items for your scrapbook newspaper) and what works for one person might not necessarily work for another. Furthermore, it is worth bearing in mind that there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to use these tools. Here are some of the things I have used them for: making resource packs for social media training, inventorying journal articles I use in my research, producing a portfolio of projects I have been involved in, pulling materials together to help prepare for projects I have yet to start and collecting materials about my favourite authors. But there are many other ways in which they can be used. Curationtools will enhance any task that involves collecting, sorting, evaluating and sharing digital material.

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