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Selecting a Digital Curation Tool

by David Kelly

December 3, 2012

Feature

by David Kelly

December 3, 2012

“Most of the digital curation tools available today have robust functionality that is available completely free. There’s no investment (other than time) required to test different tools and find the one that works best for you.”

In today’s world of ever-growing digital content there is a seemingly infinite amount of information available. Finding what you need, when you need it, is increasingly challenging. Fortunately, there is help: digital curation.

Digital curation is a growing need for anyone who routinely uses the Internet, and is especially important for workplace learning professionals, since our job is to help people work better. Part of that task is finding the best resources available that workers can use to support learning and bringing those resources to their attention.

Curation, step by step

There are a great number of digital curation tools available. There are popular curation tools that you may have already experimented with, like Scoop.it, Storify, or Pinterest, as well as dozens of others that you might not have even heard of. As is so often the case, deciding which tool you want to use requires you to match the features offered by each tool against exactly what it is you are trying to accomplish.

There are three major tasks associated with the act of curation: discovery, selection, and distribution.

Discovery

Discovery is the process of seeking out and finding the type of content you may want to curate. How effectively a digital curation tool accommodates the discovery phase ultimately comes down to two questions.

Question 1: What data sources can the tool access?

There is an endless sea of digital information online, and most digital curation tools only access small portions of it through very specific portals. It’s critical that you know where the information you want to curate from is located and check if the digital curation tool you are interested in has access to it.

Just about every curation tool can curate from open webpages, and ultimately most web content comes down to an open webpage. The challenge is being able to search from a specific data service directly from the curation tool. Most tools can search Twitter. However, as you start looking at other sources your tool options narrow considerably. Need to curate from Facebook? It’s a shorter list. Need to pull from Instagram, Slideshare, YouTube, or Flickr? Only a few tools may fit that need.

Question 2: How effectively does the tool filter the data source?

Accessing a data source like Twitter, Facebook, or Slideshare is one thing; being able to effectively filter the data source so that you only see the type of information you might want to curate is something else.

Some tools only allow for very basic text-based filtering. This might be enough to fulfill your needs, but sometimes you need deeper filters. Some of the tools have much deeper filtering options to help you find what you need. Finding a tool that filters effectively based on your needs might require some experimentation.

For example, Storify enables you to filter the Twitter feed to show only images, a timeline, specific users, and more (Figure 1).


Figure 1: Storify supports filtering your Twitter feed for images, the timeline, specific users, lists, or for favorites

Scoop.it also enables power searches, even including the ability to directly filter using Twitter’s advanced operators (Figure 2).


Figure 2: Scoop.it offers more powerful search and filter capabilities

Selection

Selection is the heart of curation. For now, machines have limits to their filtering ability. A human still needs to make a conscious decision to curate a specific resource. You don’t base that curation decision solely on the fact that the resource popped up in a filtered list within the tool. The curator always needs to review the resource and make sure it matches the themes and purpose of the curation.

Even though it is largely a human responsibility, selection is still an important factor to consider when deciding on a digital curation tool.

While there may be times in your day that you dedicate solely to seeking out resources to curate, you will also stumble upon valuable resources during the normal course of your workday. Someone may forward a link in an email, or you may come across a valuable article while working online. You want to capture those resources instantly for curation purposes, without having to completely break your workflow to open a new browser window to access the curation tool website.

A number of digital curation tools address this issue using browser bookmarklets or plug-ins. These tools allow individuals to instantly curate from the webpage they are currently viewing. When a user clicks one of the bookmarklets or browser extensions, a small window opens that allows the user to instantly curate the resource (Figure 3).


Figure 3: Bookmarklets, such as Scoop.it, allow you to instantly curate a resource from your browser

Distribution

Once you’ve decided which resources you want to share with your audience, the final step is to publish and distribute what you’ve curated. Most digital curation tools allow you to directly post and share your curation via social media outlets such as Twitter or Facebook.

Keep in mind that most online curation tools are set up with business marketing in mind, not necessarily learning. Most of these services only share curation publicly, and that’s something you may need to factor in when deciding which digital curation tool to use.

For instance, if I worked for a bank and was using Scoop.it as a resource to help workers learn more about banking in general, it might be okay. In fact, you might even make the argument that the bank is giving back to the community by providing such a resource, even if the primary reason for creating it was employee education.

However, I might also want to curate information specifically about our competition. I might curate articles about their financial performance, new branch openings, or other information that may help us compete. As an organization, I’d probably be less inclined to have that information available publicly.

If you have a need to share curated resources privately, your tool options today are going to be limited. However, as more digital curation tools begin offering paid subscription options with additional features, you can expect to see more availability of private sharing.

Try before you buy (or commit)

While different digital curation tools overlap in their functionality, each one has unique features that make it somewhat unique. Scoop.it presents curation in a newspaper-like format, while Storify presents in a linear, almost chronological fashion and Pearltrees shows relationships between resources visually via its node system. No single one is necessarily better than any other; the question is which one best accomplishes the ultimate intent and goal of your curation.

Scoop.it, Storify, and Pearltrees are three of the most popular digital curation tools available today. If you want to see a more extensive list of options, a great place to start is SocialCompare’s Comparison of Curation Platforms, which provides a nice breakdown of the features available from different tools.

Most of the digital curation tools available today have robust functionality that is available completely free. There’s no investment (other than time) required to test different tools and find the one that works best for you.


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