The Power Of Human Curation For Differentiation 

If you have followed the career of Jimmy Iovine, the powerful music impresario who is now an executive at Apple, you know he inherently believes the concept of curating music for listeners should be at the heart of any online music service. In fact, sources tell me it is his vision of content curation that convinced Tim Cook and Eddy Cue to want so badly to bring Mr. Iovine into the Apple fold and get him to direct, what I believe, is the way Apple differentiates their music service over the competition’s. 
 
Of course, the concept of content curation goes back centuries. History records content being scrutinized and passed on to groups of people with particular interests, first through paintings and then eventually through printed words. Content curation really took off after the Guttenberg press was invented and eventually became a key reason newspapers were created. In fact, newspaper editors have been the key curators of content or news for hundreds of years. But when the Internet came along, most of the early and current Websites moved to automating content curation and today, most still use an algorithm to corral content from all over the Web to use on their sites. 
 
But when it comes to content curation, algorithms can do only so much and, all of a sudden, human curation has become a hot idea in the world of the internet and tech. 
 
In a recent post for Forbes, Steven Rosenbaum wrote a great piece entitled, “The Curation Explosion And Why Humans Still Trump”. He writes: 

“After years of promising to replace people with smarter algorithms, it appears that the battle is over. And, at least for the next chapter of the Web, humans have won.

There’s been a flood of new product announcements from the biggest players – YouTube, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, AOL, Flipboard, Snapchat and LinkedIn. Each of them promising to solve content discovery with a human curated product offering.
 
On the face of it, this is good news, even great news.  Who among us hasn’t been feeling the fatigue of content overload as the firehose stream of raw, unfiltered information overwhelms us.  And,  as much as we hunger for the newness and speed of instant publishing,  the endless scrolling and channel changing has, at it’s core, the endless “needle in a haystack” search for relevance.”

 
But as many have discovered, human creation is not equal. I don’t think I want a surgeon curating music, or a musician curating medical content. In Apple’s case, they are using serious music talent or people highly schooled in music and the works of artists and especially music tastemakers. Curation has become an important part of Apple’s differentiation strategy with Apple Music.
 
If reports are to believed, it appears Apple will employ curation in their new Apple TV when it eventually launches. While we still know little about Apple’s TV plans, it is not hard to see how Iovine’s influence on the importance and role curation plays. Apple’s “Think Different” approach to the market could easily be applied to the Apple TV too.  
 
Like most people, I have key programs I like on television and want info on as well as access to these programs on demand. But what if there was a human curator just culling content and info related to “Game of Thrones” that is also tied to on-demand access of viable programs and made at my disposal through Apple TV? Perhaps the On Demand access comes through the TV but when it comes on, it triggers, via some wireless mechanism, current content about this program so that it comes up automatically on my iPad or iPhone.
 
Or let’s say I am a fan of a specific genre of programs on TV and this curator is sending me info on programs like NCIS, Castle or CSI and giving me a link to call them up on an Apple TV at will. Now this is pure speculation on my part but, if human curation is a key trend in social media and now in music, moving that to the TV is the next logical platform to employ this type of curation in the future.
 
I am fascinated that, in a sense, the industry is looping back to a centuries old approach to dealing with and curating content. While using algorithms to do this won’t go away, bringing back human curation will clearly add a richer dimension to many information, social and entertainment based sites and, for those who deploy it, this could be the way to differentiate their products and use it to gain more followers and customers in the future.

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Tim Bajarin

Tim Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc. He is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin has been with Creative Strategies since 1981 and has served as a consultant to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry including IBM, Apple, Xerox, Compaq, Dell, AT&T, Microsoft, Polaroid, Lotus, Epson, Toshiba and numerous others.

8 thoughts on “The Power Of Human Curation For Differentiation ”

  1. I’d do you one better: there’s also huge power in human curation of… devices and apps. That is, giving one (hopefully competent) individual the power to sign off on releases. Steve Jobs had that. Lately, using MS stuff, and reading about Apple stuff, I can’t help but think this is sorely missing: a lot of stuff get released that’s extremely flawed any way you look at it. Bugs, undecipherable UIs, missing functionality… I way too often get the distinct impression that nobody fat the supplier has actually attempted to use the stuff in any plausible scenario.

  2. “But what if there was a human curator just culling content and info related to “Game of Thrones” that is also tied to on-demand access of viable programs and made at my disposal through Apple TV?”

    This could be twitter.

  3. I’m a big fan of human curation, but does it really offer “sustainable differentiation” for Apple? Couldn’t Spotify, Netflix or others very easiy also use expert human curators thereby negating Apple’s differentiation?

  4. I suspect that you and Steven Rosenbaum, the writer of the Forbes article, are underestimating the much more widespread use of curation. Steven Rosenbaum fully appreciates the role of curation in creative works, but he seems to be unaware of the level of curation that is required for products like Google Maps for example. Benedict Evans guesses that it might have hundreds to thousands of curators. I suspect that is why he fixates on “real people, with voices and passions and faces and personalities”.

    http://www.wired.com/2014/12/google-maps-ground-truth/

    http://ben-evans.com/benedictevans/2015/7/16/google-now-maps-and-apple-music
    The reality, and this is also what happened in the field of Bioinformatics more than a decade ago, is that curation is everywhere. The current capability of AI is simply too limited to fully replace human curators who have sufficient training, regardless of whether they have a “face”.
    The only reason why services without curation were accepted in Search and e-commerce is because there was not choice and because the customers were the curators, browsing through endless lists to find content that is relevant to them.
    On the other hand, getting curation to scale is no simple matter. Curators will rely on sophisticated algorithms to quickly surface potential candidates and issues. In addition to the quality and quantity of the human curators themselves, the capabilities of the supporting IT infrastructure will also be very important, as is again the case in Bioinformatics.

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