Yesterday one of my favourite bloggers/tweeters/curators Maria Popova announced a new initiative called The Curator’s Code as a method to standardise the way in which we attribute discoveries made when we re-distribute via the usual channels of twitter and blogs.
The code proposes the use of two shorthand codes:
ᔥ – indicates a via: a direct link of discovery
↬ – indicates a hat-tip: an indirect link of discovery
There are a few things I’d like to discuss first before trying to ascertain whether this is a good idea.
Missing attribution versus missing attribution
Missing attributions–especially from a deluge of a thousand Tumblr accounts–really frustrates me. A beautiful image showcasing a great product or piece of graphic design is often not accompanied by a direct link to the creator/studio/company/retailer that might want to sell or promote it to you. A post featuring an image like this is of zero worth to the individual who created it, but potentially worth a great deal of money to the publisher if they are yielding some ad revenue.
This mis-attribution angers me. I’m looking at you, Convoy. (But admittedly he’s yielding no cash, just Tumblr followers.)
The other type of missing attribution is where party A has found and shared a link, which party B subsequently shares. I share a lot of links on Twitter and here on my blog. Of course I try to do a via or ~ (I’ll come onto the nomenclature later) but sometimes I forget who I found it from due to the very nature of the sands of internet time.
I hope the person who found the link via someone else via an infinite number of other people doesn’t mind, but I have absolutely no idea. Of course, I have been on the other side. I run a fairly popular web design blog called siteInspire where I post sites I stumble across which I love. I then see people share the sites’ URLs without attribution to siteInspire.
But 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.
My point is, the former type of mis-attribution sucks to heck; the latter, we really need to get over, and just see the internet as a means by which to spread goodness freely.
What is a curator, anyway?
A curator used to mean someone who made specific decisions about which things to include in a specific collection in a museum.
I can’t think of anything I am less. At the very basic level, I’m a guy with a few blogs and a Twitter account, so I’m certainly not going to start making decisions about what to include in any upcoming exhibition at The British Museum.
I am, however, a voracious consumer of the internet and all the glorious nuggets within it. All I care about is finding cool stuff, sharing it, and hoping others find it as cool as I did (with varying results). Does that make me a curator? And as such, does that mean I am the audience of The Curator’s Code? I think no to the former, and no to the latter, which makes me confused about the whole thing. On @siteinspire I have just changed my bio to read “picked by @howells” not “curated by @howells”. I thought I was a curator, but because the term has suddenly turned quite mainstream and into something I don’t feel it is, now I’m unsure.
Let’s talk about process
To include the above symbols in this post, I had to visit The Curator’s Code website and cut and paste them. That will be the last time I will do that.
I know there is a bookmarklet to help me find the UTF8 symbol, but I have no fewer than 15 bookmarklets on Chrome that have me covered for every startup I could care to be involved with, and frankly that’s too many. If I can’t reach those symbols with some simple keystrokes, I won’t use them.
But this made me wonder, what is wrong with the conventions that have already (almost) been standardised?
Why is ᔥ superior to a ~? A tilde is being used by a huge number of people I follow to attribute a via. There may be a technical reason but right now I’m missing it.
I haven’t seen “hat-tip” used by many people I follow but I know what it means, so maybe subconsciously I have. My question here is what is the difference between a via and hat-tip? If we’re agreed that discovery if a factor of a chain of interactions between sharing people, then surely your share is the next link in a chain. I’d hazard it’s entirely impossible to trace the history of discover across platforms and blogging-islands, so I’m not sure an effort to try is worth a huge amount. Further I’d hope that all that is required is a visit to via source to discover the hat-tip source.
A final point I want to make about hat-tips is hat it is a very colloquial and possibly non-transferrable across boundaries. Via is a universal term in whatever language that makes more sense to a greater many.
So what do I think of The Curator’s Code?
I love the content that Maria shares along with a tiny handful of other folk I follow (Jason Kottke, Michael Surtees, Jason Cotterell, and others on my linky list). However I never saw these guys as curators: they’re just keen to share really great stuff, without demanding a title.
And these guys almost always share content using via or ~. That’s great, but in my mind not truly necessary. Their motivations are about disseminating great content without taking the credit for something that–at the end of the day–they didn’t create.
That said I would hate to think that someone I follow–who is therefore someone I respect–is offended by a mis-attribution of a resource so for that reason I’m in favour of the Code. But the actual process for doing this has to be be defined in the same way the @ symbol was defined by users of Twitter; organically and simply. If someone doesn’t want to use via, ~, HT (hat-tip) they won’t use ᔥ or ↬ either.
I really want to understand this initiative more so I welcome comments and feedback.
Update 1 – Lawrence in the comments below brings up an important point about the website. A simple idea demands a very simple message.
Update 2 – Matt Langer writes a criticism of the use of the term “curator” full stop. He picks up on some very important points not touched on here.
Update 3 – Marco Arment writes another excellent post, about this topic as does Michael Surtees as mentioned in my post.
What we are doing is sharing – posting, linking and blogging somebody else’s hard work. It is not our content, we didn’t create it, we don’t own it and we certainly don’t have any rights over it just because we think we found it first. We are not 5 year olds in the playground, it’s not finders keepers.