Curated Content and Automation – A Rant

dumpster - tiff - rubbish binThis is a small rant about fake (and very bad) content curation.  It’s going to be short and not very sweet.

Imagine you’re in Washington DC, and a friend calls and says, “Let’s go to the Smithsonian for the day!”

You agree, and your friend picks you up in her shiny new Mercedes.  You’re expecting a wonderful day.  However, as you look out the car window, you notice you’re driving away from the Smithsonian, not towards it.

Ten minutes later, your friend parks in front of an overflowing dumpster and opens the car door.  You look at your friend and ask, “What are we doing here?” 

Your friend replies, “Well, it’s not quite the Smithsonian, but close enough.  I mean, they’re both just a bunch of old stuff.  I didn’t really expect you to notice the difference.”

That’s what I’m seeing at some “curated” sites. Their content is posted from software that grabs possibly-relevant RSS feeds. No personal supervision is involved.

That’s not content curation, just content.

You may as well stand outside Google’s main office with a big sign saying, “Go ahead. De-index me!” followed by your URL.

People are still pointing at the Drudge Report, claiming, “See? Anyone can do this!”

Sure, it may look like Drudge throws a bunch of links online.  It’s far more than that.  That’s why political analysts are saying Drudge helped Mitt Romney with his subtle (and not-so-subtle) choices of links, headlines, and blurbs.

Mitt Romney’s Drudge Report Connection Pays Off – Huffington Post

news.google.com

…Left unmentioned was one of the campaign’s most significant boosters: Matt Drudge… The long time operator of the highly influential Drudge Report had spent much of the lead-up to Michigan propping up the Romney campaign.

Read that article, if you think the Drudge Report is just a bunch of links.

Matt Drudge can get away with a simple, ugly website because he’s been doing this steadily since 1997, and he has a very loyal following giving him millions of reliable hits, every month.

His site presents far more than meets the eye… literally.

But let’s say you really get what he’s doing with his website.  Can you succeed by copying the style or content of his site?  Probably not.

You don’t have his 15-year reputation.  (How reliable is the Drudge Report? Well, it’s the news source that broke the Monica Lewinsky story.  Unless you have that kind of track record in your niche… no, you can’t just throw some links on a homepage and expect Drudge-like results in a couple of months.)

A content curator serves as a personal concierge providing a doorway to a particular topic or niche. You’re highlighting the very best news, websites, books, audios and videos in a niche where you’re an expert.

Anything less is indiscriminate, and some of it dances dangerously close to the fine line between copyright violations and “fair use.”

Curated Content – What it is, what it isn’t

Dagwood
Curated content can be like a Dagwood sandwich. (Image courtesy of Comics.org)

Curated content is regularly touted as a hot, new shortcut for filling up your website with posts.  Is this a good idea?

Umm… maybe.  Maybe not.

Years ago, my mom used to talk about making a “Dagwood sandwich.”  Apparently, in the old Dagwood comic strips, Dagwood used to raid the refrigerator and fill his sandwiches with a mix of whatever he could find:  Cold cuts, pickles, salad ingredients, and so on.

Adding mayonnaise to that?  Probably a good idea.  Adding chocolate to it?  Probably not.

Curated content is like that.  It’s not just what you put into it — though that is important — but what you add to it.

What curated content is

The term “curated” refers to the kind of work done by a museum curator.  He or she gathers the very best of what’s available in that field, and makes it available for the public to view.

So, when you curate for your website, you’re putting together the best information you can find, so your website visitors know about the latest, most important, most outrageous, and perhaps most entertaining information in your niche.

Think of it this way: Curated content is like a conversation, where you’re telling your reader about cool things you’ve discovered.  In that conversation, you’re quoting what you’ve read, pointing to fun graphics and viral videos, and making it easy for your readers to see what you’re talking about, for themselves.

Or, to explain this in geek-speak:

Curated content is content gathered from relevant websites and offline sources, under “fair use” and editorial guidelines, and included in an article (or other work) as a reference.  Usually, the reference isn’t just a link, but a short quotation or screenshot from the original article, or that information, paraphrased.

Curated content always includes the credit information:  Who wrote the original article and/or who published it, and usually a link to the original work, as well.  That’s not just a courtesy to the resource and a legal requirement, it’s also so your readers can click to read or see the entire work you’re talking about.

Some sites make it easy to use their content.  YouTube is a good example, as they provide a “share this” link for each video.  eZineArticles.com provides you with copy-and-paste articles.  Sites with liberal Creative Commons licenses also make it easy and completely legal to use some or all of their content.

If you’ve ever posted a YouTube video at your website, or shared an article from eZineArticles.com, or included a great, viral image in a post at your website, you’ve already been curating.

(However, posting a link at your website, or Tweeting it, or adding it to Facebook… that may be curating, but it’s not actually curated content.  Curated content involves finding interesting information online, sharing it, and explaining why it’s important for people interested in your niche.  In other words, it’s the shared information, the link, and your own added content.)

What isn’t curated content

Copying-and-pasting RSS feeds, randomly… that’s not curated content.  I’ve seen some sites doing that, usually with WordPress plugins, and it looks about the same as a link farm.  There are some plugins that help, but if you’re using the plugin to grab a few blurbs from RSS feed headlines that “look pretty good,” either the plugin is bad or you’re missing the point of curation.

Autoblogging with long-tail keywords and calling it “curated” isn’t any better.  If you’re not carefully selecting the links and blurbs, and then adding your own commentary, that’s not curated content.  Not really.

As I’m writing this, those are the two most popular trends among the “make money while you sleep” product promoters.

Then there are people who copy-and-paste long passages or even whole articles instead of creating useful, unique content. Once again, that’s not curation.  (I’m beginning to sound like a broken record, but these are things that — apparently — need to be explained.)

If you copy something, paraphrase it, and try to make it sound like it’s your work, that’s also plagiarism.  (Amazon has been harsh with people who copy-and-rephrase reviews posted at the Amazon.com website.  Don’t do it!)

And, if you think you can get around copyright laws by spinning what you’ve copied, that’s not curation, either.

As it says at the U.S. Copyright Office website, on their Can I Use Someone Else’s Work? webpage:

How much do I have to change in order to claim copyright in someone else’s work?

Only the owner of copyright in a work has the right to prepare, or to authorize someone else to create, a new version of that work.

Accordingly, you cannot claim copyright to another’s work, no matter how much you change it, unless you have the owner’s consent. [Emphasis added.]

So, no one should be surprised when Google uses steadily refined software and new algorithms to catch people who use spun content.

And, with software like TinEye and similar plugins for browsers, it’s folly to use other people’s graphics without permission.  (Hot-linking without permission isn’t any better.)  You will get caught, and you’ll be lucky if the worst that happens is permanent residence in the supplemental index.

One good motto when curating content:  “Credit where credit is due.”

However, copying someone’s work and giving them a by-line… that’s not enough.

Let’s talk copyright for a minute

legal symbolsI’m not a lawyer, so my opinions are simply that: Opinions, not legal advice.

Here’s how I see curation under the U.S. laws regarding copyright:  In most cases, good curation is covered by “fair use” limits.

Section 107 contains a list of the various purposes for which the reproduction of a particular work may be considered fair, such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. (Ref: U.S. Copyright Office – Fair Use, and Title 17, U.S. Code.)

When I use excerpts of others’ work, it’s usually as a reference for my own comments or criticism, or for teaching purposes.  However, it’s smart to keep this additional guideline in mind, from that same Fair Use page:

The distinction between fair use and infringement may be unclear and not easily defined. There is no specific number of words, lines, or notes that may safely be taken without permission. Acknowledging the source of the copyrighted material does not substitute for obtaining permission.

How much you quote is a factor.  Here’s more from that same article, describing one of the four factors used by the courts to determine whether something is “fair use.”

The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole.

Personally — and this is just my opinion, which could be wrong in some cases — I’m comfortable quoting two or three sentences from a website article, as long as it’s less than 10% of the original, copyrighted work.  In fact, I lean towards quoting less than 5%, when possible.  (The “when possible” is affected by the context.  Quoting someone out-of-context is a very short route to trouble.)

In print media, especially books, you can check the copyright page.  Sometimes, the author or publisher clearly spells out how much can be quoted.  The usual range is about 20 – 25 words.

The safest resources for curated content

If you’re uncomfortable interpreting “fair use” for curation, remember a perfectly legal source for curated content:  Material that’s licensed under the Creative Commons.  When you’re searching Creative Commons works, you’re usually looking for work that you can use for commercial purposes and modify, adapt, or build upon.

You can also plunder the vast number of books, articles, graphics and recordings in the public domain.  (Generally, you’re looking for content created before 1923.  However, there are many exceptions, and public domain is a topic in itself.)

Tips for great curated content

Here are some points to keep in mind when you’re adding curated content to your website.

1. Know your niche.

Many of your website visitors are already familiar with your niche.  You can’t fool them… not for very long, anyway.  All it takes is one stupid comment (that you don’t retract with a hearty serving of crow), and your credibility is gone.  People remove their links to you, or — even worse — post at social media saying things like, “Look at what this idiot said…”

If you don’t know your niche, don’t try to bluff it.  Either get up to speed, quickly, or hire someone who does know your niche, to do your writing and curating for you.

2. Respect your visitors’ time.

Time is one of the only things in limited supply in your life.  Don’t squander your own time, and don’t waste the time of your website visitors.

Here’s my rule:  If I discovered my mom or grandmother reading every single article at one of my niche websites, would I feel that she’d spent her time well?  Or, would I feel sad because she could have been doing something else… something that would genuinely enrich her life or make her happier?

When you curate content, be sure it’s worth mentioning, linking to, and talking about.

3. Make your site worth making your readers’ browser homepage.

reading-surprisedYour content should be so good, people want to see it, as soon as they open their browsers.

If you’re building a site that will stay at the top of the search engines and rarely waver from that spot, you’ll need content that’s highly focused, steadily updated, and tells your visitors something they didn’t know.

You don’t have to be the first one to report the news.  Curation means you’re one of the first (or best) to tell your readers about that news, and add your own, insightful comments along with a link to the original information.

Your site should be so interesting, and so current, people tell their friends about it, post it in social media, bookmark it, and they’re tempted to make it their browser’s start-up homepage.

(In real life, it’s unlikely that will actually happen.  After all, people can have just one homepage per browser, and that homepage is usually their email, RSS reader, or a social media site.)

Nevertheless, aim to have a site so content-rich, a few rabid niche enthusiasts actually do make your website their homepage.

Curated content makes that possible.  Use it wisely, and you’ll be glad you did.

I hope shed more light on this topic. If you have questions, leave a comment.

Curated Content – Time, Tools, and Contents

Copy-of-question-face-guy Curated content seems to be a very hot topic right now. However, curated content has been around since the invention of the Web.

Trivia: The word “blog” comes from the phrase “web log” then called “weblog,” and finally shorted to just “blog.”

In the beginning — the mid-1990s — a weblog was usually a list of cool links with some notes, posted at someone’s website.

Curated content describes links (sometimes with excerpts, like RSS feeds) to other, relevant contend online. Any of those links could be an article, a video, an audio file, a document, or a graphic.

Does that sound confusing?  Here’s a summary of one of my curated posts — now obsolete, so I can’t link to it — but it was about dating rules. The post included:

  • Four relevant YouTube videos with my comments added.
  • A summary of dating rules, rephrased from things I’d read elsewhere, or I’d seen in the video.
  • The article’s main graphic was free, and it came from FreeImages.com.

Using CurationSoft (desktop, curating software), that article took me less than 30 minutes to complete. However, I’ll admit that I’ve been adding curated content to my websites since the mid-1990s. Your first few curated content posts will probably take longer, but you’ll get the knack of this quickly.

Here’s what was in another curated post, now offline. It was about Best Wedding Proposals: It was great fun to curate, and it included about a dozen of the best wedding proposal videos I could find at YouTube. The post took me more than two hours to assemble, because I chose carefully.

If someone is looking for wedding proposals (or wedding proposal ideas), those videos will keep them on the page for awhile. That improves your bounce rate. They’ll also link to that page from Twitter, etc.

The point is, that kind of curation takes time and can’t be automated . There are hundreds (thousands?) of “best marriage proposal” videos at YouTube.

This can take time

clock-old1Yes, I spent about two hours, just selecting YouTube videos.

For me, that’s what curated content means: Going through a lot of related content to find the best articles, videos, etc. to link to… and adding your comments so people know why you linked to them.

If you’re someone who wants to build hundreds of websites with just one click, or earn millions while you sleep, I’m sure there are plenty of automated curation products that claim to do that.

Whether they provide useful, relevant content is another matter. I’m also not sure if search engines will feel they’re too “scraped.”

How to save time, and how to use it well

If you’re serious about curated content, software can reduce the time spent finding the best content to link to. In fact, I’d estimate that it can automate about 70% of your work.

However, the remaining 30% of your work will include these steps:

  • Review the content to be sure it’s the best to link to.
  • After you use software to add the content to your post, edit it so it looks good. (No weird half-words, for example.)
  • Add your own commentary, tying the links together so the post flows and keeps your visitors on your website.

Unless you’re the Drudge Report, a simple list of excerpts and links could be the fastest route to a very damning bounce rate.

Give your visitors a reason to stay on your website, bookmark it, and tell their friends about it.toad

Curated content can build your reputation in your niche. With software, it can be a shortcut to useful website content.

However, I believe the best curated content involves actual, human curation. That’s not a hands-off activity.

Just as you may need to kiss a lot of ugly frogs to find the handsome prince, you may also have to screen a lot of worthless (and inappropriate) content to find valuable content for your curated posts.

Curated Content – Can You Make Money With It?

Someone asked me how curated content can be monetized. After all, you’re sending people to other people’s websites, and that’s something experts have said not to do.

I’m very enthusiastic about curated content. So, here’s what I replied when asked how people make money with curated sites:

Curated sites usually make money with one (or more) of these basic income models:

morning reading1. Paid advertising on your site. Drudge Report is doing that. Huffington Post copied that model and expanded on it.
2. Affiliate ads you place on the site. They may get clicks (and earn income) when the link appeals to your precise niche.
3. Establishing you as an authority in that niche (after all, you’re very current on the latest news in the niche, since you’re posting links about it). With that, you can write (or compile) books, get speaking gigs related to your niche, and so on.

Curation is nothing new. It’s just linking to news and sites that will interest others who are interested in (or obsessed with) your niche.

Once upon a time, Yahoo! manually checked every submitted URL. That kind of filtering is no longer practical. Not on a broad scale, anyway.

Frankly, Google (and other search engines) are overwhelmed. They have to automate how they filter the “best” sites that fit the niche/keyword… and they’re fighting a constant battle. We see that with their frequent algorithm changes.

People need manually filtered links, to stay current or get valuable information in the niche that interests them. Curated sites provide the manual filtering.

Curation software — such as CurationSoft, which (as of 2016) I’ve been using for over four years — simply makes it easier to do that. The software finds likely links, and provides an easy way (often drag-and-drop) to add those links to your blog posts.

With that software, you’ll choose the best, current posts/videos/audios/documents in your niche, and create a post that links to them.

However, I’m not sure that any curation software should be left to run entirely on auto-pilot. In fact, that’s probably a very bad idea.

For now, here’s my opinion: Spammers will find a way for their articles to show up as “relevant” in curation software.  So, your site could add fresh content while you sleep… but it might not be what you’d like to see on your website.

Here’s a better way to use your curation software:

  • Manually sort through the recommended links.
  • Add your own commentary.
  • Feature only the very best links.

Doing this, you can become a recognized authority. Your site will be among the go-to sites when someone wants current information about your niche. And frankly, when you want to become an authority in your niche, it’s far easier to do so with curated content than to research & write all your own articles.

Create Great Posts with Curated Content

key-lost-foundI’m a big fan of curated content.  It can be the key to great content, hiding in plain site.

Basically, you’re finding great links to related subjects, sharing a small part of the article at each link, and making sure your reader can visit that link easily.

Then, you explain why you’ve included it, so your post is content-rich and original, not just a bunch of links.  (Well, a few sites like Drudge Report have been successful listing only links, or minimal added content, like Fark.)

One of my favorite, geeky articles about what makes curated content work is this one by Robin Good.  I actually printed that and put it in one of the how-to notebooks on top of my desk.

If your website features books or movies, you could create a curated article with a relevant interview (printed, audio or YouTube) linked in your post or even included in it.

I’m a fan of desktop curation software called CurationSoft.  (I have the pro version, but you can try the free version to see how it works.) CurationSoft is the only curation software I actually use.  For my purposes, it’s a little more robust than something like, say, Content Buddy. (I’m not sure if that’s still around, or even supported, as of 2015.)

What to do with curated content

If you’re adding just a single blurb/link, you can include it above or below the Amazon product description.

magnets1Otherwise, I like to create a separate post with the curated content.  Not only is it a magnet to attract (and keep) readers, you can use that post to link to your Amazon product post, and vice versa.  This gives your site more depth.

Once you develop the habit of adding curated content, it’s a breeze to assemble.  Or, if you’re someone (like me) who loves “ooh, shiny!” trivia and information, it can be fun.  However, there can be a learning curve.  Have patience!