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
I’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.
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.