Curation, Algorithms, and Having a Point of View

by Ian Rosenwach on 6.26.2015

With the emergence of Apple Beats 1 Radio, Apple News, Facebook Instant Articles, Twitter’s Lightning, and Instagram’s new Explore feature, content and curation are all the rage in big tech.

Ben Thompson sums it up nicely on Stratechery in a post entitled Curations And Algorithms –

It’s possible that algorithms will one day be superior to humans at both (providing context and applying taste) of these functions, but I’m skeptical: the critical recognition of context and creativity are the two arenas where computers consistently underperform humans.

I’d like to consider curation and specifically how it how relates to having a point of view (POV).

The Tech and Humanity of Point of View 

In the media business, perhaps if you try to please everyone you will in fact please no one.

I think Apple gets this with Beats 1 Radio, but I don’t know if Apple gets this with Apple News. I don’t know if Circa had a point of view, but if so I didn’t see it when I tried the service. I’d posit that a key reason for Circa’s demise wasn’t the lack of innovative features which they had, but the absence of a POV.

I’m not sure if Jason Hirschhorn’s REDEF has a point of view. It feels more like curation.

Bob Lefsetz has a point of view and it’s what makes him stand out. He’s provocative. Howard Stern has a point of view. Bob Dylan has a point of view. Steve Jobs had a point of view. Tim Cook has been more vocal about his (and implicitly Apple’s point of view).

While it’s not impossible for an algorithm to have some degree of POV (humans are the ones programming the algorithm after all) it seems to me that any algorithmic point of view is lacking in humanity.

Only people can develop their own unique POV. That’s what makes us human.

So why don’t more tech companies have a POV?

Perhaps out of fear. It could be that today we’re (people and companies) less willing to share a point of view because if we do the world will know. The Internet bares all, and we can’t predict how sharing a POV will impact our reputation or stock price.

Or perhaps tech companies place their faith in the belief that computers trump humans in the vast majority of tasks. But could it be this is a deeply ingrained belief that is in fact holding back tech companies like Google and Facebook?

Curation = POV? Not quite. 

The question of curations vs. algorithms cuts to the fabric of companies like Google, Apple, Facebook, and Twitter.

Twitter is going to be curating live events with Project Lightning. It’s not clear if they’ll have a POV. Facebook Instant Articles will host content from 3rd parties like the NY Times and Buzzfeed, but it’s not clear if they’ll have a POV.

Should curation mean applying a POV to a predetermined set of content? Or is it simply having human editors pick and choose the “best” content to surface to the masses? My sense is most tech companies apply the latter definition.

It seems to me that curation has become a politically correct term that means editors or choosing the “highest quality” (inherently subjective) content to feature on a platform (i.e. tweets, pictures, articles, etc). But are these editors thinking about what’s best for the platform, which is in large part not offending anybody, or making editorial decisions through a unique lens?

Maybe when tech companies start to grok point of view, we’ll see more interesting things happen at the intersection of tech and media.

Apple gets this with Apple Music and Beats 1 Radio. Perhaps this will be what we’ve been waiting for!

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