Why Bloggers are Curators, and Curators are Really Important

27 Apr 2012

Delaware Art Museum
Image by -Jeffrey-, via Flickr

We had a great discussion a while back about how blogging is changing. We talked about the "post keeping-up era," where all of us are tending to let go of the ideal of staying current with hundreds of blogs. And we talked about what this means for bloggers in terms of audience numbers.

Today, I thought we might look at an idea related to all that. I think that as we move forward in this rather splintered blogging and social media environment, one blogging skill becomes really important: curation.

Walters Art Museum
Image by Walters Art Museum, via Flickr

So, what does a curator do?

Well, here's what Wikipedia says:

"A [curator is a] content specialist responsible for an institution's collections and involved with the interpretation of heritage material."

If we inject a little juice back into that rather dry language, I'd say that a curator creates an idea-space, and then chooses things to decorate that idea-space.

To me, this is exactly what we do with our blogs. Each blog represents some particular idea – whether it's a personal journal or a company's announcement stream. And as a blogger, your work involves looking at the whole world of stuff and deciding what fits into your idea-space.

Reverberation: The Art of Bashing Metal Then and Now, Bilston Craft Gallery, 17 Sep 11 - 26 Nov 11
Image by Wolverhampton Arts + Heritage, via Flickr

I think curation is one of those deceptively subtle ideas that's easy to grasp on the surface, but just as easy to lose sight of when you're confronted with that age-old problem of "what should I blog about?"

I mean, it's easy to see curation in action on blogs like CRAFT and Craft Gossip, where editors comb the web for stuff and then share brief, visual snippets. These editors choose things to share that fit within the overall theme of the site – stuff on CRAFT tends to be a little more techy and nerdy than stuff on CraftGossip.

But what if you have a more personal blog, and you don't share a lot of things from around the web? Well, curation is still a very valuable skill. It just looks a little different.

DC Crafts
Image by bsferro, via Flickr

What's the theme of your "show?"

For starters, curation looks like choosing what to share from around your personal life, from around your business, and from around your creative world. And how do you choose? You do what a museum curator does: you start with a specific idea.

Think about the museum or gallery shows you've visited. What are their specific themes? Sometimes they focus on one artist's work from a particular period. Sometimes they take a group of artists from a specific era. Sometimes they bring together a lot of works in a single medium. Sometimes they collect art from lots of artists in lots of media, but representing one subject, like houses or portraits or flowers.

Do you know what specific idea (or group of ideas) your blog represents? If you've been having trouble getting a handle on blogging, or growing much audience, this might be a good place to focus. What are you about as a blogger? What is this idea-space you're building?

Delaware Art Museum
Image by -Jeffrey-, via Flickr

What is the size and depth of your "gallery space?"

(That's right, we're gonna torture this metaphor to death!) So, curators choose a theme, but then they also need to respect the boundaries of their museum or gallery space. How many paintings will fit on the walls? How much pedestal space is there for the ceramics? The space limitations force a curator to look for the most important works that represent her theme.

This idea applies to blogging in two ways. First, we simply have less "space" in our readers' attention spans than we did five years ago. We used to all recommend blogging daily in order to "stay on the radar" of potential customers. But at this point, with readers paying less attention to RSS feeds and more attention to random links floating through their social media accounts, we're just not under that same frequency requirement anymore. Nowadays, it makes more sense to say something when there's something really good (or important) to say.

Whisper Down the Lane>
Image by Gallery400, via Flickr

Another way that this space-limitation idea applies to blogs is that the idea-space you create for your blog may be broader or narrower in scope, and this may also effect how frequently you need to post.

Think of this: the aforementioned CRAFT covers a giant swath of creative culture: art and craft, every medium you can think of, plus food and tech and publishing. With that broad of a scope, there's lots of ideological "space," and more room for more posts per day.

But for many personal or small-business blogs, the focus is much narrower – a single craft, perhaps. A specific range of knitwear design. A particular visual style. And in these smaller idea-spaces, there's simply less room. You might actually have a more effective blog with fewer posts, chosen because they align beautifully with your blog's theme. Filler posts, slapped up there for the sake of posting, just serve to muddy the message.

Image by ღ ℂℏ℟ḯʂ ღ, via Flickr

What about those little plaques on the walls next to the paintings?

When I go to museum shows, I'm one of those people who obsessively read all the text information hanging on the walls. I want to know what the background of the show is, and how each piece is significant, and how all the pieces relate to each other. At the very least, I want an artist statement so I have some handle on what the artist's approach and philosophy are.

If you're a good blog-curator, then you're providing your readers with this kind of background information, too. I mentioned this earlier this week, but in the craft community, I think we're getting a little lazy about our discourse. We've let all the pretty things take center stage without trying to give them much context. We hold stuff up and say "Isn't this cool?" and then other people say "Yes, that's really cool!" – but how long can that stay truly interesting?

Delaware Art Museum
Image by -Jeffrey-, via Flickr

As a blog-curator, you can really stand out right now simply by helping your readers understand WHY you've shared the things you've shared. If you're posting a roundup of links to great tutorials from around the web, for example, tell us WHY you chose each one – and I'm betting that if you dig a little, you can find a reason deeper than "they're really cool." How do they represent the way you see your world? What do the colors evoke in you? Why are you drawn to that medium?

If you're posting about one of your WIP's, similar questions apply: why did you choose this pattern? What appealed to you about the yarn/fabric/beads? Actually, this element of WHY is one of the most effective ways to bring significance, authenticity, and interest to a blog post. Then next time you're in mid-post, try asking yourself "why am I sharing this?", and answer your own question in that post.

…What do you think? Do you see yourself as a curator? What are you curating?




Girl, that makes me about 1,000 kinds of happy. Thank you - and go get down with your bad, bloggy self!

Hot damn, Diane, you've hit another one far beyond the walls of the park. And you've done it at precisely the perfect time for ME. So thanks for that. I've been thinking a lot about the scope and focus of my blog, and just in the few minutes it took me to read your post I've come up with some important answers to my own questions. Onward!

Sometimes I come to Craftypod and think, "Diane is reading my mind!" While on my blog break, I've been thinking about how I curate not only on my blog, but in other social media spaces, and how I can change how I use each of these tools in a better way. This post rocks my world right now!

Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on this. I think that just thinking about the concept of being a curator helps a blogger think more about the audience and less about themselves. And that is an important part of making a blog a relevant experience.

Diane I have to thank you so very much!! You are a constant proverbial kick in the you know what - you make me think. Think about the tough stuff. I will be asking myself "why" and really be mindful when posting an entry. Bravo girl - you are deep!!

Thank you, Emily - your kind words made my Friday night! Happy Weekend, and Happy Blogging!

I love your better blogging series. :) Now that you mention it, I *am* a curator. It comes from a gut/truthy place more than it comes from a conscious place. I'm curating the information I share about my projects, myself, and my life. Not only do I find myself using the "why am I blogging about this?" question to help guide what I write about, but I also have learned from my readers about what they want to know. I can anticipate their questions and put the answers in before they ask.

A timely reminder, my friend. I have been thinking through (well, I always am) what I want to do with my blog and where I want it to go. It's a constant honing, that's for sure. I've never seen myself as a curator, though it's a great analogy. Like we've spoken of before, I tend to view my blog as a magazine with themes I regularly circle back to. I plan ahead some, but I've been trying to do even more so it can be more honed, more focused, and I can get some series in there. Thanks for the nudge!

I love this concept - being a curator! Gives writing a blog more dimension and purpose. A LOT to think about here.

what an interesting and helpful post - thank you very much!!

Hi! This post was SO helpful! I consistently feel like I lack a structure within which to determine if a potential post works with my over-all theme. I actually sat down yesterday and answered each of the questions you posed, and I was amazed at the clarity I suddenly had about what I should and should not be blogging. Thank you!

I'm so glad to hear that - thank you!

I'm actually working on a project involving museums right now at work, so this analogy is actually really interesting and on par with life. I like it. I like your addition to the "curator" definition and I think you made a lot of great comparisons. Thanks for sharing!!

More often than not, a museum curator doesn't start with the idea, they start with the "stuff". They are confronted with a vast collection of "things", objects, be they paintings or tea cups or dresses or old tanks and airplanes. Its a huge mass of historic things that someone in the past thought was important to keep. And now, many curators are given the task of making that relevant to the visitor today.

Many of the same questions a museum curator is faced with are exactly the same reasons a blog reader asks as they flick past your blog, and you hit the mark Diane with the words "why" and "context":

- why do I (the visitor) care about your "tea cup" or "your blog post" or "your knitting pattern"?

This is a great analogy. I think a certain amount of possibility overload contributes to blogging pitfalls. There are so many things you can say, might say, should say. Not all of them are appropriate for your blog. Some of them may even be detrimental to your long term goals. Eliminating some of the possibilities gets you closer to a well focused blog.

By seeing it as a curated "show", you can get to the heart of it much quicker. Not only is the focus sharpened, but you will start to see the connections between the many different things that draw you in and send you out energized. And those connections will be the ones that lead to actual connections between yourself and your readers.

(Of course, this is my opinion. Maybe others don't have the eclectic list of interests. But the curating analogy definitely brings cohesion to someone who does.)