Curation and the Internet

As a Web 1.0 orphan, I remember when everyone was looking for ways of to make money on the web. When it came to media clients,  no one quite understood how to make money out of cultural artifacts, after all, making information and media available had to, ideologically, be free.

Media companies and other sectors alike debated whether to have an open, reduced site for free and a more exclusive and comprehensive offering for a subscription price. As they realized that the point was not to make money on selling individual stories but on creating a wider network of readers, eventually more and more media providers made their content available for free. Web 2.0 capitalized on this like Youtube and other free media sharing sites by providing the infrastructure upon which free content can be freely shared.

Today, with the avalanche of video media on Youtube we need to regain a sense of filtering and control of the media we consume. Even though I use YouTube significantly (especially when I look for resources for teaching), I have found that I actually prefer NOT to have to swim through all the video debris floating on the site. I have thus begun to use other video sites that do the filtering for me, and have somehow gained an appreciation for more ‘curated’ sites that have focused on a particular kind of medium, or are putting out highly specialized content for a more demanding and tired audience. Curated content.

Vimeo is an attempt at concentrating higher quality design and art-related videos drawing on a community of creative practitioners. It began as an alternative to Youtube where content, as well as its members, inteded to shape a different kind of community where quality, not quantity seemed to be the objective. Today, Vimeo has spread itself thinner than the beginning, but largely maintains this flavor and the quality content seems to curate itself better than Youtube.

TED is great for teaching – the talks are engaging, the themes relevant and my complement my lectures with visual media, which the students prefer to lsten me yack for an hour. The quality is great, I get a subtitled donwloadable version and the interface is easy to use with a reliable search mechanism in their website. The youtube versions of TEDtalks are crap.

Lately, I have discovered The Auteurs, which is a paid cinema site where I can watch films on my computer. The Auteurs is a sort of avant-garde film repository that houses a fairly varied collection between cinema classics and contemporary independent film production that get small distribution in theatres. The concept behind the site is to bring the best quality cinema in good quality and good selection – an online version of the artsy video store of yesteryear. Unlike the faceless and anonymous workers of today who have no relation to what they are selling the owners of this site act more like the video store owner, who, like a good bookseller, not only curates his ‘shop’ but is also an expert on what they sell.

Every couple of months, The Auteurs launches an online ‘festival’ celebrating a director – Takeshi Kitano is this month’s pick – and watch a selection of films in their full-length with good streaming. The selection is limited to what the distributors choose to release, usually leased temporarily to the site or working with a voluntary cession of rights. Different than the video sharing sites, here users are not allowed to upload content and are entirely subjected to the site’s taste and selection.

Honestly, I like that, I MISS that. I miss going to my old video store and going through shelves of obscure titles that I can only find there. It is not that I mind using free content or that I would like to have content all to myself…rather, I am tired of having to make decisions all the time by sifting through the endless debris of videos floating in the Youtube quagmire. I just want less to choose from, since the array of choices usually presented to us are terrible.

This is the first time I have paid a monthly subscription for content in a total of 12 years of power-using the web. The subscription price is the equivalent of 2 movie tickets per month, and if you don’t want to commit, you pay up to $5 per film as much as we were willing to pay for a rented video over the weekend.

As much as I am a staunch defender of the utmost democracy on the web, I do realize that there is a filtering effort in these specialised sites. Ten years later, I discover the value of paid subscription if it will guarantee quality and exclusivity and I am willing put my money there.

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