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Suw Charman-Anderson

Suw Charman-Anderson

Suw Charman-Anderson is a social software consultant and writer who specialises in the use of blogs and wikis behind the firewall. With a background in journalism, publishing and web design, Suw is now one of the UK’s best known bloggers, frequently speaking at conferences and seminars.

Her personal blog is Chocolate and Vodka, and yes, she’s married to Kevin.

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Kevin Anderson

Kevin Anderson

Kevin Anderson is a freelance journalist and digital strategist with more than a decade of experience with the BBC and the Guardian. He has been a digital journalist since 1996 with experience in radio, television, print and the web. As a journalist, he uses blogs, social networks, Web 2.0 tools and mobile technology to break news, to engage with audiences and tell the story behind the headlines in multiple media and on multiple platforms.

From 2009-2010, he was the digital research editor at The Guardian where he focused on evaluating and adapting digital innovations to support The Guardian’s world-class journalism. He joined The Guardian in September 2006 as their first blogs editor after 8 years with the BBC working across the web, television and radio. He joined the BBC in 1998 to become their first online journalist outside of the UK, working as the Washington correspondent for

And, yes, he’s married to Suw.

E-mail Kevin.

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Wednesday, November 8th, 2006

The democratisation of everything and the curators who will save our collective ass

Posted by Suw Charman-Anderson

Over the last few years we’ve seen old barriers to creativity coming down, one after the other. New technologies and services makes it trivial to publish text, whether by blog or by print-on-demand. Digital photography has democratised a previously expensive hobby. And we’re seeing the barriers to movie-making crumble, with affordable high-quality cameras and video hosting provided by YouTube or Google Video and their ilk.

Music making has long been easy for anyone to engage in, but technology has made high-quality recording possible without specialised equipment, and the internet has revolutionised distribution, drastically disintermediating the music industry.

Even sculpture is going to succumb, as Second Life residents can create complex avatars and then have them 3D printed into a physical item. It’s early days now, but it’s not going to be long before you can create any shape you like and have it printed, allowing anyone to become a sculptor without ever having to deal with physical materials.

What’s left? Software maybe? Or maybe not.

If you read my personal blog, Chocolate and Vodka, you’ll know that I’m learning Ruby on Rails. Ruby is a programming language, and Rails is a programming framework. The way it works is that you set up your database, and then you ask Rails to, say, create your input form, and it writes the Ruby and the HTML you need in order to create a web page that allows you to input data into your database. I have very little ability when it comes to programming, but I am learning Ruby on Rails and I see no reason why I can’t start creating my own web-based applications within the next few months.

Like 3D printing, this is just the beginning. Ning and Coghead are attempts to make web app development easier, but as they, and RoR, evolve we’re going to see people with no programming skills able to make their own web apps without ever having to learn a line of code.

The future is going to contain lots of small, agile development projects, and I’m not the only one who thinks this. Evan Williams recently wrote about what he calls the Obvious model for building and running web products:

The Obvious model goes something like this:

* Build things cheaply and rapidly by keeping teams small and self-organized.

* Leverage technology, know-how, and infrastructure across products (but brand them separately, so they’re focused and easy to understand)

* Use the aggregate attention and user base of the network to gain traction for new services faster than they could gain awareness independently

evhead: The Birth of Obvious Corp.

Hosting is affordable; Google’s AdSense makes raising revenue from ads simple to set up (which doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get much revenue, mind); and blogs make it easier to promote your app. Just like every other area of human creativity, the barriers are coming down.

I was at a ‘future of…’ session the other week, and one of the trends I suggested was important was ‘the ubiquity of everything’. My fellow brainstormers didn’t seem to agree with the word ‘everything’, but I think we are moving towards a world where the only things that are rare are certain physical resources, and attention.

We already have more movies available than any one person can watch; more videos on YouTube; more blogs; more podcasts; more internet radio; more books; more software; more web apps; more games; more everything. It’s not like we’re starting from a point of scarcity here. And the flood of stuff is going to turn into a rampaging torrent as more people get online and more people get excited by their ability to participate and create.

In the past, the media acted as gatekeepers. They were the ones that went to the movie previews and told us which ones were good or crap. They were the ones who went to all the gigs and told us which bands were cool or rubbish. They were the ones who got the advance copy of the game and told us whether it was playable or tedious. They were the arbiters of taste, the people in the know, the ones with the connections needed to get at culture before us plebs got at it.

But we don’t need gatekeepers anymore. We don’t need people who stand between us and our stuff, deciding what to tell us about and what to ignore. We don’t need arbiters of taste. There are so many blogs out there reviewing software and web apps and films and books and every other sort of creativity that we don’t need to rely on the media’s old gatekeepers telling us what we should like.

We do, however, still need help. There’s just too much stuff around for us to know what’s out there, to keep up with what’s good, what works for us, what is worth investigation. What we need are curators. And we need them badly.

We need people who can gather together the things that are of interest to us, things that fit with our tastes or challenge us in interesting ways, things that enrich our lives and help us enjoy our time rather than waste it on searching.

Curators already exist. Some are people: Bloggers who sift through tonnes of stuff in order to highlight what they like, and who, if you have the same taste as them, can be invaluable to discovering new things to like. Some are aggregators: Site that gather lots of little bits of stuff and present them in aggregation and help us find the bits that the majority find to be good. Some are algorithms: recommendation systems and search.

But curation of the web has barely started. Much of what you could call curation that exists today is flawed: too many noisy opinions and not enough capacity to understand what I as an individual want; recommendation algorithms that produce seemingly random results; and the problem of ‘popularity begetting popularity’.

The great challenge for us, and the web, going forward is no longer breaking down the barriers to creation, it’s finding our way through the huge amounts of creativity that’s resulted.

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9 Responses to “The democratisation of everything and the curators who will save our collective ass”

  1. anton Says:

    This is interesting. I agree a lot becomes possible easier and easier. But is it freedom/selfdetermination or is it a marketing/commercial/social indoctrination that makes people do all this?
    can we be happy or are we supposed to act as if?

  2. raize Says:

    You are a genius…I have been looking for an article such as this for quite some time. You have summed up the next evolution of the internet…now google doesn’t look so big

  3. Vera Bass Says:

    Hi Suw,

    I agree with your statement that we will need ‘curators’. Perhaps because my definition of curator begins with those I know in prestigious museums, combined with my familiarity with the depth and scope of their specialized knowledge, I have a hard time seeing web curators identifying themselves out of the ranks of bloggers …unless the sum of web based knowledge is to mostly be a combination of technology and popular entertainment/news bites.

    Although I can also imagine the application of technology itself developing virtual ‘curators’, the scope of knowledge and understanding that might be lost concerns me.


  4. El Jefe Says:

    Great read, thanks very much. I really like the idea of curators, and I can imagine how a system could automate the way in which any given curator would gain or lose credibility based on user feedback. The big problem I think is standardization and enforcement, I suppose. The only adhered-to standards on the net are technical in nature, rather than organizational. Maybe a TRUSTe-certified curator program?

  5. csven Says:

    This sounded familiar to me ( ). I do like the term “curator”, though a more clear definition would be nice, because it might then assist in resolving the issue Vera raises: from where do they come?

  6. tim Says:

    Interesting info. Actually, different parts of the world may behave differently. Take China, where government control is still going strong. To learn more about what is really happening inside there, read this great book: China and the new world order, by the outspoken Chinese journalist George Zhibin Gu, which offers the truest picture about the corrupt government as well as changing politics, business and society.

  7. Danny L. McDaniel Says:

    It is very similiar to the “mass amateuriztion.” Technology has provided so much information and influence at our finger tips that we can all be “experts” in just about all fields of endeavor. That would be almost exactly the same as “democratization of everything.” The power the average person can exert locally, nationally and globally is enormous and growing exponentially. At no time in human history has the average person been placed in such a critical role in civilization. But the flipside we all now live in land of giants. All of us are the leaders of the future and have electronic voice that can be heard.

  8. Samuel Diamond Says:

    It is the ebb and flow of the better developed systems and people trying to come up to partner or compete with them. You will see that there will be a peak of liberalization.

    The peak will not happen abruptly, but because there is nothing much that be kept from making these devices. 1,000,000,000 music videos, but who will make the money? Maybe 10,000. The ones who could, at THIS time, make do without compensation for work, can not do their work forever, or free. They will lose sight and focus, and drop out of the race. If you don’t believe me, look at the tons of ghost blogs and sites on the internet. It will happen to the rest of the explosion as well.

    To reign in a force as big as the internet is next to impossible, but a little to possible. In the long scheme of things, Google has managed to not only hold its power on the web domain, but control the electronic herd in an orderly fashion. Although blogs are becoming big, think of the celebrity blogs everyone goes to. PerezHilton, OMG, TMZ. They might not make as much money, but in the coming economic tsunami, they will have enough leverage to be over the wave as it tears asunder the rest of the people who do not have the patience or the technique to continue to do their work for free or pennies.

    The way for the liberalization to work is if there is actually a manifesto or grouping, without their being an solid entity ( such as a corporation or political entity ) managing the field. But all the managers of the liberalization are the kings. Google, Facebook, Youtube ( I know its the same ), Myspace. Everything is liberalized, but someone controls your liberty. Even your connection is controlled by maybe 20+ companies ( RCN, Comcast ).

    The liberalization is a half-truth, and will close up again if we don’t find a way to culminate our own talent away from the corporations. That probably would make us into a corporation, and then we will understand that the liberalization of the web never existed. It was on the allowance of business models of richer web developers.

  9. Ed Ries Says:

    You’re absolutely right. This democratization will make it extremely easy for genius to flower from anywhere.
    However, it will also greatly increase the ease with which the zealous yet mediocre can dump crap on the world
    from anywhere at any time. The workload of those who siphon from this gushing stream will be heavier than ever.