Of Coral Reefs and Curatorship

A former colleague once diagnosed the site of the company we both worked for as suffering from the “coral reef effect.” Articles kept building up, layer upon layer, with a thin layer of new material and a deep, almost unused archived content. Some of that content was strong and still relevant, but the good stuff was was buried with other articles that were past their prime, repetitive or just plain weak.

In a massive redesign, we significantly trimmed the archive to the best and most relevant material, then sought to stem the growth of duplicative content by focusing on “packaging” existing content in ways that both leveraged the assets and made it newly relevant to users. The term du jour for this practice is "content curation."

Good curation – be it of online content or art –evaluates a set of assets, determines what particular material serves as the best vehicles to communicate a point and then presents it in a concise and organized way. Like a museum curator, the content curator must make some choices about the wealth of material available to put up on a Web site. Many “curators” look out at the wider Web to select their material for “exhibits,” pulling articles, blog posts and videos from around the web; Hopkinsmedicine.org has so much content of its own that we need to curate ourselves!

What is on "permanent exhibit"?

The content one chooses here helps define the nature of the site. For example, the Health Library on hopkinsmedicine.org is part of our “permanent exhibit.” It draws people in, and users know they can count on it being there when they need it. These “permanent exhibits” can provide key places to promote “special exhibits.”

What is on "special exhibit"?

Here, the curator looks at content that already exists and “bubbles it up” at times and places relevant to the user. An example: Imagine that National Stroke Awareness month is approaching. A curator would:

  • pull existing content from the Stroke Center, Health Library and other relevant areas;
  • create a content package that puts these elements in context;
  • highlight the package on relevant pages throughout hopkinsmedicine.org and via social media;
  •  use this time of heightened awareness to drive newsletter signups to stay in touch with the audience concerned about stroke prevention and treatment.

Building Exhibits on Hopkinsmedicine.org

The content team will build out curated content packages over 2013. Look, for instance, for one highlighting recently launched programs and treatments from the Heart and Vascular Institute in time for February, widely recognized as American Heart Month.