You could argue the ability to easily repurpose content has been fundamental to the success of the Internet. A small percentage of people create new content and then the masses quote, blog and mash it up. Content mobility is good, but the rampant re-sharing common online is not without its problems like how to reuse content fairly and “give props” to the original author. Will the new Curator’s Code system make a difference?

Standardizing Attribution

South by Southwest Interactive (SxSWi) isn’t only about free liquor and partying with thousands of other techies until the wee morning hours. Companies use the event to introduce new products and features, entrepreneurs seek funding and use the massive collective brain power as a sounding board, and attendees gain new perspectives from panelists and other attendees.

So, it’s not too surprising that a few innovative ideas would emerge in an environment crammed with so much concentrated knowledge. That’s exactly what’s happened around curation.

Content curation has been a big topic at SxSWi. Panels like

and even a curation themed meet up explored how content is being reused online, the differences between curation and aggregation, the ethical implications of making money for packaging up other people’s work and what it means for the value content. 

Saturday, New York Times reporter and blogger David Carr, technical journalist and Brain Pickings creator Maria Popova and a few other panelists discussed the relationship between curators and original content publishers in a session titled, “The Curators and the Curated.”

The discussion was spirited; writers expressed how frustrated they were at having their content reused without attribution or compensation, and curators explained how they were really doing publishers a favor by exposing their work. A sarcastic Carr eventually exclaimed,

I feel like such a token. I’m so glad you are here to repackage and repurpose me. You also remove the ads, which is how I eat.”

Gee, thanks, or as my colleague Sharon Fisher often says, “You can die from exposure.”

The panel was interesting, but the big news came after the conference. Maria Popova and designer Kelli Anderson announced the launch of Curator’s Code, an effort to standardize how content discovery is attributed. Popova said,

The Curator’s Code is an effort to keep this whimsical rabbit hole open by honoring discovery through an actionable code of ethics -- first, understanding why attribution matters, and then, implementing it across the web in a codified common standard, doing for attribution of discovery what Creative Commons has done for image attribution.”

The Future of Attribution

The Curator’s Code project encourages websites to standardize how they attribute content. The project currently supports two types of attribution, each represented by a Unicode character. The first, ᔥ ,is shorthand for “via.” The symbol signifies a direct link to content, and sites should use it when reposting content without significantly modifying it. 


(source: Curator's Code)

The second symbol, ↬, is used to specify a “hat tip,” which is journalism lingo for a lead or indirect source.


(source: Curator's Code)

The project also includes a number of resources such as bookmarklets and a badge pack that lets sites show their support for the effort. Curator’s Code has generated a lot of conversation analyzing, supporting, disagreeing and mocking the effort.

In addition to the Curator’s Code effort, Simon Dumenco of Advertising Age announced the Council on Ethical Blogging and Aggregation after his SxSWi panel “Is Aggregation Theft.” Big name publishers like The New York Observer, Esquire and the Atlantic have already signed on to participate.

I think both of the efforts are commendable, but they are far from a complete solution to the challenges of giving credit online. As semantic technology and text analytics mature, I think we will see a much more sophisticated solution emerge that doesn't rely on the honor system, such as search providers providing some indication of attribution and authenticity in results.