Tag Archives: closed systems

Curious Curation: Apple and Facebook

A recent Wired article about something dubbed Curated Computing, made me wonder why people insist on trying to craft new buzzwords for things that already have perfectly good names.

Curators of What Now?

If this keeps up, we’ll be getting our Subway eats curated by Sandwich Fixin Curators.

Talking about “curating functionality” has to be the most pretentious way possible to describe product design. Designers, developers, and engineers are not curating when they develop a solution to a problem. When features and functionality gets cut, it’s not even remotely close to a curator at the Smithsonian deciding which pieces to acquire or study for a collection.

The article tried to frame everything and the kitchen sink as a curator of some sort.

No, Facebook is not a curator of the web. Facebook is primarily an ad channel that collects and leverages user data to sell targeted advertising; Facebook does not even review web submissions from the majority of their content creators, much less curate the web content published on its domain (unless we count removal of TOS violations as “curation” now). It certainly doesn’t curate content on the other billions of domains across the web (though if someone thinks their cousin “liking” a link counts as curation of the web, then this explains why genuine attempts to curate the web have not been very successful).

I recently told my 13-year old not to cuss on Facebook, so I’m probably a Linguistic Curator of the Web now.

Apple and Facebook Curate Proprietary Revenue Streams

Both Apple and Facebook claim they are only censoring, er, curating content and apps to protect users from malicious applications, enforce Terms of Service, and to provide a good experience for their users. Both companies make assumptions about what a good user experience entails (to Apple, this excludes porn apps and to Facebook, this excludes even pictures of mothers breastfeeding babies). Both are making their product design decisions to increase the value of their company. Pleasing users is just one constraint on their designs, not the reason they exist. Both companies are willing to shoulder a little public backlash in order to keep profitable policies in place.

Apple and Facebook build value for their shareholders by delivering just enough user value to lure people in to their closed systems. If you want to envision them as curators, then the best fit would be that Apple and Facebook are curators of proprietary revenue streams.

Apple will even go so far as to claim technology like Adobe Flash is too “buggy” to be on its iPhone OS, but the Apple’s real objection is that Flash would open up content channels that divert sales from proprietary channels like the App Store. So I suppose one could say Apple is curating the most profitable content delivery channels from the ones that only add value for users and companies-that-aren’t-Apple. Facebook has the social graph of over 400 million users locked up tight; it’s probably one of the more valuable collections of personally identifiable data on the web.

But again, those collections are a pitiful stretch of the whole curation concept.

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