Curation: To be, is to be perceived

Because I clearly have way too much time on my hands, I have recently become intrigued with philosophy and some of the conundrums it presents. One of the interesting arguments that got me thinking about content curation of all things was the question “Can something exist without being perceived?” which relates to the work of the Irish Philosopher George Berkeley (Bishop of Cloyne, 1685 – 1753) after whom the University of California Berkeley was named. There are a number of variations on this argument, “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” and related arguments such as “Does observation affect outcome?”.

Now what the heck has this to do with content curation? Well, if we look at the emerging digital reality of the social web where most facts are experienced virtually and not physically, we have to translate the physical reality of perception to a virtual notion. Therefore, if we believe that “to be, is to be perceived” does this mean that content (in which an opinion or fact is generally encoded) doesn’t exist until someone reads it, and the only way we know that something has been read is if its been shared, commented, curated, or tagged. And assuming that “observation affects outcome”, this process of interacting with content fundamentally changes it — giving it color, changing the impact, perspective, credibility, and relevancy of the opinions contained therein, and building the surrounding narrative. Therefore, could we reasonably say that “Content doesn’t exist without Curation?”.

Ok, this is clearly one of my more esoteric blog posts yet, with some reverse engineering of philosophical opinion to suit my agenda, but my circuitous argument does actually come from a sensible place and does have “somewhat” of a point :-)

Over the last few weeks I have been fortunate enough to be able to spend time with some extremely smart folks across in the area of Digital Arts & Humanities who were interested in the nature of opinion, how to discover opinion, how to rank it, how to position it against other opinion, so that we can essentially harvest vast quantities of information from the social web and make sense of it. The ability to integrate disparate opinions, in order to present a consistent perspective, requires integration of…

    • The narrative within which the opinion is expressed — related opinions expressed within the article, tone, background of speaker, etc.
    • The narrative around which external opinion is shared “the social dialog” — who agrees, why do they agree, what is their background, do they have alterior motives, are they credible, etc.

    Most of today’s analytics treats discovered facts as discrete units that can be pulled out of the narrative without loosing meaning, however in many cases this is clearly not the case. This challenge of capturing and representing the network of opinions to present a more complete “narrative sensitive” picture will be critical for future analytics.

    I am not claiming to know how we are going to solve this challenge. Clearly it requires contextual analytics which maintains the paths through which a fact was deduced and some visualization & navigation techniques to allow this narrative to be integrated into the presentation of results. However, I do believe that solve it we must.

    And on that less than helpful note I will end this very rambling blog post! And also wish you all a very Happy New Year, may 2012 be a great one!


    3 Responses to “Curation: To be, is to be perceived”

    1. Hi Marie – agree with your insightful conclusion i.e next gen analytic solutions will show contextually relevant patterns with associated facts and data subsets with appropriate visualization & navigation to allow narrative to be integrated.


    2. Tks. Its an interesting problem that I really hadn’t given too much thought until I the question of the narrative was raised as part of the humanities research scenario. Its also a challenge that’s been raised within the financial research space and I expect is an issue in a broader set of scenarios.



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