A fundamental part of content curation is adding annotation and commentary to third-party content that you choose to share. It’s easy for novice curators to simply focus on finding and sharing relevant content while forgetting to annotate their content with their own perspectives.
Why it’s important to annotate your content
But annotating your content is crucial for a few reasons:
Curata’s second annual shows that content curation continues to grow in popularity year over year. Given that, just like you there are will be others who are curating the same content as you to their audience. To standout from the rest, adding thoughtful commentary is important to demonstrating your expertise in a subject and sharing your point of view. Thoughtful commentary is a key aspect that separates a retweet bot from an emerging thought leader.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO).
With Google’s increased attention for duplicate content, curators have to be particularly mindful of how much content they excerpt from a third-party article. If you excerpt a majority or large portion of the original article without proper link attribution, you are putting yourself at risk for search engine ranking penalization by Google. However, by keeping your excerpts to a minimal level, and adding value-added commentary, Google will recognize your curation effort as an original content. Furthermore, your commentary enables you to incorporate other search keywords that never occurred in the original article.
Fair Use & Ethics.
When using other people’s content, one has to be respectful of fair-use and copyright law. Kimberley Isbell of Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab recommended five best practices to abide by fair use. Of them, the last emphasized the role of annotations and commentary: “Whenever possible, provide context or commentary for the material you use.” For further reading, see my extended post about fair use, copyright and ethics for content curation.
In many ways, annotations go back to the heart of curation in the offline world, predating content curation in the online world. In museums, one of the primary functions of the art curator is not only to select which works of art should be put on display, and how they should be placed within the museum, but also to annotate the art with narratives on “didactic labels” that describes the source and significance of the work of art.
Templates & Examples for Content Annotation
For demonstration purposes, let’s consider the an article from the Atlantic Wire about a family who searched for “Pressure Cookers” on Google and was later visited by the police. In the rest of this post, I will describe a few templates and techniques that you may want to use to help you annotate your curated content, here are a few examples along with the pluses and minuses of each technique.
As we dive into each technique, I’ve created this handy 2×2 to help you determine which annotation strategy is right for you.
Strategy 1: Abstracting
Most novice curators simply excerpt a portion the original article by reposting the title, the first few sentences, and perhaps an image from the article as shown below. Less ethics conscious curators, may even unknowingly share a full-size image and lengthier excerpt putting that at risk for copyright infringement by sharing too much of the original content.
Michele Catalano was looking for information online about pressure cookers. Her husband, in the same time frame, was Googling backpacks. Wednesday morning, six men from a joint terrorism task force showed up at their house to see if they were terrorists. Which prompts the question: How’d the government know what they were Googling?
Effort: LOW. You basically have to cut & paste. Many content curation tools will do this for you.
SEO Value: LOW. You’re not at risk of duplicate content because you’re only sharing a small portion of text, but it doesn’t help you a whole lot either.
Value Add: LOW. You’re helping uncover and surface relevant content for your reader, but not providing much other value in term of commentary or annotation.
Strategy 2: Summarizing
In this example, the curator writes up a short synopsis of the article. While abstracting may also result in a summary of the article, the author is writing a completely new summary that is not found in the article.
The Altantic Wire reports on how a family received a visit from the police after searching on Google for ‘pressure cookers’ and later for ‘backpacks’. In light of the Edward Snowden PRISM and XKeystore revelations, many suspects that this is an outcome of the NSA’s PRISM program. What’s more disturbing is that such searches are conducted 100 times a week according to the article.
Effort: MEDIUM. The curator writes an original summary of the article.
SEO Value: HIGH. If done correctly, the abstract is all new and original content that can’t be found on any other page online, which is considered unique content for a search engine. Furthermore, it provides the opportunity to insert additional keywords.
Value Add: MEDIUM. For the end reader, the value add by the curator is moderate. The curator is helping to condense a larger article into a quick reader, but it’s offering no new information or perspective on behalf of the curator.
Strategy 3: Quoting
Quoting is a popular method of annotating a third party article using the html tag that’s commonly used on sites like The Daring Fireball and Slashdot. The curator finds an interesting block of text from the article that doesn’t necessarily summarize the article but has an interesting perspective. Then they wrap their commentary around it. In many ways it’s similar to pull quotes you may have seen in print magazine that some provocative and interesting aspects of a larger article. We also follow this on our curation industry blog, Content Curation Marketing.
The Atlantic Wire reports on how a family received a visit from the police after searching on Google for ‘pressure cookers’ and later for ‘backpacks’. There’s a humorous explanation as to why they purchased a pressure cooker and the police’s line of questioning:
They were peppering my husband with questions. Where is he from? Where are his parents from? They asked about me, where was I, where do I work, where do my parents live. Do you have any bombs, they asked. Do you own a pressure cooker? My husband said no, but we have a rice cooker. Can you make a bomb with that? My husband said no, my wife uses it to make quinoa. What the hell is quinoa, they asked. …
It’s scary to think of a world where an innocent online search can get you a visit from the cops. On the other hand, there is a legitimate concern that this behavior was reminiscent of the Boston Marathon bombings. Where do we draw the line between personal privacy and national security?
Effort: MEDIUM. The curator first has to read the article and find an interesting quote, then add their commentary around it.
SEO Value: HIGH. The value is relatively high because there’s a good deal of original commentary, but it’s mixed with a quote that came from another article.
Value Add: HIGH. Quoting is valuable for the reader because it lets them focus on just a key part of the article and quickly understand the curator’s point of view before reading the full article.
Strategy 4: Re-titling
With retitling the curator simply creates a provocative title that expresses a point of view and may get a lot of clickthroughs. It’s particularly effective if you’re sharing on social media. A great example of a curation site that solely re-titles content for editorial spin is the Drudge Report. Retitling can also be used in conjunction with other annotation techniques listed in this article but sometimes may be enough by itself. It’s also very useful for mobile curation sites.
Effort: LOW. All you do is have to change the title.
SEO Value: MEDIUM. By creating an original title, you can incorporate your own keywords and use curation to help your search ranking. At the same time, there’s very little content for search engines to index.
Value Add: LOW. The curator is adding little value because they have so little screen space to express their perspective.
Strategy 5: Storyboarding
The curator stitches together multiple pieces of content such as article abstracts, videos, tweets, and audio clips to tell a story interweaved with their own commentary. At the end you come up with a mash-up and narrative for a larger story. Here’s an example of one created about the Google Moto X Smartphone.
Effort: HIGH. You have to scour the web for multiple pieces of content, not just a single article, write a cohesive commentary, and outline your idea ahead of time.
Value Add: HIGH. Though you are heavily relying on other people’s content, you are essentially creating a piece of new long form content with a lot of your perspective.
Strategy 6: Parallelizing
With parallelizing, the curator takes a piece of content that is seemingly unrelated to their topic of interests, but then writes a summary explaining the significance of the third party content and how it relates to them and their audience. For example below, you can imagine a Virtual Private Network (VPN) technology providor may curate the article (see the example below) and relate it back to their business. It’s great for topics where there isn’t a lot of directly relevant content to begin with. Furthermore, it enables a curator to tie their point of view to a much larger topic or issue in the vein of “newsjacking.”
The Atlantic Wire e reports on how a family received a visit from the police after searching on Google for ‘pressure cookers’ and later for ‘backpacks’. This highlights the growing need for stronger encryption of searches by setting your defaults to use HTTPS and SSL encrypted connections. Fortunately, Google offers this, but many other providers do not. Furthermore, Google does not by default load the search engine with HTTPS enabled, so most laypeople do not know that it’s available.
With the increase in cases like this where an innocent family was harassed by the police based on their internet search behavior, hopefully the general public will be more aware of the need for encryption. At the end of the day though, simple HTTPS will not suffice for most sites. They best approach is to use a dedicated VPN tunnel so all your traffic is encrypted and anonymized.
Effort: MEDIUM. Parallelizing is similar to summarization where the curator is writing a new summary.
SEO Value: HIGH. It’s high value because they can latch on to a larger story and newsjack those keywords. In this example, the curator tied VPNs to a larger story about Google searches and privacy incorporating those words into their summary.
Value Add: HIGH. It’s high value because the curator is helping make an original connection with a seemingly unrelated article. It’s a unique point of view that’s unlikely to be found anywhere else and can get your visitors to keep coming back to you.
Now that you’ve got the right technique for annotating curated content, I’d recommend you download our Content Curation Look Book to see how other real world companies are curating successfully.