From SXSW: Curator’s Code, An Approach For Standardizing Attribution

Whether we label ourselves as “curators” or not, we all do it: reference each other’s blog posts, news articles, tweets, photos. We republish excerpts others’ content and mix in our own thoughts. We find inspiration in one person’s writing that prompts us to write our own manifestos. Those who are Internet-savvy and attribution-conscious know that the best practice is to link back the original sources often, but a “best practice” isn’t a standard, and there’s not a consistent way for publishers across the ‘net to attribute.

Enter: The Curator’s Code. This is one of the curation/aggregation projects out of SXSW that aims to standardize the act of attributing content across the web. The project, launched by Brain Pickings’  Maria Popova, seeks to “Keep the rabbit hole of the Internet open by honoring discovery.”

Standards exist for literary citation, image attribution, and scientific reference, but beyond hyperlinking, there’s no standardized way to denote the “attribution of discovery” in our information economy. That’s what Popova and crew want to change with the Curator’s Code.

So how does it work? There are two symbols to use when blogging, Tweeting or other online publishing:

  1. A sideways “S” figure, which represents an original source (think of it as the the equivalent as a retweet or “via” on Twitter)
  2. A looped arrow, which represents a “hat tip” (as in, “here’s the source who alerted me to this thing I’m linking to” or “here’s the original inspiration for this spinoff idea I had”)

Popova’s announcement of Curator’s Code explains the concept best, and you’ll see below how I’ve integrated the symbols to attribute back to the site that I’m quoting, as well as a hat tip to the source that led me to the Curator’s Code:

One of the most magical things about the Internet is that it’s a whimsical rabbit hole of discovery — we start somewhere familiar and click our way to a wonderland of curiosity and fascination we never knew existed. What makes this contagion of semi-serendipity possible is an intricate ecosystem of “link love” — a via-chain of attribution that allows us to discover new wonderlands through those we already know and trust.

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. New York Times

The site also provides a bookmarklet that can live in your Internet browser so that you can easily access the unicode symbols for attribution when you’re blogging or tweeting. (See image to the right). Publishers can also download badges to display on their sites to identify themselves as supporters of the Curator’s Code.

Unlike standard hyperlinking, this method of standardization doesn’t fit fluidly into a person’s writing. The common use case for the Curtaor’s Code is not for paraphrasing another source, but when you’re directly quoting another source’s chunk of text, like I did in the example above.

This form of standardization also doesn’t account for the varying levels of complexity involved with how we find and share content on the Web. For example, the quote above about Curator Code’s philosophy is directly from Maria’s blog, though I read about the project on The New York Times, but found the NYT link from a colleague via email, and then subsequently read about the project on The Verge, Web Pro News, Design Mind,  Social Media Today and Storify before  ending up at Maria’s post, which prompted me to write this post. The attribution standard allows me to account for the end result of where content was found, but doesn’t give due credit to all the other sources who led me there.  Then again, the role of the curator is to bring the best content to light, so linking back only to parts of that “link love chain” is probably more practical.