Digital Curation Is a Key Service in Attention-Strapped Economy writes advertising guru Steve Rubel, in the 22nd November 2009 issue of AdAge

“… whatever time remains up for grabs [ after we finish Googling and Facebooking ] will likely to flow to human-powered or automated sites that curate content in high-interest niches. Smart companies are already seeing this and staking their claim to categories. […] It’s clear to me, a least, that digital curation — both automated and human-powered — will be the next big thing to shake the web. There’s an evergreen need for those who can separate art from junk online. However, in this era, journalists won’t be the only ones to fulfill it. Brands, as the examples above illustrate, can play here too.”

It’d certainly be nice to think than brands might commission and sponsor the long-term curation of online resources, in the face of massive public funding cuts to existing academic services that are looming in 2010 and 2011. But I’m not holding my breath for it.

I suspect that such brand-based curation will be the equivalent of “pop-up shops” on the High Street — speedily taking advantage of an empty gap for a short while, until the marketing department has ticked all the right boxes, and then vanishing. And I doubt we’ll see ad agency bosses trawling the local libraries for potential curators — they’d be hiring someone more along the lines of the head copywriter’s niece, if not just passing it along to the unpaid intern.

Although I can see a niche for independent medium-sized firms. Imagine a major garden tools firm undertaking to sponsor a lovely-looking “art and history of topiary” website for three years — with online exhibitions of public domain material from archives, contemporary photo galleries, curated links pages and blogs, Flickr streams, and perhaps even the first issue of an elegantly-presented historical research journal on the topic?