Six Significant Hurdles (to building value from curated collections)

By | July 16, 2014

It seems as though any university, publisher, or professional society should be able create a robust curated collection for education and decision support.  These types of enterprises have most of the right assets and experience. They employ, or have access to, many individuals with directly relevant content knowledge.  They have commercial and organizational experience in knowledge-intensive services such as education, testing and certifying an individual’s competence, or codifying and disseminating knowledge.

Further, the core technological capabilities, from digital authoring and asset management to online communities and adaptive-learning or search-and-recommend technologies, are now inexpensive and easy to access.

As it turns out, however, enterprises considering the development of a commercially viable set of services built on a curated collection face at least six significant hurdles.

The first hurdle is selecting an enterprise model for the collection-based services that meets the needs of a) compensating content authors; b) generating revenue from subscriptions or per-use; and c) engaging both transient and long-lived online communities. This will knock out all but the most innovative and flexible universities and many professional societies.

Publishers have a leg up with regard to the first hurdle as they have a working business model that is similar to what is needed but they come up short (compared to universities) when it comes to the second hurdle: establishing and updating a knowledge map for the field and creating various “paths” through the collection (curricula) that can guide self-paced learners or instructors who want to use the material.

The third hurdle is setting up an editorial/curatorial process to assure the veracity and currency of the content, both initial (solicited) content and user-generated (unsolicited) content. For truly dynamic content, this is as much like traditional editing and curating as speed dating is like a 30-year-long marriage. There are not many organizations outside the new generation of digital publishers who understand how to bring a out a new edition of curated content every few minutes, 365 days a year.

A fourth hurdle is that robust online communities, an integral aspect of virtually every collection-based service offering, need to be programmed, either by a leading expert or by a paid professional (or both).  Simply put, a community programming professional is responsible for creating or orchestrating reasons for users to return to, and engage with the community.  Programming can make or break a community, perhaps even more so than the quality of the content.

Fifth, every collection-based service offering runs the risk of being money-losing vanity press for the organizing entity. Creating a collection, and experimenting with services built on the collection, are only viable strategies if you can attract users in volumes that justify the effort and investment. The branding, marketing, and sales channels for traditional educational offerings, and for professional society or trade association membership, are well understood.  But can entities that are good at these activities mount an effective approach to find, recruit, and retain thousands or tens of thousands users?

Finally, as if to add insult to injury for those who want to dabble or experiment, this is a race where early leaders get a tremendous push forward from users. Adaptive learning technologies and search-and-recommend engines improve the paths through a collection with use and they allow the curator to quickly target needed improvements or refinements to the collection. I am reluctant to say that an early lead in use is unassailable, but it certainly conveys a tremendous advantage in rapid, iterative improvement of a collection and services.

In sum, curated collection-based services innovation is more about establishing an operating entity with the right capability than about technology or content. An effective platform technology and quality content are the ante in this game. The creativity needed is mostly in business and operational processes that that can make a collection and related community activities dynamic and useful to target users.

Many will try and few will succeed.   We’ll see a lot more failures than successes as curated collections disrupt education and decision support worldwide.