I’ve always admired how private publishers made it possible for professionals to access tax, legal and regulatory content. Their role was primarily aggregation and distribution through print. But they also curated. Looseleaf publishing, which required editorial expertise, made it possible to reconcile topically published content with chronologically published updates, all under a single topical classification scheme relevant to a specific area of law. Publishers made a choice as to how to organize content in looseleafs as well what to include and exclude, based on a deep understanding of professional customers’ needs. Technology later made it possible to digitize hardbound & looseleaf print volumes, thus making it accessible through full-text & fielded-metadata search.
Today we see ever more metadata-rich content available from government Websites. Federalregister.gov (US) and Overheid.nl (Netherlands) are two such examples. The question arises: if governments are supplying the content, what is the role of publishers?
In today’s digital world, they can choose where to federate a professional customer’s search query – beyond the digitized looseleaf to relevant government sites, social media feeds, and any other content on the Web. They can also organize links to public domain content alongside links to their own content. Publishers can also organize both their own content and public-domain content on the Web under a common topical classification scheme.
The availability of free content through full-text and fielded-metadata search still does not mean it is actionable. At least in the US, chronologically published content updates topically published content. The chronologically published Federal Register updates the Code of Federal Regulations and United States Public Laws update the United States. But go take a look at a CFR section or a United States Code section at a free government site. You will not see a link to any chronologically published updates. By contrast, publishers will link to the relevant updating content. Free government sites do not indicate when content from the judicial branch of government negatively or positively interprets content from the legislative branch. Publishers still provide that value. That is a sophisticated form of curation.
I also view the evolution of publishers into software and services providers as another form of curation. Publishers have learned how to map professional customers’ workflows, identify standardized tasks and convert many of them to software applications. Curation today increasingly involves creating software-based workflows supported by content. But for tasks that cannot be represented in software-based workflows, those tasks that are ambiguous and require lots of research, reading and analysis, the traditional content-curation role remains essential. But it’s now a digital world.