in Internet

The Curator’s Code: An Attempt to Standardize How We Give Credit on the Web

Maria Popova is by far one of my favorite people to follow on Twitter and her blog, Brain Pickings, is a frequently visited website of mine. I was intrigued when I read Popova’s announcement about her latest project, The Curator’s Code, an earnest attempt to standardize how we give credit for content and ideas across the web.

The system employs two Unicode characters:

“stands for “via” and signifies a direct link of discovery, to be used when you simply repost a piece of content you found elsewhere, with little or no modification or addition”

“stands for the common “HT” or “hat tip,” signifying an indirect link of discovery, to be used for content you significantly modify or expand upon compared to your source, for story leads, or for indirect inspiration encountered elsewhere that led you to create your own original content”

 Introducing The Curator’s Code: A Standard for Honoring Attribution of Discovery Across the Web

Both of these symbols can easily be accessed with a simple bookmarklet provided at the top of the Curator’s Code website.

Giving credit to whom it is due for content found on the web has always been an issue, but has come to prominence as of late probably because of services such as Tumblr and Pinterest being added to already turbulent world of internet content occupied by blogs, Twitter, and other social networks.

It is important to note that many of these services already have their own systems of attribution. You can retweet on Twitter, reblog on Tumblr, and bloggers have always included sources by hyperlinking, by including “via” or by using a tilde. The Twitter system in fact was created by the users who themselves wanted to give credit to others and the network has since made official and integrated into the service. It is unlikely that service with an already existent standardized system of credit attribution will adopt a new one, and I’m assure that Popova was probably already aware of that. It is more likely that she was addressing the blogging community that she is a part of where no real standard exists (although, as I have already mentioned credit is often given by the authors via their own system).

However, even in the context of the blogging world there are some issues with adopting Popova’s proposed system of attribution.

  1. Although it employs Unicode characters, they still aren’t characters on your keyboard that can be as easily typed like “via” or “tilde”. The best means of producing them is using the provided bookmarklet, which isn’t an awful method, but probably isn’t the most desirable either.
  2. These symbols may not be as clear as to their meaning if a different systems would have chosen to use, such as the word “via” or “source” as a standard indicator.
  3. The Curator’s Code website is beautifully designed, but it isn’t the best design for getting the information across. Your eyes aren’t drawn to the text and it is most likely overwhelming for some to navigate. People who make their way to the site aren’t as likely to stay and read about it as they would be if they had chosen a simpler, less graphically oriented design.
  4. The wording and explanation given about attributing credit in its various forms could have been simplified so that it could be understood more easily.
  5. The use of language declaring it as an attempt to standardize can invite a defensive attitude towards it. There have already been numerous comments from the blogosphere asking what the point is when we can already link to our sources.

A better goal may have been to provide awareness to the issue of content attribution, providing the user of different ways people borrow from other on the web and providing them with various ways they can appropriately cite them as sources.

All negative points aside, The Curator’s Code is still a great thing that I am certainly in support of and there are some positive notes I’d like to make about it as well.

  1. Even though the goal of the code is to provide a standard system of attribution, even if that this system isn’t adopted, it still helps spread awareness of an issue and addresses a way of solving it.
  2. The inclusion of the hat tip is great! Often people don’t consider giving credit for something indirect, something that merely helped you spark your own original idea or content.

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