There's a difference between curation and censorship

The following views are those of Lauren Rabaino. I do not speak on behalf of my employers or other associations. I just speak for myself. Today ZDNet published a post that suggested Apple's process of rejecting apps is somehow "curation." Dozens of people are retweeting that link, probably because it's about Apple and because it contains the "curation" buzzword.

However, there's a difference between curation and censorship, and I wouldn't even call it a "fine line" that separates the two. They are different things.

What Apple does with its app store is not curation.

I'm not claiming that Apple necessarily censors, but their app approval process is closer to censorship than it is to curation. Here's a list of apps that have been rejected in the past few months:

These are just a few examples, of course. But none of these examples have anything to do with Apple wanting its users to have a "high quality experience"  as Mr. Foremski suggested in his ZDNet post.  These examples show that Apple is self-interested and controlling. If Apple wanted its users to have a high-quality experience, they would have approved the Google Voice app, for example.

5/3/2010 Update: Here's another example. This week Apple rejected a Programming Language for Kids app (hat tip to Greg Linch):

[...] it's an indication of the challenges of working with products by companies like Apple, where one of the world's great programming languages can't run on one of the world's most popular platforms.

Curation is about choosing the best of the best. Curation is about finding the signal in the noise. Apple does this by having a "featured" apps section on its homepage. That's where curation should happen. If Apple let through all the apps which met the basic technical and aesthetic requirements (of which should also be made public, not based on random whims of the Apple team), then users and Apple could curate. That curation would manifest in the hand-picked "Featured" apps panel and the "Top 25" page of the app store that is based on user ratings/downloads.

Furthermore, Mr. Foremski's comparisons between Google and Apple are totally off.

In his ZDNet post, he implies that because Google doesn't curate content, their process is somehow less valuable than Apple's:

Comparing the two companies’ strategies, it can be seen that the Apple approach requires more work but earns Apple 50% more in revenue share. It also results in an excellent customer experience because Apple actively curates iPad/iPhone content.

Google doesn’t care if the Internet user comes across a spammy site carrying Google ads, it doesn’t care if an Android app is great or bad. That hands-off policy can also be seen with YouTube and the trouble it got into in Italy, where an Italian court convicted Google execs of publishing a video showing the abuse of a handicapped child.

Google does care. That's why Google has an algorithm. Their algorithm strives to ensure that quality content makes its way to the top. Although the process is automated, Google still has an interest in quality. Then users can layer curation on top of the algorithm, say, using a tool like Publish2 (yes, I'm allowed to plug my own company).

And finally, my last gripe with this ZDNet piece is that he makes financial claims that aren't backed:

And Apple’s approach has created tremendous value for its shareholders. If you bought AAPL stock on the same day Google went public you would be far richer today than buying GOOG. AAPL recently passed MSFT in terms of market capitalization.

Apple is creating more shareholder value than Google because of its active curation of its platforms.

Active curation creates value.

Really? Shareholder value is a direct result of "curation?" APPL stock is worth more than GOOG because they arbitrarily accept/reject apps? I'd like to see the proof of causation on that one.

The Apple approach can be seen elsewhere, such as on Facebook, where people choose which content to share, what to publish on their pages; it can be seen in Twitter where the content is hand selected by humans (mostly); it can be seen in people’s blogs; it can be seen on Techmeme where 6 editors choose the content.

Active curation creates value.

And where do users find that content from whence to begin curating? Google. Curation is valuable in these contexts because content is being curated collectively by our social circles. In the case of Facebook, content is curated by our friends and family. In the case of Twitter, content is curated by the professionals we follow. In these cases, we choose who we let into our circles because we trust them.

If we don't like the way our social circle curates, we can unfollow them or defriend them. We can find new curators to balance out the biases. We, the users, have control of the curation, and that's when it's valuable-- not when it's some patched up game of business that happens behind closed doors.