The Curator's Code: An Easy Way to Give Credit Where Credit is Due

File this under things I should have written about a long time ago.

The web is the greatest enabler of information discovery we've ever known. It's next to impossible to spend time on the web without discovering something new. That's the very premise that many web entities operate from, in fact.

Regardless of how this discovery plays out (maybe you're a web writer doing research, or a casual web user who happens upon a great story through Twitter), giving credit to the origin of your discovery is a bit of an idiosyncratic process: everyone does it differently, and some don't credit their source at all.

As a web curator—arguably, the most influential curator on the web, in fact—Maria Popova thought a lot about attribution, deciding that what we needed was a standardized way to credit our original sources. The result: the Curator's Code.

As both a consumer and curator of information, I spend a great deal of time thinking about the architecture of knowledge. Over the past year, I’ve grown increasingly concerned about a fundamental disconnect in the “information economy”: In an age of information overload, information discovery — the service of bringing to the public’s attention that which is interesting, meaningful, important, and otherwise worthy of our time and thought — is a form of creative and intellectual labor, and one of increasing importance and urgency. A form of authorship, if you will. Yet we don’t have a standardized system for honoring discovery the way we honor other forms of authorship and other modalities of creative and intellectual investment, from literary citations to Creative Commons image rights.

The method itself is simple. There are two ways to discover information- direct and indirect. Popova created a unique symbol to represent each. The symbols can be inserted directly into web pages in two ways: either through a single line of HTML code, or by using the bookmarklet.

There's an obvious argument against the Curator's Code: don't we already have this with "via" and "HT"?

We do. And those methods are perfectly acceptable, of course.

These characters are just a proposed way of standardizing attribution, and they help spread the broader message of The Curator's Code – but they're not the only way. If you're having technical difficulties, or are confused by them, or just plain don't like them, you can and should just use the standard "via" and "HT" options for direct and indirect attribution of discovery, respectively. The goal here is not to mandate how to attribute, but to encourage to attribute.

So the Code serves two functions: one, it's an attempt at a standard method of attribution. Two, and much more simply, it serves as a reminder to attribute in the first place, regardless of how you do it.

Bottom Line

The Curator's Code is a simple, easy way to credit your sources, which is something the still relatively young web could use more of. Popova repeatedly uses words like "suggested" and "proposed" when describing the Code, driving home the goal of this project, which is not necessarily to make this code the standard method of attribution, but to make regular attribution a more regular part of our daily web lives. Personally, I love the idea, and I'll strive to make it my attribution method of choice.

The Curator's Code