Curation FTW and the End of References

August 07, 2011 📬 Get My Weekly Newsletter

Museums aren’t the only things curated anymore - now, everything is!

If there were a “trending word” of the decade leading up to this one, it would be “curated”. Although I’d heard the word before its launch, the iOS App Store certainly brought it to the forefront of everyone interested in technology.

However, it’s a concept that’s been around forever. I posted this picture on Instagram a few months ago titled “A study in usability”:

This is a device my wife got from her dad that allows you to “look up” the recipe for about 80 different cocktails. You find the one you want on the front, and turn a dial, which reveals the recipe in the small window in the center. Old school and retro, it adds some nostalgia to our home bar setup.

Compare this to a book of cocktail recipes I’ve had for quite sometime:

It has hundreds, if not thousands of cocktail recipes. It is, in every way, far superior to the Bar Aid, right? It has more recipes, it has several indeces, and it has plenty of space to describe how to make the cocktail in question.

The Bar Aid is actualy much more usable, and gets a lot more use when I’m at the bar. Why?


The Bar Aid is, for all intents and purposes, a curated list of cocktails. It’s not only a list of 80 popular and common cocktails, but it’s also a list of 80 cocktails whose recipe fits in a 5”x1” window. Common and simple. It has never steered me wrong.

What if I want a cocktail not on the list, or if I have a strange ingredient and want to see what cocktails I can make with it? Do I reach for the “Ultimate A-Z Bar Guide”? Not often. I usually reach for the Internet (yes Google). The Internet is my new reference guide. It has more information and choices than any reference I have at home, and is infinitely searchable.

In this modern age we live in, references, like the A-Z Guide, are useless when compared to the Internet. They’re also useless compared to curated material like the Bar Aid. When I want to look up a “good cocktail”, I can quickly flip through the Bar Aid and find something easy to make. When I need something more involved, I’ll hit Google.

I find this fascinating and I think it’s a big problem for creators of reference materials of any kind. I don’t need 100 of Gordon Ramsay’s best dishes, I need his 20 best starters. I don’t want to know how Roger Ebert rated every movie of the last century, but I’d love to know his 10 best straight-to-video releases.

I think this is a great way for those knowledgable on something to spread that knowledge and create interest in their field. Focused, curated information is going to continue to be important. It’s just too hard to search the Internet when you only want “something good”, and a reference book is too limiting when you want to hunt down something specific.

Since I’m a huge nerd who recently spent a few hours in Ground Kontrol, I’ll leave you with my curated list of 80s video games that are the easiest and most fun to play:

  • Centipede - fast, great sound FX, lots of shooting
  • Frogger - great music, colorful, easy to grok, hard to master
  • Ms. Pac Man - AMAZING sound, nonviolent, rewarding
  • Star Wars (the vector one) - vector graphics are so great, sound design and music is wonderful, and the controls are natural and fun
  • Super Sprint - fast-paced car racing that’s just realistic enough to be challenging, but not so much that you’re bored
  • Tempest - abstract vector graphics and premise; just shoot things with satisfying sound effects
  • Tron - four awesome games in one; you get to be the light cycle, fight tanks, and kill that pesky MCP.