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My Collector’s Code

The Butterfly Collector

I was informed just the other day about The Curator’s Code — a formalised and somewhat over-complicated system, involving special unicode characters generated by a bookmarklet, designed to encourage “curational” bloggers to provide proper attribution to the source of their material.

Whilst I have no doubt its aims are well-meaning, my main objection to The Curator’s Code is not its rather convoluted approach, but its apparent emphasis on the attribution for discovery rather than the more crucially neglected issue of proper attribution for creation.

In light of this I thought I would share with you my process for attribution — a simple little system not involving special characters or secret handshakes — which I call my “Collector’s Code” (because I’m not overly keen on the term “curator”).

My Collector’s Code is aimed at bloggers like me who largely blog visual content, with the aim of ensuring that the link-love is passed-on to the person who truly deserves it… the creator of the original content.

Attribution to the creator

Direct attribution to the creator of the work is the highest priority and also, if possible, to the person who photographed it in the case of a material object, particularly if there is artisitic merit in the way it has been captured. Even if, for example, you find the item on a Tumblr blog and there is no credit to the originator of the work, merely the blogger’s source, Google’s search-by-image service makes it a relatively easy job to hunt down the creator of an image and/or the details of what the image depicts. That image you have just bagged and mounted like a trophy is more than just a piece of tinsel to tittivate up your blog. It’s a unique fingerprint that Google’s pixel-pixies can sift-through, gleaning from it’s DNA all kinds of information that can assist you in finding it’s origin.

“But that all sounds like hard work” I hear you say.

Maybe, yes, but it’s a mere speck compared to the hours, blood sweat and tears invested in creating that bespoke, artisan crafted, hand tooled, unicorn-leather bike saddle you just blogged about, not to mention the lighting, composition and retouching laboured over by the photographer who took that atmospheric promotional shot.

There really is no excuse, other than sheer laziness, not to give credit where credit is due. All you need to do is add a link to the creator’s website and/or in the case of a product, maybe a link to where it can be purchased. It really is nothing less than bloody rude not to.

Attribution to your source

Whilst I don’t think attribution of discovery is as important as attribution of creation, it’s plainly just good manners to give credit to the website where you found the item, particularly if you copy and paste a bit of their descriptive text for your own post. And on that note, please don’t grab the entire text from the source article, even if you do attribute. Always leave the reader of your post wanting more and curious enough to follow the link to the person who put in the work composing that text. A simple credit link at the end of the post is all that’s required. I suggest you prefix this with an easily comprehensible “via” Not a fancy-pants tilde (~) or unicode device, that is in all likelihood going to confuse most readers.

When is it ok not to attribute your source…? Now and again you may forget where you found the stuff you hastily downloaded to your hard-drive and sometimes you may find out about items from multiple sources. On this occasion I think it’s excusable to omit attribution to your source, but please do make the effort to hunt down the creator using Google’s search-by-image. And I personally never credit bloggers who leave no attribution to the creator of any work I find on their blogs — Tumblr bloggers are the worst culprits for this (yes, I’m talking about you Convoy).

That’s it. My Collectors Code. No badge-wearing required.

The rabbit hole of discovery

Don’t let me leave you with the impression my feelings about The Curator’s Code are totally negative. The positive thing about quoting your sources is best summed up by this extract from The Curator’s Code website.

“One of the most magical things about the Internet is that it’s a whimsical rabbit hole of discovery – we start somewhere familiar and click our way to a wonderland of curiosity and fascination we never knew existed. What makes this contagion of semi-serendipity possible is an intricate ecosystem of “link love” – a via-chain of attribution that allows us to discover new sources through those we already know and trust.”

This is something I am in total agreement with. I am fully on-board with the usefulness and kharmic value of propagating link-love. But the notion of  “a system that codifies the attribution of discovery in curation as a currency of the information economy; a system that treats discovery as the creative labour that it is” smacks a little of self-importance and pomposity.

It just remains for me to mention that if you wish to reblog anything you find on my blog, credit me as your source if you wish but I’m really not that bothered if you don’t. I blog this stuff mainly for my own benefit anyway, not as some kind of public service or gift to humanity. Just please ensure you give proper attribution to the originators of the work featured in my posts.

By the way… the cute butterfly collector shown in the image leading this post, is a denizen of the Gopher Hole Museum in Torrington, Alberta and appears courtesy of bealluc.


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