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DigitalNow 2012: Learning to Become Content Curators

In a world drowning in data, the phrase “surfing the web” now sounds quaint, Steven Rosenbaum said in the closing session at DigitalNow 2012, held on April 25–28 at the Disney Contemporary Resort Convention Center in Orlando’s Walt Disney World.

The huge wave of digital information that comes our way every day is growing at a rate that isn’t sustainable, said Rosenbaum, author of Curation Nation: How to Win in a World Where Consumers Are Creators.  “How many of you check your email in the middle of the night?” he asked the audience.  “As a culture, we are falling off a cliff.  There’s too much noise — and too little of it is relevant.”

But the data deluge, he added, gives associations a unique opportunity: to cut through the clutter and funnel meaningful information to their overwhelmed members.  “The asset that associations bring to the party is quality and depth within a narrow focus,” he said.  “The world needs thoughtful filters.” Associations won’t succeed by cranking out more and more content, Rosenbaum predicted, but by using their deep knowledge of their members’ needs and interests to tailor information to fit.  “Content is no longer king,” he said.  “Curation is king.”

Co-produced by Fusion Productions and the Disney Institute, DigitalNow was one of the first conferences to apply the word “digital” to meetings when it launched 12 years ago.  This year’s conference brought more than 300 association and nonprofit leaders to Walt Disney World, where the conversation centered less on the mechanics of technology than on the ways in which it can be used to connect members and personalize information.

That shift was reflected in the conference’s breakout sessions, which offered case studies on such topics as segmenting information to meet member needs and building engaged online communities.  DigitalNow also partnered with Association Media & Publishing to develop content that addressed digital publishing platforms and strategy, including a plenary and breakout session with Samir Husni, a professor of journalism and director of the Magazine Innovation Center at the University of Mississippi.

Like Rosenbaum, Husni stressed the importance of content curation.  Now that anyone can be a content creator, he said, editors and publishers “have to be experience makers.  Get your audience addicted by bringing back creativity.” Husni also urged publishers to recognize that they are not dealing with monolithic audiences who all want the same thing.  “The No.  1 demand of readers is choice,” he said.  “And control.”

“In the last decade, digital became very, very personal,” Silicon Valley– based tech strategist Geoffrey Moore observed during DigitalNow’s opening general session.  The IT systems developed in earlier decades were built as systems of record, he said.  They transformed the world, but “you were expected to learn the systems — the systems weren’t supposed to learn you.”

The rise of broadband, enabling video and interactive platforms like Skype, and social-media platforms including Facebook, have changed the rules again, making technology “much, much more immediate and emotional,” Moore said.  Organizations now face the challenge of re-engineering their technology to perform not just as systems of record, but as “systems of engagement,” he said.  “It’s a lot of work.”

A pre-conference tour for media included behind-the-scenes glimpses at how Disney World incorporates technology into its operations, such as a 3-D printer that uses plastic resin to fabricate small equipment parts and QR codes that bring photographs to life, via embedded links to animations.

At a memorable media breakfast, the gleaming stainless-steel surfaces in the Contemporary Resort’s convention center kitchen and the chef’s whites worn by Executive Chef Robert Gilbert and his team lent a laboratory-like flavor to a bravura demonstration of molecular gastronomy that included Mickey Mouse–shaped waffles served with “butter powder” and “milk air.”

The culinary team’s inventiveness continued throughout DigitalNow: At breaks, attendees were offered choices that include guava-juice shots with pomegranate ice and lime air, flambé donut holes, and blueberry- and cherrypie milkshakes.

On DigitalNow’s final evening, attendees mingled over cocktails and dinner amid the aquatic exhibits at The Living Seas at EPCOT — with a visit by a scuba-diving Mickey Mouse — before dessert with an al fresco finale, the IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth fireworks and laser show.

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Barbara Palmer

Barbara Palmer is senior editor and director of digital content.