Over-egging the Curator’s View


At one time you had to work in a museum to be a curator, but the wonders of information technology mean that now we can all exhibit our technical grasp of complicated topics and elucidate the general population by identifying the optimum resources that help to answer even the most complex of questions.

I'm talking about the new Curah! website here. The idea is simple: a resource that gathers together the questions most commonly asked about computing topics; each with a carefully and lovingly crafted set of links to the most useful blogs, reference documents, tools, and other information that offers a solution to the question.

Anyone can register and create a curation, and the site is optimized for search engines to make it easy to find answers. It's still in beta as I write this, but already has hundreds of answers to common questions. The great thing is that the curations are not just a set of links like you'd get from the usual search engines, which tend to optimize the list based on keywords in the resources, the number of links to them from other pages, and the newness of the content. None of these factors can provide the same level of usefulness as a list compiled by an expert in the relevant topic area who regularly creates and uses information that provides the maximum benefits.

My interest in the Curah! site also comes about partly because I am part of the group that defined the original vision and got it started. I've also added a few curations of my own, which are centered on the topic area that I now seem to have been permanently assigned to - Windows Azure application design and deployment. My regular reader will probably have noticed this from the rambling posts on this blog in the past.

However, one point that concerned me was that, having created my own curations, I am now responsible for maintaining them. As I plan to create more in the future, I was beginning to wonder if I would end up spending all of every Monday just checking and updating them as the target resources move, disappear, or I discover new ones. What I needed was some type of automated tool that would make this job easier. So I built one.

The CurahCheck utility is a simple console-based utility that will check one or more views on the Curah! site by testing all of the links in each curation ID you specify. The curation title and the linked page titles can be displayed to ensure that it is valid and that all of the linked resources are still available. It can also be run interactively, or automatically from a scheduled task.

The utility generates a log file containing details of the checks and any errors found. It can also generate an HTML page for your website that shows the results of the most recent check and the contents of the log file. If you have access to an email server, the utility can send warning email messages when an error is detected in any of the views it scans.

If you are a Curah curationist you can download the utility from here, and use and modify it as you wish. The source project and code for Visual Studio 2012 is included. Before you use it, you'll need to edit the settings in the configuration file to suit your requirements - the file contains full details of the settings required and their effect on program behavior.

Of course, the usual terms and conditions about me not being responsible for any side-effects of using the program, such as your house falling down, your children being eaten by a dinosaur, or your computer bursting into flames, still apply...

Comments (2)

  1. Curious Wiki Ninja says:

    Hello Alex,

    can you explain the difference between Curah and the Technet Wiki?

    On the technet Wiki we already have "a resource that gathers together the questions most commonly asked about computing topics; each with a carefully and lovingly crafted set of links to the most useful blogs, reference documents, tools, and other information that offers a solution to the question."

    And even lot more expert stuff.

    In lots of languages.

    5000 users have contributed 14,000 pages, 100,000+ revisions, and 60,000 comments.

    The Wiki does not have the one point that concerned you "having created my own curations, I am now responsible for maintaining them."

    On the Wiki you work together on content to make it top notch.

    So, why not join Wiki and join the league of experts.

  2. Alex Homer says:

    I'm a big fan of the TechNet wiki, and Curah is not a competitor – its another form of community-generated content designed to complement the others. Its different from the wiki because it is optimized for content curation (through linking) rather than holding the technical content itself. Curah is designed to help people find content on other sites (including the TechNet wiki) while being simple and highly structured so that the lists of links are flexible in how they can be presented as the site evolves. My fault I guess because I concentrated too much on the technical stuff without properly describing what it is!

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