Monday, January 25, 2010

Aggregators aggregating the aggregators

I can't help but laugh at the number of aggregators that have sprung up. An aggregator, of course, searches the web for relevant content and links to it, often without adding more content or commenting on the original post.

There is nothing wrong with aggregation -- in fact, I think it still needs to grow, but more on that in the days to come.  But there is such a thing as bad aggregation: that is when one either 1) grabs a large amount of the content simply to populate their own site; or 2) wrongly identifies the original source of the material by linking to a secondary source.

Here is a good example: Poynter has created a new mobile media column that is aggregating stories. Romenesko has been doing a great job of this for years with newspaper news, and I suppose there is a need for this in the mobile space. But already, on Day One, there are obvious problems. This story refers to this content. But the source of the content is from MediaWeek. Then there is this story which does properly identify the original source, but it also links to this one, which adds nothing to the original story.

The aggregators are aggregating the aggregators who are trying to take advantage of the original content.  But I suppose this isn't new, but it is getting frustrating for readers, and someone who is researching a topic. Readers have to click multiple times just to get to the original story. And all the while the aggregator has nothing to add to the original content.

For the Murdochs of the world the answer to stopping the aggregators is the pay wall. I'm still undecided on the issue -- actually not undecided but of two minds. I think publishers who have valuable content should feel free to charge for it, but don't be surprised if the value of that content turns out to be less than you think. On the other hand, free content drives traffic which drives page views and unique users which is supposed to drive advertising.

So what's a web publisher to do? That's where the story I wrote Sunday and posted this morning might be handy: it stresses that in tablet/e-reader publishing design will be vitally important -- not only from an aesthetics point of view, but from a technical one. Art directors will be called upon to do much more in a multimedia environment like a tablet than the words and pictures only formula of print, and they will need to be trained to do this.

How does one aggregate content from this site? Good luck. You can take a few sentences if you want, but an aggregator would have to properly link back to the original site to give the reader any sense of the original story.  I'm looking forward to online content that will rival print for thoroughness and readability -- the web is not giving us that because it is often a CliffsNote's version of the original content. Maybe a new revolution in multimedia electronic publishing might finally produce a true rival to print.