What makes up a website these days? For bloggers, it’s an idea, a keyboard, and a publish button. What we once knew to be websites or blogs have evolved into aggregators and curators.
Examples of this sort of website are the Drudge Report and the Huffington Post. There are also websites like Google News, DecaPost and World News (WN) Network where aggregation is entirely automatic, using algorithms which carry out contextual analysis and group similar stories together, and JockSpin, which aggregates and categorizes most headlines automatically, but supplements with manually curated headlines as well as its own articles.
curation of digital assets on the web, often by brands and media companies, into continuous flows of content, turning the user experience from a lean-forward interactive medium, to a lean-back passive medium. The curation of content can be done by an independent third party, that selects media from any number of on-demand outlets from across the globe and adds them to a playlist to offer a digital “channel” dedicated to certain subjects, themes, or interests so that the end user would see and/or hear a continuous stream of content.
There are similarities and it’s easy to argue a definition overlap as it applies to websites, but the examples of each are distinct. Drudge Report and Huffington Post and Business Insider could be described as muck-raking aggregators who feast off original content created by others.
One notable difference is that curated sites often add to the content they curate, while aggregators are more automated, to the point of being accused of hijacking content.
Mathew Ingram at PaidContent outlined the rift between Business Insider, a sensationalist aggregator of the worst order, and Digiday, which creates content.
Plagiarism. Copyright infringement. Traffic hijacking. These are all terms publishers like to use when someone excerpts their content without permission, whether it’s Google News or The Huffington Post. Some digital publishers have different words for it, however: they prefer to call it curation, or aggregation, or just old-fashioned blogging. The latest iteration of this long-standing debate came on Tuesday, when a piece at Digiday about rampant aggregation triggered a Twitter back-and-forth between editor Brian Morrissey and Business Insider founder Henry Blodget.
The tit-for-tat is a worthy read in its own right, but it boils down to this.
It’s probably fair to say that versions of this debate have been going on for almost as long as the web has been around: questions about “link juice” and the “link economy,” in which traffic driven by an aggregator is supposed to make up for the alleged insult of excerpting their content, and so on. The Huffington Post used to be the poster child for what some have called “over-aggregation,” but now that mantle seems to have passed to Business Insider. And some believe that regardless of whether or not such behavior is legal or permitted under copyright law, it is unethical
One problem that has surfaced in this debate is that revenue for all content is often driven by page views. That means creating content of any kind must be done efficiently to survive online, and aggregating content is far more efficient than creating content.
It’s math. It’s less effort to steal a car than to find a job, go to work every day, and pay for a car, insurance, and fuel.
Until the financing model for online media involves something other than pure pageview-driven advertising revenue, aggregation is unlikely to stop. The only protection is to have content whose value can’t be summed up in a screenshot or a paragraph excerpt, and a relationship with your readers that is based on more than just how many pageviews you can generate.
Therein lies another notable difference between Blodget’s Business Insider and Gruber’s DaringFireball. For the former, truth, facts, fiction, sensationalism are merely mechanisms to create revenue. While, for the latter, truth and facts are the building blocks of trust.