A trade journal of a still-emerging field, written by Adam Tinworth.

Posts tagged aggregation


Has our lust for innovation made us move on from ideas too quickly? I’ve been mulling that over for most of the day, since I read Charlie Wurzel’s long piece on Gabe Rivera and Techmeme. Unless you’re a blogger of a certain vintage, you’re probably thinking “who?” right now. And that’s fine – he runs a niche site, but a hugely influential niche site:

Mark Zuckerberg and Sundar Pichai are both confessed readers, as are LinkedIn’s Jeff Weiner, former PayPal exec and current Facebook Messenger head David Marcus, former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, and Microsoft’s Satya Nadella. Hunter Walk, a former product manager at YouTube turned seed-stage venture capitalist, told me he checks the site three to five times daily. “It’s one of my first morning sites,” he told me over email. “My perception is that lots of us [in Silicon Valley] use it.”

Techmeme is that most-old fashioned of digital things, an aggregator. It makes editorial decisions with algorithmic support over what the most important stories of the day are – and then links to all the discussion around that core story. That combination – of ranking and connection – is utterly compelling and all too little replicated anywhere else.

There are many people trying to find ways of surfacing the “best” or “most important” stories of the day – usually through algorithms, although I still favour the human-curated element through either newsletters or (whisper it) blogs. In many ways, it’s the second element of Techmeme – that’s so interesting – connecting together the conversations.

Conversational connectivity

Techmeme at work

In digital content circle, we talk a lot about “content atomisation”, the idea that the publishing packages of the past have been atomised into individual articles found via search or social. In a sense, what Techmeme does is reconnect those atoms into molecules of news, allowing you to track not just the most popular articles, but to explore the interconnections between them and other articles, which respond to them or follow them up. Thos connections both inform the ratings, but also guide to the reader into the broader context of the story.

It’s such a compelling idea that I’m surprised that nobody is really working on it in any other way. A decade back, the blog platform makers were really interested in connecting up conversations online. That led to the advent of standards like Trackback and Pingback, both of which got steadily buried under ever-increasing volumes of spam. And, to add to the woes, much of the discussion around any single article is now buried away in private spaces like Facebook.

But still, it seems a strange gap in the technology of the web that it’s surprisingly hard for the casual reader to easily find responses and follow-ups to something they’ve read.

And, it seems to me, that such a system might be a very handy tool in the war on intentionally misleading news.

How journalists behave when your video goes viral

Journalist Marc Settle found his video suddenly of great interest to a wider new media than just his employer, the BBC:

Broadly, their behaviour fell in to one of three categories:

a) Journalists working for sites who tweeted me to ask to use my video in some form and to whom I said “yes”.

b) Those who tweeted me and to whom I didn’t reply for various reasons (more on this in a moment), who went ahead and used it anyway.

c) Those who didn’t even bother to ask and used it anyway.

I find it hard to criticise those outlets that simply embedded Marc’s original tweet, because by sharing things on Twitter you grant permission for that. Those outlets that appear to have republished the video? Those are the ones that bother me.

More significantly, the insight into the exhausting and overwhelming effects of this level of media attention for a simple video is something we should all be aware of.

Twitter is revamping its custom timelines

Twitter is making some changes to its embeddable custom timelines, a useful curation-and-publication tool:

As a result, the new timeline has a clean, modern design that blends seamlessly into any page on your site. It’s fully responsive, too, so it looks great at any size. And we think it will delight your users with expanded photos, videos, polls, and cards. We’ve also removed the old ‘hide media’ option to put sharing front and center on every Tweet, so that it’s easier than ever for people to engage with your content.

Hits on March 3rd (tomorrow as I write this).

Jean-Louis Gassée:

But ask a computer scientist for the meaning of meaning, for an algorithm that can extract the meaning of a sentence and you will either elicit a blank look, or an obfuscating discourse that, in fact, boils down to a set of rules, of heuristics, that yield an acceptable approximation. As times goes by, the rule book gets thicker, but meaning remains elusive. Google Translate, an algorithm that many consider to be the most prominent Machine Learning engine on the planet, stumbles on a simple sentence such as “les poules couvent au couvent” (“hens hatch in the convent”), tripped up by a grade school word equivalence

A good read (which I’ve had hanging about in a tab for far too long), on the battleground where solutions to the attention crisis are devised and tested…

One photographer has had enough of a viral content site nicking his photos:

California-based photographer Jeff Werner has filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against the popular website ViralNova for publishing (and profiting from) his photos without his permission.

Exhibit B

Theft is not curation. Somewhere along the line, the arguments we made a decade ago about curation and aggregation being valuable service to the reader in an age of information overload got corrupted. The bastard offspring of those arguments are these “viral content” outfits, which are, essentially, indulging in wholesale content theft.

It’s not what we called aggregation, which existing in the spirit of pointing people to good things on the internet. These outfits are just lifting good things from the internet – and monetising them. I suspect – and hope – we’ll see more court cases like this – and some punitive victories from the courts.

Here’s a good rule of thumb if you want determine if you’re curating or stealing:

  • Are you just reproducing someone’s work? You’re stealing.
  • Are you quoting someone’s work, and encouraging people to check out the original? You’re curating.


You can see the full complaint at PetaPixel.

Under construction in Madrid

Sometime around a decade ago, I was starting my journey from full time journalist (features editor on Estates Gazette) to the specialist in digital media transformation and development I’ve become over the last decade.

If there’s one lesson I’ve learned over that decade it’s this:

Trust your instincts. Act on them. But test and refine them.

A decade ago, I didn’t have that confidence. I let myself get talked into doing things I knew were a mistake by more senior voices that knew less about emergent media than I did – but were “experts” (whatever that means in a constantly shifting media landscape). One major example of that has, thankfully, faded from the internet.

My big blogging failure

For a brief while in 2005, I tried to write a blog for Estates Gazette – and it was godawful. The crappy platform – Community Server, which was never good at blogging – didn’t help, but the core problem was the central idea was wrong. I was pushed into doing a newsy blog, but I wasn’t working on the news team, who were unconvinced by the whole blogging thing anyway, so were unlikely to be feeding me material.

Ironically, I’d been writing successfully about real estate here on this blog for years at this point. But that editorial definition imposed on me meant that I actually ended up producing something that, despite the name and backing of a big media brand, attracted less traffic than my personal blog. And that was one of my earliest lessons on how fragile brand value can be in the digital transition – if the digital product isn’t top notch. And believe me, it wasn’t. I was briefly the world’s worst property blogger, baffling the people who had been reading me on the topic on my own blog.

The poor EG Blog starved to death, and its digital corpse was swept away by the junking of that platform a couple of years later.

What I should have done – what all my instincts screamed at me to do – was do intelligent aggregation. Find, filter and link to the most interesting stuff out there, that would bring new information and thoughts to the industry. Rather than reporting on the property industry – after all, EG already had a whole team of people doing that – I should have been bringing the most interesting writing about property-related issues from the wider internet to the attention of the industry.

Serve your readers in a different way, rather than doing the same thing using a different technology. Core difference.

Property’s role in London’s downfall

I was reminded of this by a piece by Cory Doctorow on Boing Boing this morning, where he explains why he’s moving back to the US:

The short version is, we want to live in a city whose priorities are around making a livable place to work, raise our family, and run our respective small businesses. But London is a city whose two priorities are turning itself into a playground for the most corrupt global elites who are turning neighbourhoods into soulless collections of empty, high-rise safe-deposit boxes in the sky; and continuing to encourage the feckless, reckless criminality of the finance industry (these two facts are not unrelated).

It would have been an interesting piece to point the property industry to because, while they might not have agreed with the thesis, at least it’s something outside their regular reading for them to consider.

A decade on, that’s still what blogging does well – pushing people towards interesting writing that algorithmic sorting and friend-mediated sharing never will.

Aggregated rubbish

A Gawker piece by James King is doing the rounds today, highlighting the “ripping off” done by the Daily Mail Online:

Yes, most outlets regularly aggregate other publications’ work in the quest for readership and material, and yes, papers throughout history have strived for the grabbiest headlines facts will allow. But what does goes beyond anything practiced by anything else calling itself a newspaper. In a little more than a year of working in the Mail’s New York newsroom, I saw basic journalism standards and ethics casually and routinely ignored. I saw other publications’ work lifted wholesale. I watched editors at the most highly trafficked English-language online newspaper in the world publish information they knew to be inaccurate.

Cue appropriate outrage and disdain, as the journalism world’s general dislike of the Mail became apparent.

##The Mail backlash backlash

But, as Paul Carr pointed out in PandoDaily, this was a case of the pot calling the kettle black, on some of the allegations:

The only real surprise is that the piece was published by Gawker, a publication edited by a right-wing (and increasingly so) British former fleet street hack and which is guilty of almost every offense of which the Mail stands accused.

And even Martin Belam, lord of all things new formats at leftie tabloid The Mirror and thus the Mail‘s natural enemy, took exception to the idea:

Linking and attribution on news websites has been dreadful for years. Since news started going online. And it’s only made worse by organisations being really cagey about links because of Google’s SEO justice warriors threatening you with punishment if you are not doing it according to Google’s rules. MailOnline is a massive content factory, sure, but there are thousands of others out there.

##Aggregation’s evil mutant offspring

The horrible truth is that the evangelism many of us engaged in for the idea of aggregation has been utterly wasted. What we promoted was, essentially, linking to the best stuff out there, rather than just promoting your own content. That’s what I’ve just done above – linked to three different stories I think it’s worth you reading. I’m sending traffic to them, not stealing it from the authors. That’s not what most organisations are doing – they’re engaging in this twisted, horrible mutant form, where people rip off and rewrite other stories.

That’s not aggregation. That’s stealing stories. But it’s become so widespread and so common, that it seems almost impossible that we’ll ever unwind from it – unless there’s a sudden outbreak of ethics amongst online publishers. Or, more dramatically, someone makes a big thing of it in court – and wins.

Right now, I can’t see either happening.

Blogger at work
Fascinating read in the wake of Andrew Sullivan’s closure of The Dish, in which Ira Stoll explores the present and future of blogging:

And while the ability to produce opinion quickly can be abused, blogs provide the kind of connection and curation that is necessary to understand a world with so much news and information. Successful blogs use hyperlinks to send us out into the web; the blog is guide and greeter. A great blogger can be a personal information concierge, and is likely offering that service for free. Blogs are often bargains.

It doesn’t say anything fundamentally new, certainly nothing we haven’t known for years, but Stoll brings a historic context and an eloquence to the argument that’s compelling.


Slightly baffling e-mail from the Financial Times press team this morning:

Financial Times readers can now receive the FT’s daily top picks of global news, comment and analysis from around the web by signing up to FirstFT. Concise and engaging, this free email features must-reads from the FT and other sources.

Smart move. The FT has been publishing morning e-mails since at least 2006 – but this is a distinct step upwards from the traditional “list of stories we’ve published” or “written communication” e-mails we’ve seen in the past. In the last 18 months, we’ve seen an emergence of the morning (and evening) e-mail almost as a publication in its own right, and the FT adopting this mode shows that it is willing to learn from the successes of, say, Quartz, one of the acknowledged masters of the form.

But this is an odd quote from the FT‘s new head of aggregation:

Andrew Jack said: “In an age of information overload where readers are shying away from the perpetual social media stream, trusted editorial judgment and aggregation is an increasingly valuable convenience for busy readers. FirstFT is carefully crafted, analysed and illustrated by our world-class journalists and provides a new way for readers to get the FT’s take on the essential news of the day.”

“shying away from the perpetual social media stream”? Really? I’d like to see some data to back up that assertion, because that reads to me like exactly the sort of wishful “people want gatekeepers” thinking that has blighted digital journalism for a decade or more. A good morning e-mail is a useful addition to a publisher’s armoury, not in any way a replacement for social media, which remains one of the biggest traffic drivers on the web.

I’d agree with pretty much everything he says after that odd assertion about social media, but that first section worries me. Yes, information overload is a problem. Yes, a smart curated response to that is a good and useful thing to do. But that’s not the same thing as “shying away from perpetual social media stream”.

Scanning the e-mail

The design of the e-mail is interesting – but looks like it needs a little more work. Bolding the first few words of each paragraph does increase scannability – but they need to think a little harder about those words. Some of them really aren’t very informative. These two are too generic:

Global banks put to the test

Foxconn moves up the value chain

Do either of those actually convey enough information to tease you into reading more? I’d suggest not. My eyes glide over their profound genericness.

And this is a pun which you have to decipher, which defeats the object of a scannable e-mail:

Microsoft is floating on air

Yes, it’s a cloud pun. Ho ho.

I suspect that the team are making the mistake of writing the e-mail to be read, rather than scanned. E-mails like this work best as a scannable list of quick information nuggets and links. They’re requiring too much cognitive effort from the reader to decipher what’s being put in front of them, and that defeats the object of a morning “catch-up” e-mail.

Still, early days. Hopefully they’ve got some robust analytics underlying the system so that they can test, learn and improve.