Monday, December 12, 2005

Battle of the Splog: Aggregating vs. Conversating

In two great posts, Steve Rubel takes on the issues of blog content theft and a splog in general. Steve is, rightfully, a bit peeved over bot-powered aggregating blogs that totoally crib someone's content thus making it look like the content is their own. (but if they are providing a link to the original, is it a problem? read J. Pepper's comments on Rubel's splog post for an interesting perspective.)

But Steve misses a the opportunity to raise a distinction between splogs and blogs when he says :
Content “theft” or whatever you want a call it has been an issue long before the Internet became a mass medium. It mushroomed over the past 10 years and now that everyone is a publisher, it will only get worse

The aggregator problem will only get worse if the emphasis on blogging remains on providing content and on telling people that they can make big bucks by providing subjectively judged "kick-ass content". If the emphasis continues to shift towards conversation, the importance of "kick-ass content" that does nothing will be a lesser issue. Creating conversation and community requires that bloggers become more involved in their blogging--and consider themselves contributors rather than simply spewers or sponges for content. If this happens, there will be little reason for the existence of sites that are only aggregators and never interact.

Besides, aggregators in general are IMHO boring and cheap. It's real easy to provide a link and a couple of pithy words.

Rubel also brings up the problem of RSS. RSS is great for finding out who's saying what, but it doesn't get individuals involved any further. This simple factor has lead to enterprising individuals designing bots that steal content without contributing anything--which is what happened to him. The solution might be to limit one's RSS feed to just a few lines. Sure, folks might not subscribe to your feed, but, then again, what's the purpose of what you do? Is your purpose to get people to only read your content, or is it something more social??

If conversation can start with good content, the problem with splog also becomes a problem for search engines who want to help people find original content and subsequent conversation. Mark Cuban suggests a broad definition of a splog:
any hosted website that only uses redirected or copied content and doesnt add any unique value. Aggregation is not value add. Why ? Because a search on any blog engine should uncover the unique content on their original source

I somewhat agree with Cuban (although the theory needs some refining)--and take it one step further: aggregated content with that personal touch should, eventually, create some conversation.

Conversation, though, doesn't always have to be on the can happen in email or on forums, too. If the blogger is involved with his/her blog beyond being a content aggregator, he/she can create short posts around email and thus demonstrate that one has community.

Yet, fundamentally, there seems to be a problem with the perceptions of blogs and blogging, in part because of the current emphasis on monetization and on persons as brands and their networks as markets. This kind of thinking makes the motive for cribbing someone's content understandable--they want to make some money on *your* content. Yet people aren't *just* brands, our groups of friends aren't *just* markets, and is a person's reason for blogging (or splogging)*always* with an eye on monetization? We are more than those narrow little pidgeonholes. I *think* Mark Cuban gets it--but does Steve Rubel get it?



Tish Grier said...


I couldn't disagree with you more.

If the focus remains on, as I said, "kick-ass content," then you're just going to have more people creating blogs with the intention of creating money, and then quitting them when they realize that keeping a blog is alot of work.

Besides, thinking of oneself only as a "content provider" is like thinking of oneself only as a "brand." What is your purpose for providing content? If your purpose is to be a "trusted source of information"--well, there is just so much information one can process. Furthermore, this is an elitest attitude that assumes only those who can provide "kick-ass content" or "information" are worthy of blogging. It sets up a value system to the human experience that completely squashes the human desire to share stories and communicate with others.

Secondly, over time, how many aggregators will we need? And when will aggegating hit the tipping point where the aggregators are aggregating one another? When it hits that point, it hits the point of absurdity.

Further, depending on how the law gets played out, the notion of aggregating someone else's content might end up being something that only licensed groups or individuals might be able to do--or you might have to pay someone to aggregate even a link. Once again, an elitist model may be set up where only those who might be able to afford an aggregator's licence can aggregate.

Right now, though, the only way to measure what's going on is by measuring content. But mathematical value is only a number. True value is a far more complex and to evaluate it will mean that people will have to break their autisitc-like self-imposed isolation and interact. Yes, we can't interact with everyone we read, but that's a dopey assumption too. Do we interact with everyone we encounter walking down the street? No. But we do indeed interact with others, and that is how our interactions within the web will play out--we will ultimately pick and choose who we say "hello" to, but it won't stop you from looking at a pretty person.

Tish Grier said...

I thought you did the typo because I'd done a similar typo in the post! Glad it wasn't me ;-)

And Aaron might indeed be enjoying my content and consider me a "trusted source" but that is a result of being a person. It wasn't my sole intention and my Master Plan, and it isn't the only way that I relate to others from this blog.

You also put out great content with Civilities (see blogroll for link), but even when I originally read you, I knew there was more to you than just your writing.

That's the thing--we are more than our content. Focus on content diminishes that small aspect...and I'm beginning to think it colors how we view/respond to one another. It colors how civil we are to one another.

Seth Finkelstein said...

Tish, Jon - this is all recapitulating the confusion that arises from having "blog" mean all of "personal diary, social chat, punditry", and then switching among the definitions.

Mathematically, only a relatively few people can be A-listers and/or have blogs which make them money. Everyone can write a diary or socialize. But focusing on the joy of the latter is not a substitute for the failure of the former.

Sure, if people want to be happy little blogging-bears pleased to spend hours a day writing their web-diaries or doing chit-chat with their friends, then everything about A-list/aggregation/content is irrelevant. That's "LiveJournal". Not that there's anything wrong with that.

But there's dissatisfaction there from two different directions. One from the top, the evangelist point of view, since "There's millions of diaries being written and chats going on!", is in fact a pretty dull rallying cry. The other from the bottom, the Z-list point of view. Since it's unfulfilling to be told to be happy to chat if you want more - it sounds like the sermons to accept one's lowly station in life.

Of course we are more than our content. But if one's goals relate to the content, it's a frustrating (or worse) answer to be told not to have those goals.

Tish Grier said...

Thanks, make a very good point that one's professional goals can relate to one's content.

This is, though, a new medium and the philosophical debates on how it should or should not be used are. It isn't all about doing the "Dear Diary" thing all day any more than it is totally about using the medium for cheap corporate websites.

And while we should indeed be concerned about the A-list, and how many of Old Media are dominating New Media, perhaps we should look at what might actually make this New Media can *we* stop *them* from grafting Old Media-think on to New Media? My suggestion is not for all of us to be huge aggregating egos but to form communities and affect change.