Aggregators vs Producers: Introducing findingDulcinea, Mahalo, and others to come

by Jason Preston on June 20, 2008

Brian Stetler pointed it out three months ago in the New York Times.

The younger generation is reading tons of news. But they’re not relying on the same filter—the editors in a news room—to tell them what’s interesting and worth reading. Instead, they’re relying mainly on their social networks.

This is part of what Clay Shirky calls the “publish then filter” model. In the past, publishing something was expensive, so the act of having it published came with the implicit promise that someone thought it was worth the paper it was printed on. With the internet, that’s not longer true (or one might argue it’s still true, but the “paper it’s printed on” is worth jack s#%!).

Crap gets published all the time. The filtering process now happens after things get published. In the future, you’re not going to walk into a job interview with a bunch of clippings (“how many times has your writing been worth publishing?”), you’re going to walk into a job interview with a list of permalinks and the times those links were dugg, bookmarked on del.icio.us, or stumbled upon (“how many people thought this was worth reading?”).

A number of services have sprung up that I’m not quite sure how to classify other than as top-down filters. findingDulcinea is a place where resources from on and off the internet are gathered and categorized for easy digestion. Similarly Mahalo, which bills itself as search, creates thousands of guide pages (and I’d guess that most of their traffic comes from people landing from Google and other search engines, rather than having people search and leave, like most search sites).

They’re both attempting to solve the same problem though: how do you reconcile the internet’s nearly limitless amounts of information with the need for authoritative sources?

“Due to space and time constraints, most headline stories leave you with unanswered questions, and only offer a single point of view,” said Mark Moran, CEO of findingDulcinea. “Most Internet users want all the answers, as well as contrary viewpoints.”

It’s not search, and it’s not a directory, and it’s not straight journalism. If it’s close to anything, it’s closest to link journalism.

These services are also different from Metafliter and Digg, sites that have been around for a while and have earned their place in the wisdom of the crowds playbook.

“The crowds approach is a good way to discover an interesting story that you might not otherwise have come across,” said Moran. “But it doesn’t offer the whole picture about anything, nor does it even try to. We charge our writers and editors with scouring the Internet to find the absolute best related links to a story, and then writing a concise narrative that weaves these links together to furnish a cohesive, fulsome view of the story.”

I feel like this is a theme that I’m going to land on a lot here on Eat Sleep Publish, but it bears repeating: the service that newspapers used to offer (distribution of news) is not worth paying for online. Which means that newspapers need to find a service to offer that is valuable and will differentiate their brand.

Some newspapers will be able to charge for their service. Some will support it with advertising. And aggregation is one of those services that could be well worth offering.

Many newspapers are in a great position, given their existing brand, to lend weight and legitimacy to their selections. In the same way that “getting published” by a major publisher has meant being reviewed and approved, “getting aggregated” by a major newspaper could carry a certain prestige.

“The most forward-thinking newspapers are already aggregating content; for instance, the New York Times’ Deal Book is an excellent round-up of business coverage from around the Web, and the Wall Street Journal provides extensive links within the text of a small number of its articles” said Moran.

And of course, findingDulcinea is aggregating, too.

{ 3 trackbacks }

Things that were Not Invented Here are OK. Really. : Eat Sleep Publish
07.01.08 at 1:45 pm
Editors or Algorythms: The new push for meta-journalism — Eat Sleep Publish
09.12.08 at 9:17 am
What you absolutely must know about linking before you launch an aggregator — Eat Sleep Publish
09.29.08 at 3:03 pm

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Curt M. 06.20.08 at 11:01 pm

This is a very good post. Lots to ponder here.

You’ve hit on something that newspapers and other papers do have that a zillion bloggers and citizen journalists don’t (yet): credibility. You know with a trusted news organization that you can … er, trust them. That what they publish is generally accurate. There’s a history to the New York Times or the Washington Post or the Seattle P-I that is important and valuable.

Your idea to combine that credibility with an aggregator is smart. Sort of like a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval: If this was aggregated by the NYTimes, it must be worth reading. That’s something that news organizations of long-standing should consider as part of their future publishing plans (are you listening, guys?).

I still think that at some point (not soon but eventually) we’ll be paying for more stuff online. When TV was new, people thought that the idea of paying for it was ridiculous. Now, there aren’t many people who don’t pay for their TV in some way.

2 Jason Preston 06.20.08 at 11:39 pm

Thanks Curt, I feel like the post is still a little jumbled, mostly because these thoughts are all a little jumbled in my head still.

I would love to see the P-I pursue an aggregation strategy (most new orgs seem very reluctant to link out to other domains—i have a post or two about this in the hopper) and take that space for the northwest and own it.

I think I’ll poke around at the history of TV to see if I can find good parallels and or insights about the change that’s happening in the newspaper world now.

I didn’t know that when TV first showed up, people thought paying for it was a ridiculous idea, but if that’s the case, that does lend some weight to the idea of offering premium content (read: cable) for a membership fee.

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