January 25th, 2009
My post on the Washington state linking project focused on the awesome innovation involved and on the benefits of collaborative linking in general. But the project also shows why this kind of news aggregation is so useful for a local audience.
The biggest danger with news aggregation is that instead of acting as a filter, it can sometimes add to readers’ information overload. I read Andrew Sullivan’s blog as much for his links as for his original posts, but some days his link-blogging is just too prolific for me. (As Howard Owens put it: “To all the bloggers in my RSS reader: You post too frequently. Stop it. Let me catch up, for a change.”)
Commenter Matthias Spielkamp worried that the Washington link project might have had this effect: “I don’t have the time to read through 25 different stories to get a picture of the situation.”
But we shouldn’t mistake a long list of links for confusing overload just because it looks like overload from afar. The closer readers are to a story or event, the more they want to know about it and the less overloaded they’ll feel.
Take a look at the headlines on the current Kitsap Sun flood widget: “W. Wash. flood clean-up information”; “Maple Valley firefighters rescue residents from flooded homes”; “Flooding, for the most part, misses Federal Way”; “At least 500 Snohomish County homes flooded, officials say”; “Flooding halts Whidbey sports action.”
Each of those is a unique story that’s going to be very useful to someone living in that area. None of them repeats the others. Chances are, someone who lives in Maple Valley has friends or relatives in Federal Way or Whidbey. What looks like two dozen versions of the same story to Matthias or me is vital information for people who live in the flooding area.
Jack Lail found the same level of interest for Knoxnews.com’s link roundups on the Tennessee Vols. To me, the roundups look like overload. But they get tons of page views, Jack noted, “because fans are passionate and can’t get enough information on their teams and games.”
It’s kind of counterintuitive, given the emerging consensus that Matthias noted in another comment about the importance of clean news sites that don’t overload the audience. What good human-powered local aggregation does is feed readers’ deep interest in such topics without overloading them with 50 versions of the same AP story.