--> divine angst: aggregation or aggravation?

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

aggregation or aggravation?

Fitz-Hume at BTQ has a post about aggregators. I started to reply in comments, but my reply got really long. So here it is.

I use an aggregator; it's great. It keeps my blogreading streamlined and I don't comment frivolously.

Fitz seems to like aggregators, too, but he mentions the possible drawbacks:
...a couple of other issues came to mind as I tried to imagine BTQ as a RSS-only experience. The first is that some bloggers rely on in-text links to convey humor or even information - think of them as sorta like the prop-comics of the blogosphere. However, RSS feeds do not always display in-text links....Without links let's face it - SMP? is not that great (see here for example). It's like taking away Gallagher's hammers and watermelons - it's just not funny. With links, however, SMP? kills. Kills, Jerry! Until aggregators successfully display in-text links, I think this factor will inhibit a RSS-only evolution of blogs.

The same is true for images. Feed aggregators don't display images. We don't post images as often as some people, but we post pictures often enough that our posts would suffer from a RSS-only environment. We might survive, but some blogs rely on images as heavily as others rely on in-text links. Can you imagine Go Fug Yourself without images? Neither can I.

OK, so first I want to say that some feeds show links and some don't, and that's primarily due to competing protocols for feeds. Most blogger or blogspot blogs use atom, a protocol that generally does display a more rich content, including links and images. For example, I generally have no problem seeing the images on Go Fug Yourself via Bloglines—likely because Heather and Jessica are using Blogger with a default atom feed.

No, I think the bigger issue with RSS feeds and aggregators isn't what content is viewable—the protocols will start coverging rapidly and they'll all be about the same soon—it's what actual content is available on a feed.

Some bloggers choose not to include entire posts in their feed. This can have the effect of drawing a reader to the actual site (thereby increasing page views) but only if—and this is a big if—the title or the blurb that is available is sufficiently interesting. As a reader, though, sometimes I'm not hooked enough to visit—and maybe I miss out on something interesting. Some of the blogs I read truncate in their feeds and I'm torn on whether or not I care for it. Quite frankly, it can be highly annoying if I'm short on time and don't want to click through to read the rest of the post. Of course, if the tag is good, it serves the purpose of keeping me from wasting time on a post I'm not interested in. Unfortunately, that's not always the case.

Conversely, the teaser model makes sense for news sites—they operate on ad revenue, and news content isn't always appropriate for an aggregator. I'm thinking particularly of The New York Times Magazine—often the articles in the Magazine are so lengthy that reading them in an aggregator would be more difficult, rather than less. Also, I think (for the most part) journalists are used to writing to the headline-reader: lots of people won't bother picking up a paper at 40¢ unless the headline catches their eye. That's not to say every headline in the NYT is great—they're not—but at least they are informative and I know what I'll be getting if I click through. And I don't spend so much time clicking around news sites to see where the good stories are.

Look, I used to spend hours each day, interrupting my workflow to click through my blogroll and visit all my news bookmarks, hoping for new content. It was a major time suck. I won't say my aggregator keeps me from wasting time reading blogs—God knows it doesn't!—but it keeps me from idly wasting my time. I know when there's new stuff for me to read and I can read it at my leisure.