When Everyone's an Aggregator …
There's a scene in the movie The Incredibles when Mr. Incredible's nemesis, Syndrome, is talking about his inventions designed to give anyone super powers. "Everyone can be super!" he tells Mr. Incredible. "And when everyone's super," he adds darkly, "no one will be."
Is it possible some of the amazing, empowering content tools we've seen come along in recent years will have the same effect on Web publishing? And that this could be ultimately good for traditional publishers? Stay with me.
This morning, I came across a website created through a nifty publishing service, Paper.li, which hopes to do for everyday news gatherers what WordPress did for bloggers. I've often thought there should be a platform allowing people to easily create their own newsy sites that don't look like blogs or family albums, and this is it. With a push of a button, users are invited to "start your paper," and are provided a professional-looking website on which to compile news and videos around their favorite topics, usually via Twitter feeds. A teaser is created with links to articles accompanied by the logo of the source website. Ads are integrated. Featured articles can be highlighted along a sidebar. You can (with the "pro" version) include your own branding, add an editor's note or tweet ticker, and even have readers subscribe via e-mail.
Scary, no? Yet another format publishers hoped to dominate all by themselves co-opted by the powerful wedding of social media, personal publishing tools and aggregation. It leaves me wondering, though, what happens when the users of this service (and others like it) climb into the millions. With a finite number of original sources to draw from, many of those who visit these sites might be convinced they can save time by just checking out (or subscribing to) the original websites and blogs linked to again and again. Many of the eager aggregators might end up canceling each other out, with too many focusing on a few popular topics. As for the niche topics—well, there aren't as many sources for original articles, leading us back to point #1. (In one particular case, a gardening news Paper.li page, nearly all the articles originate from the same source.)
My point is, it's a cool concept, but not necessarily a threat to content creators. It may have the unintended effect of making aggregation seem less "super," and traditional publishers and bloggers, a little more so.