Content Aggregation: Making Information Useful Again
Every day, I am reminded of what an amazing thing the Web is. We have access to the whole world in the palm of our hands, and connect to people on the other side of the planet in an instant. How fortunate we are to be alive at this transformational time in our history.
Information makes the world go ’round these days. That fact alone is at once both awe-inspring and completely overwhelming. Our access to information is changing the way we perceive the world, and it’s happening at lightning speed. The volume and pace of information flow can be difficult to manage on a good day, and many people are struggling.
I find it goes one of two ways – there are some who embrace the flow, diving into the stream and swimming along with the current, and there are others that stick to the shoreline – watching the flood travel by, never quite being brave enough to test the waters, for fear of being swept away. I suspect that most people fall into the latter category.
Finding the patterns.
The human brain is designed to decipher patterns. Remember the Fisher Price Puzzle Ball? It was one of my favourite toys when I was little. You pulled it apart and all of the little yellow pieces inside fell out. Then it was your job to figure out which piece fit into which hole, to get them back inside the ball. It is a great toy because it builds up a child’s skills at deciphering patterns – something we are inherently designed to do.
What does that mean to how we decipher online content? Simple. The Web is a sea of mostly unorganized information. Sure, it’s linked together, but when you break it all down, it’s just billions of pages of information. Imagine if all of that information was in a big giant spreadsheet. Useful for computers, maybe, but not very useful for our human brains. We humans are naturally inclined to try and find the patterns in chaos. So for us to truly understand things, we need to set things in some sort of order.
There are a lot of people out there working on this problem. They are trying to take the sea of online information and aggregate it into some kind of order, to make it easier for people to understand and use.
It’s not about the tools – until it is.
The introduction of the tablet computer has been one of the most transformational shifts in consumption of information, not just because of their portability, but because of apps. There are dozens of content aggregating applications available now for the average tablet – tools like Zite and Flipboard do it best in my opinion, but there are plenty of others too. These tools allow you to hone the flood of information to just the things you are interested in, and Zite even learns as you go; when you “like” an article or select an interest or author, a recommendation engine chugs away in the background to further refine the content you see. The result is a very personalized experience.
Pinterest is also making leaps and bounds in this area. The reason it’s so popular is partly shiny object syndrome, but mostly about content aggregation. People are curating content around specific interests, and making that content available for others to see and share.
It’s intensely personal.
As much as having access to the Web means you can truly find ANYTHING you want, humans still have a strong desire to have a personalized experience online. As time goes on, it’s becoming less about opening the fire hose of information, and instead, about providing people with a series of garden-hose sized streams that they can pick and choose from. I believe that personalization and aggregation of content is going to be the biggest game changer of our connected world, because it cuts right to the core of what makes us human. It helps us to decipher the patterns in an otherwise chaotic online universe.
As time goes on, you’re going to start to see more and more tools and services that help us to make order of the chaos. The Web that floods information to everyone is going to be customized to the Web YOU want to experience. It’s part of the way there now, but I believe it’s on the verge of exploding. And I think that is a really, really good thing.
What say you?
[photo by racineur]