Aggregators were my first love, when it comes to news and social media – I’ve always been infatuated with the idea of Digg, lover of Techmeme and I basically see most of the world through my personal aggregator, the ever flexible and accesible Google Reader.
So it’s nice to see some fervent discussion among bloggers about the best combination. Some love Twitter for the links it brings their way (so do I, sometimes), others eschew the RSS reader for a combo of automated aggregators like Techmeme and Hacker News.
What’s sparked the discussion is Techmeme (which has sister aggregator sites Memeorandum (web / tech news), Ballbug (baseball news) and the auto-scurrilacious We Smirch (celeb gossip)) announcing that it will be introducing moe human editorial interventions to keep its list fresh.
In part this is a response to people trying to game the Techmeme algorithm to give their posts prominence (shame on you). But, as Gabe Riviera, creator of Techmeme explains, it’s also because in lots of other ways “Guess what? Automated news doesn’t quite work“.
Humans have always edited Techmeme of course, just implicitly. For instance, when a blogger links to a story, the headline might move higher on Techmeme. What’s different now is that an additional human editor will carry out changes explicitly to directly improve the mix of headlines on Techmeme.
I really like the explicit / implicit way of explaining this. Even the great technical marvel that is the Google search engine algorithm is implicitly affected by humans – it is trying to read the clues (links, traffic, words, reputation) that people leave as to which are the best websites on any given keyword.
As Riviera points out – by way of a link to VentureBeat – even Google News has problems in adapting to the mercurial and unpredictable shapes of breaking news.
Alan Patrick at Broadstuff has an interesting slant on this topic too. Taking a historical analogy, he says that it is early days still for news aggregation:
Long term we suspect bit by bit the human bits of curation will be replaced by better and more intelligent automation. We are in the spinning jenny phase of automated aggregation…. just starting to pick up the threads, as it were
: : Just read this post by Adam Tinworth, who heads up blogs for Reed Business Information – his take on Techmeme is about the significance for news sites:
“This is a high traffic tech news site – run by one editorial person.”