Saturday, December 12, 2009

What I've been thinking about

Contrary to my original plan, I didn't devote a class to aggregators. That was probably a mistake. I realized that after listening to and pondering a show on the subject by my colleague Mr. Dankosky.

People use these things a lot, whether its a user-rated model like Digg or a bot-driven model like Memeorandum. Or algo-driven like Google news. It's also incresingly common to see news coverge of an item's performance on memeorandum, as if that measured something (which it probably does a circular, self-reinforcing manner).

TPM DC had it at 11, adding that Rahm Emmanuel told staffers "not to come back to
the next day's meeting if they hadn't read the article." The Daily Beast got it
at one twenty and, by afternoon, it was at the top of the Memeorandum--a site
that highlights in real time what is being most heavily linked to--homepage..

Obviously, that starts to put a lot of power in certain (sometimes robotic) hands. Which makes it pretty important to figure out, as this and other sites do, what's really going on with something like Google news.

But, the other problem with aggregation is that it's ahistorical and acontextual.

I mean, you can follow the links and dig around and find that stuff, but it's not there on the surface of the site itself. And that makes me wonder whether the aggregators promote a kind of snapshot-thinking. It's nice to be"ïn the moment" in your zen practice. In your understanding of news and the world you live in, not so much.

But then it's also not as simple as that, particularly at Digg, which has a really interesting search function. I decided to type in something releatively esoteric, something connected to a relatively distant news event.

So I typed in "Zoe Baird"(long story).

And I was impressed.

I even followed one of the links and wound up at this blog which regularly offers, of all things, sort of an aggregation of interesting history links.

It all made me think, though, that storage and searchability are huge battlefronts in the future of 'net culture. In the world of search, Google is inadequate and even if it were adequate it doesn't make sense to give it so much power. My guess is that there will be, there should be eventual search engine models that work in different ways. Maybe even search engines that mirror our various perspectives a little bit. Either that, or materials will be grouped and archived in places that make them easier to search in a more specific and nuanced and efficient way than the Google page-rank system. (For example, today I wanted to read an article that explains the rugby in "Invictus" to me. I bet such an article exists, but Google was a shitty way to have to look for it. But I bet somebody like our own Kevin could start a site that culls and groups the kind of article that cross references from films-of-interest to interests-sparked-by-those-films. And that site would NOT make me wade through the self-published stuff by untalented amateurs: "We didn't get until the end that Invictus was a poem. He should make that more clear.")

But then there's a separate set of issues about who stores stuff and where that stuff is stored. I don't really speak the language of server farms and clustered networks ... yet. But I feel like that's important in a way most of us don't get. I mean, it's like "Terminator." A lot of power is flowing over to the info equivalent of SkyNet. It's probably too important for us to let ourselves be stupid about it, you know?

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