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  Sunday, November 02, 2003

  Aggregation can kill personal voices

A follow-up thinking for my previous post: I wonder if aggregation kills personal voices.

Think of a simple scenario. You start blogging, you find several blogs you like, you discover news aggregator and start reading these blogs regularly. It creates a sense of connection with the authors of these weblogs, sense of knowing them. It creates a context for interpreting posts.

Then upscaling comes: you have hundreds of weblogs and no time to read everything. You scan for interesting titles and jump back and forth. It's convenient, but your pay less attention to any specific weblog and you don't get to know its writer well.

I wonder if it's true. What if once I have more than X weblogs in my news aggregator they become content, news bits and not personal voices any more?

This brings me to another question. We say that weblogs provide a context to interpret ideas (btw, this is one of "weblog selling points" for knowledge management). What exactly provides this context: informal writing style, ability to see other posts, regular reading or something else?

For me much of the context is provided by regular reading. It creates a sense of knowing a blogger and makes connecting with his or her ideas easier. But the problem is that regular reading doesn't scale: news readers make it easier than browsing, but after a certain number of weblogs they don't help (and I guess magic number 150 has something to do with it). If upscaling weblog audience turns it into broadcasting (discussion overview), may be upscaling number of weblogs you read turns them from voices into content?

This is also one more point for weblogs in business: tools vs. voices dilemma. More practically speaking, if a company-wide weblog aggregation (think of k-collector :) will turn weblogs into a smart content management system?

  RSS vs. browser for weblog reading

In Comments, Aggregators, and Broadcast Models Liz Lawley  points to a a comments thread on Julia Lerman's site on posting behavior and aggregators, where Sam Gentile says

Of course, a blog is personal but is very well established that if you don't have a RSS feed you just don't get read. I don't what world you two are in but that is a well established fact by now. The majority of blog readers read blogs through RSS feeds in aggregators. Thats the whole point. No one has the time to go to 100 separate web sites versus one window with 100 feeds. This is so established that I am not going to even debate it. Nor am I going to debate the comments. The tiny amount of commenting that goes on in the blogging world is so small that its insignificant. Most blogs don't even have comments and if they do you see very little if ever leading to the conclusion that most people in the blogging world read feeds and "comment" by blog posts not commenting systems.

I would agree with Liz that the majority of people reading blogs via RSS readers is an assumption. I guess there are many people, who would agree with Liz saying:

And despite the lengthy list of weblogs I read regularly, I still resist using an aggregator, because the visual aspect, the virtual space, of a weblog is important to me.

I believe there is a great number of people who don't know about RSS readers, find them too difficult or simply don't care (e.g. only a quarter of would be bloggers is planning use of news aggregators). Next to it many people find weblogs via Google, read a bit and go away.

Some insights about possible numbers:

However, what makes me wondering is not how many people use one or another way, but why do they use it and what does it change.

For example, using news aggregators for reading weblogs

  • is more efficient
  • focuses on content rather than "decoration"
  • makes much easier doing all kinds of "analytics" with weblogs: going back, rearranging, tracing connections, posting
  • can be superficial (e.g. scanning through headings to see if there is something important) - in this case weblogs are likely to be treated as news sources (=I'm interested in links and ideas)
  • can provide a feeling of "getting to know someone better" with making regular reading of a few weblogs easier - in this case weblogs are likely to be treated as personal stories (=I'm interested in people behind weblogs)
  • commenting in original weblog is less likely (because extra click or two are needed to comment)

And there are many other questions as well:

  • how use of RSS readers changes our relations with authors of weblogs we read (makes establishing connections easier? helps staying updated? creates an overload?)
  • how use of RSS readers changes our writing style? commenting style and place?
  • how reading preferences are correlated with weblog designs? (e.g. may be RSS readers think that blogrolls are obsolete and weblog-in-browser readers don't understand the value of full-text RSS and don't care about providing it)

Many people say that RSS feeds and RSS readers are important to distinguish weblogs from homepages and that RSS will stay once weblogs fade or integrate with something else. But I still wonder why there is much less discussion about "how RSS reader changed my life" than "how weblogs changed my life" and why I don't know of any research on impact of RSS readers.

I hope I'll have time to come back to these questions. As many others I believe that RSS is a key to weblog uses in business settings, so we'd better get some answers.

This post also appears on channel weblog research

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© Copyright 2002-2005 Lilia Efimova.

This weblog is my learning diary. Sometimes I write about things related to my work, but the views expressed here are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of my employer.

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