lowbrowculture

collects stories and ideas from John Kelly

Aggregation is Broken

A few days ago, there was a bit of a kerfuffle between Vox and 538 (Nate Silver’s blog) over Vox posting some of 538’s content without ‘proper attribution’. Vox put up a poor mouth semi-apology in the way of a statement on vox.com called ‘How Vox Aggregates’. Here’s a bit of that:

I started as a blogger in the pre-social web, when the only way to build an audience was to have other sites quote or link to your work. Those links didn’t drive a ton of traffic back to the original site, but they drove some, and sometimes you would get a new regular reader out of the deal. And that was basically how my career began. Everything I wrote, I wrote in the hopes that someone else would take it and try to use it on their site, with a link back to my site.

The lesson of that, to me, was that writing on the internet is a positive-sum endeavor: I was creating content that helped other people make their sites better, and in using that content, they were helping me grow my site.

Vox’s approach to aggregation — which Nate Silver criticized today on Twitter— is informed by that.

There have been lots of Hot Takes on this. Here’s mine.

I firmly believe that in a post-social web, aggregation is completely broken. People aren’t looking to diversify their reading. If they see an image on Tumblr that’s been shared across dozens, even hundreds of sites, are they going to untangle that rat’s nest of attribution and find the original creator of that image? Are they fuck. At best, they’ll follow the last person to share it - they’ll follow the aggregator. Balls to the creator.

Gamification of the internet is only making it worse. And by this, I mean sites that award points to people based on the content they post. See something interesting or funny on the internet? Post it to Reddit under your name and you get all the glory! Win-win.

Back in February, I posted something on Twitter that accidentally went semi-viral, with a few thousand retweets and favourites.

I was bored the other day, so for shits and giggles, I googled the text of this tweet and found that I’d made it to Buzzfeed. I had no idea about this because I received no noticable bump in followers from them, even with their attribution. But I also found that someone on Reddit had lifted the text and image from my tweet and used it to score 47 points on /r/funny (I have a Reddit link score of 1. Yes, one).

Now I’m just a minor player in this whole thing. What about the people producing genuinely great and funny content? Last week, Mallory Ortberg (one of my favourite people on the internet) discovered that some of her work had been lifted by thepoke.co.uk.

To be fair, The Poke had attributed it to where they found it - an imgur gallery (later itself updated with proper attribution after its creator received a twitter backlash), which in turn came from a thread on /r/funny (4618 points, btw). This thread also included one hilarious comment that serves to emphasise my point: “atleast give credit to the person who made them, stolen from front page funnyjunk”.

Ugh.

Seriously, aggregation on the internet is a fucking joke.