As many (any) regular readers will be aware, I read Jason Kottke’s blog (you’ll have noticed the attribution for pointing me at certain articles). I’m constantly amazed at the fascinating and interesting articles and subjects he links to, even from sources like the Guardian and the BBC that I read regularly. Not so long ago, Jason quit his day job to concentrate on his blog fulltime. It was a brave move in my opinion. Obviously he needed to raise money so he could continue to live and he chose to do this by asking for donations rather than through advertising or sponsorship. I was one of the people who stuck my hand in my pocket (for a number of reasons). Now when people ask what he does, he can say he blogs professionally. I’m sure that gets some strange looks and probably a little derision (and certainly some envy).
I was reading yet another article about online searching recently though and it occurred to me that Jason isn’t a blogger. Technically, yes, he is, because blogging as a term is fairly vague (meaning a site that publishes reverse chronological entries around a central theme). Thinking about it though, Jason is actually an online magazine publisher.
What are magazines but a few articles, comment on current events and a round up of anything in the area which the magazine covers? How does this differ from what Jason does except that his isn’t published monthly, doesn’t come in hard copy and has no editorial team besides himself? He writes articles, he comments on current events and he links to other new items, often with his own comment. The reason I was thinking of it after having read an article about search technology is because I am well aware of how much information there is available, both online and off, and that we will be wading through ever more in the future. Newspapers sift through millions of lives and individual stories to find those that they think are of interest to their audience. Jason sifts through (potentially) billions of web pages to bring those of interest to the attention of his audience. Obviously he doesn’t just flick through them one at a time, he starts with a lead, like any other journalist.
I think we will see more of this sort of thing. I don’t necessarily mean more professional bloggers, but certainly more customised services (probably via paid subscription services, though advertising may be used too) that filter through all the detritus online to find those nuggets of gold. Now, I can hear you thinking that there are services that have been doing this for years. True, there are customisable news sites, but these are generally either a) single source, b) based on simple computer algorithms/classifications, or c) don’t take into account sites outside the major news, magazine and institution sources. Sites like Technorati scour the blogosphere and categorise posts into topics, but again there are gaping holes and very little quality control. Human editors are still far superior at this sort of thing. They’re more adaptable, they can quality check and they can cover more sites and a bigger range of topics. Some of these sorts of things are already available. Sites like Boing Boing, Forever Geek and Slashdot are good examples, but they’re not perfect and I think individual’s personalities and charisma will come into play.
I follow, I would guess, somewhere around 85% of the links Kottke publishes because he is obviously interested in many of the subjects I am, there’s no way an automated, or even manual single interest blog, could compete with the quality, quantity and variety of links he publishes. So there is definitely room in the market for dedicated content scrapers or online editors/publishers who offer a service where they collect links and stories, sometimes add their comments, maybe write original posts and offer them, free initially, but eventually, for a price (possibly collected via advertising). Trawling the web and deciding what is and isn’t worthy is, after all, a time consuming business and one I think busy people would be prepared to pay for.