Blog Aggregation

David Churbuck posts this morning on Blog Aggregation. We both did a blog aggregation project over at Reel-Time.com in 2003 which, as he notes, was well ahead of the curve (and probably the need). He’s got some excellent points, but I have a few things to add.

The idea of a blog is something that many of us don’t fully understand. It’s basically an online journal that was designed to allow users without server level access to maintain their own content and easily switch the appearance of that content via templates. Over time, they have become so much more.

One of the most powerful things about a blog is that the presentation you are most likely seeing, my own template on my site, isn’t necessarily the way everyone will see the content. RSS, which is essentially an XML stream of content, allows us to present our content in many different formats and many different places. The promise of XML, as it was presented a decade ago, was that it would allow us to separate content from presentation, and in that, it is indeed one of the few technologies to have fully delivered on it’s promise.

So we now have blogs, with all kinds of neat little RSS feeds which are quite granular, down to the category or tag level, that allow us to slice and dice our content, to mix and match by category, by author, etc. I’ve looked at the aggregators that Churbuck mentions, and basically barfed…yeah, they work, but their ugly and they don’t have to be. We should be able to easily design pages that will consume the rss feeds and present them in a useful manner.

I’ve been saying for years that the most misunderstood bit of blogs is their categorization capabilities. The better you categorize, the more useful your content (although you can also use tags…).

My ideas:

  • Remember to sort by categories – make it easy to allow users to find what they want.
  • Remember to provide direct links to the authors.
  • Let users set up searches that trigger rss feeds so your content can reach them when it’s appropriate. And you can even allow search to create a page on the fly if you’ve got enough content.
  • Leverage internal as well as external assets – you can use outside streams, although you may want to be able to editorially decide which bits of content you will present on your site. You can literally scavenge posts via Google Blog Search and Technorati.
  • Think of your pages as homepages – each topic or category you present should be optimized as though it will be the only one your readers will see.
  • You can have multiple feeds from blogs, some summarized, some containing the full content, and some broken into categories, tags, etc.  They can be reassembled into larger groups (all my authors writing about javelin throwing) in interesting ways.

Consuming RSS feeds and rendering them on pages is easy stuff and can provide that deep niche content we want. There’s no reason to settle for out of the box tools that make our content look like one of those “portals” companies pushed in 2001.

In the example Churbuck offers of the Olympics, I’d consider setting up pages for:

  • Countries
  • Main sports categories, track and field, swimming, martial arts, etc.
  • Social and off the field categories
  • Major celeb pages – some of the athletes get a lot of mentions, provide their own pages
  • Search – once again, it’s key…

Then you ensure your bloggers are tagging properly and you’ve got the start. In fact, you can even have an editor retag stuff as “lead story” etc. This stuff works for splogs and it can work for high volume content situations as well!

The real take away secret is this: aggregation is simple content management. Think of it that way and you’ll jump way ahead of the pack.

5 Replies to “Blog Aggregation”

  1. First thing first: very nice new home for your blog.

    Won’t disclose too much here, but I took your advice and built this around categories mainly. Those are: sport, language and country.

    I made it work like filters, thus you can combine any or all categories to get the feeds for those combinations. I also made it into a WP plugin which I might release publicly over time. That is if I can set myself to make it nicer & more generally useful in the future.

    I purposely neglected to base this filters on any user given information but rather on our manual categorization of the feeds. This is due to the crazy times we’re managing, we can’t possibly get our bloggers to tag correctly quickly enough to rely on that. But aggregating and sorting on that pieces of information that the authors themselves provide is probably going to make noise on my head on the upcoming months.

    I really like your idea on search. I think this is somewhat unexplored ground (we search webpages daily, but feed content very rarely).

    A good way to do this could be caching feeds somehow and taking advantage of what the feed owners add as bulk information (categories, tags, keywords).

    Feeds work mainly for changing content, so the question rises: how much / for how long to cache?

    Food for thought

  2. Thanks Esteban – glad to hear you took the bait! I can’t wait to see what you’ve come up with.

    The ability to do a search and get results was piloted by the Baltimore Sun newspaper a couple years ago. I’d guess it’s kind of like creating an rss feed on the fly.

  3. Now there’s a thought… an RSS on the fly that aggregates several other feeds and that can be customized by the readers based on the originating feeds information.

    I need 50-hour days

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