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.