At South by Southwest, Seeking Better, More Honest Content Aggregation

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March 11, 2012; Source: New York Times

Content aggregation is like making sausage. The thriving practice, which has crowned new kings of media (e.g., The Huffington Post) while leaving many original auteurs in the dust, has split the Internet into retail and wholesale informationistas. The retailers with the shiny storefronts are the aggregators, who gather tidbits from all over the Internet and arrange them appealingly on a dynamic webpage or feed. In other words, content aggregators often get the glory when they have their finger on the Twitter/Facebook/Pinterest, etc. pulse. The wholesale old guard frequently objects to the co-opting of original content without proper acknowledgment, fearing that rampant content aggregation will flood the web, marginalizing an ever-shrinking pool of original work. 

Two conscientious digerati presented divergent solutions to such concerns at last weekend’s South by Southwest Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas. Simon Dumenco, an aggrieved columnist for Advertising Age, has cobbled together numerous new media stars to form the Council on Ethical Blogging and Aggregation, or CEBA. This “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval” approach intends to develop standards of attribution to satisfy content creators and allow aggregators to honestly ply their trade. Dumenco asserts CEBA is “pro-aggregation,” seeking, he says, “some simple common sense rules” to signal a source has integrity. Kerry Lauerman, editor-in-chief of, thinks that CEBA can help readers who are lost in the Twitter sauce find their way. “It would be nice,” he says, “if there was a way of signaling what the standards are and how trustworthy the information is.”

Meanwhile, Twitter’s “brainpicker” (Maria Popova in the real world) and designer Kelli Anderson have crafted the ideographic “Curator’s Code,” which would use a sideways S (a more pronounced “~”) to indicate content that is derived directly from another source, and a sort of knotted arrow to represent the “hat tip.” Popova has respect for originators and aggregators, who are often housed within the same publication (NPQ, for instance). She says that “discovery of information is a form of intellectual labor,” and she wants to “honor discovery.” And aren’t aggregators, depending on their level of repackaging, originators in their own sphere? Content aggregators should give props to sources, but should also be respected when they put their own creative stamp on a piece of information. –Louis Altman