Wednesday, December 3, 2008

News Aggregation: Index Cards of the Present

Back in the early 1990s, my close friend Claude Meunier had an odd job working for French building magnate (and now telecom operator) Francis Bouygues.

Every morning at 7 AM, he got into Monsieur Bouygues' limo and handed him a stack of index cards Claude had put together over the past few hours.

Each card included a news item--ranging from serious news to the scores of important soccer matches or the amorous misadventures of a starlet.

In other words, bite-sized capsules of everything Monsieur Bouygues might need to know as he nagivated his day.

In the past we had index cards, today we have news aggregation.

News aggregation is clearly the future of journalism--not it's only future, but one of the permutations that will enjoy long-term success, if done right.

In an interesting twist to a meme that has been largely given over to automation, technology news aggregation site TechMeme--and it's political sister-site Memeorandum--is dumping its sophisticated algorithms in favor of--gasp--a human editor.

Until now, TechMeme aggregated news content using a sophisticated algorithm that many people feel does a better job of filtering news than, say, Google News.

That didn't stop some bloggers (mainly those frustrated because they weren't picked up by TechMeme's algorithm) from accusing the site of nursing a bias of some sort.

What will they think now that TechMeme's progenitor, Gabe Rivera, has decided that a human being can do a better job than the algorithm he created?

But subjective--and critical--thinking is exactly what readers need; someone who will help them cut through the noise and find the best information on the subjects they care about--at the frequency they want.

That sounds like great news--a victory for the humans against the borgs!

But before exulting too much, let's wait and see how well the new human editor does at keeping up with the volume of news.

My guess is that some automation will be needed to ensure that the editor doesn't ultimately gravitate towards the same set of sites.

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