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Infinity

Just catching up on news feeds and came across a great post by Seth Godin about the “Nearly infinite” options online.

“…infinite is everywhere.

“There’s an infinite number of books at Barnes and Noble…

“There’s certainly, for all intents and purposes, an infinite number of web pages. And even Facebook, just a small subset of the web, has an infinite number of friends for you to make.”

This is a trend we’ve talked about before, and the answers aren’t easy. As the blogosphere began to take off prior to the 2004 election, becoming a promintent blogger was pretty straightforward – blog a lot, build an audience, and contribute to the conversation. Today, Technorati tracks over 112.8 million blogs, a literal infinity to anyone who might attempt to read them all.

So with the established trend of nearly infinite material online, there are two ways to try to find what you want. Seth Godin discusses the pros and cons of the first, which is search:

“Search makes the infinite finite (at least for a while). With search, we turn the infinite selection on Amazon into a nearly manageable finite selection. Except search (no matter where you look) is pretty lame, and it doesn’t really turn infinite collections into manageable choices.”

The other trend is aggregation. Large communities have formed around blogs that have taken the best of what they read and then put up links to their favorite slice of the blogosphere. For a reader daunted by the infinite options to read, such aggregator serves a very important role.

For a blogger, authority (and traffic) can come through the simple act of directing readers to other blogs. By taking on this function, the aggregator becomes a hub of traffic and influence. Once other bloggers begin to see traffic spikes from a noteworth link from the aggregator, they might begin to write for the aggregator.

This concept is not new. It’s the same concept as a magazine’s “Best of” issue or a summer reading list. It’s why we watch award shows. By going to that one place, we get to see what we want, as chosen by someone whom we respect.

But aggregation suffers from the same problem as the original content itself. If there is nearly an infinite number of blogs out there, mathmatically, there also could be a nearly infinite number of aggregators. In the face of this possibility, it seems then that the online properties best poised to capture this trend of aggregation are the very properties who have taken a leadership role in the current blogosphere. Only if they fail to adapt to this new trend of user-generated content will they be able to keep their leadership. The one exception I would make here are old media newspapers going online. If these papers would be willing to add links to their favorite blog posts alongside their own articles (beyond the current “who links here” footnote), their traffic would increase dramatically. People who get their news online read blogs, and if newspapers refuse to link to blogs via their own websites, they are missing a huge opportunity for eyeballs and ad revenue.

For the political campaign, capitalizing on this trend isn’t hard. Hillary Clinton’s campaign did it with their Hillary Hub. By aggregating all of the stories about their candidate — at least the positive ones — the Clinton campaign made their site a de facto source for information. Campaigns will often resist putting information online because they believe it provides “opposition research” to their opponents. I have news for you — your oppenents already have all the research they need. Instead, there are two audiences a Hillary Hub attracts: supporters and undecideds. And who doesn’t want to reach them?

So as talk of Web 3.0 builds, and the search mechanisms that will accompany it, aggregation needs to be a key part of the conversation as an evolving trend in online communications.