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Can Web Apps Get Too Drunk on Aggregation?

There’s a mind-numbing amount of conversations and transactions going on around the internet these days and quality aggregation of content is a very hot trend. When is more too much, though? Are some aggregation services shooting themselves in the foot by sacrificing quality for breadth? Is this madness and does it need to stop?

Call it feature creep, call it “so meta it hurts,” it appears that a growing class of websites run the risk of aggregating too much. Maybe that’s not the case, but there are some issues and we’re going to write about them. We’ll also offer collected examples of sites that take one strategy or another – you can let us know if our own aggregation here is too much.

Long Tail vs. User Experience

Sometimes it’s a simple matter of priorities. Do you focus on developing the most effective user experience you can, or do you extend your service to as many niche user groups as possible? The best case scenario of course would not require such a choice to make, but for startups seeking to innovate – that choice often does have to be made.

Look at lifestreaming apps FriendFeed vs. awkwardly named competitor Profilactic. (profiles+disease prevention?).

FriendFeed has nailed user experience. It’s simple, easy to use, recommends friends till the cows come home and is a great place to communicate about much of your friends’ social media content. The number of sources you can associate with your profile is limited, however. At least compared to Profilactic it is.

FriendFeed lets you share content from 35 different services around the web and ironically, that looks like the focused option compared to Profilactic’s 177 and growing.

What’s not to love about Profilactic’s support for super-awesome services like music mix sharing service Muxtape and the RSS community Toluu? That’s awesome. Except not very many people use those services. In the mean time, I don’t want to use Profilactic and neither do most of my friends. I could use it without them but that’s not as much fun as using FriendFeed.

It seems to me that Profilactic has sacrificed user experience for long tail support. That’s a sacrifice that probably won’t serve them well. None the less, we wish them the best.

Breadth doesn’t have to be sacrificed for ease of use, though. To test this theory out I just bought a t-shirt through the meta-T-shirt aggregation voting site experience Rumplo. It was just as easy as buying a shirt through one of a million T-shirt sites (which I had to do eventually, Rumplo is just a voted-on directory) and it was fun. Watch out for shipping and handling prices on some of those sites though, ouch.

Niche Content vs. Economies of Scale

In the brick and mortar world, commercial enterprises tend to have to choose between offering diverse niche goods on one hand or buying and selling the most popular goods in bulk and reduced rates. The lack of physical inventory requirements and the low incremental cost in offering most digital goods means this dilemma may not translate online (news flash!).

You can get as nichey as you want online and still scale fairly large, it appears. Is that the lesson of Last.fm and Pandora?

Perhaps the way this dynamic can still come into play is the aggregation of aggregations. Perhaps offering collections of obscure collections gets too complicated and mitigates the network effects of a large user base that can come from a more accessible user experience. Music playlist social network Imeem suggests that’s not necessarily the case.

It doesn’t appear that greater levels of aggregation has to lead to a loss of niche content for the sake of economies of scale.

Diverse Commenting Communities vs. Centralized Discussion

As Sarah Perez wrote here last month in her post The Conversation Has Left the Blogosphere there are now comments being left all over the place. Just as some people get frustrated when the full text of their content gets “aggregated” and they lose out on pageviews, others are growing frustrated that comments aren’t being left all in one place.

Fortunately, there’s people working on this problem as well. Check out Sarah’s post yesterday on YackTrack, a service you can use to look up all the comments left around the web – on or about a particular URL. You can even use this bookmarklet: YackTrack It!.

Yesterday we wrote up BooRah, a company that aggregates restaurant reviews from all around the web and analyzes them for emotional content. That’s one way that aggregation can help centralize comments.

Dispersed comments don’t have to be a major problem coming out of continued aggregation. It’s going to be ok.


After looking at the questions above, the only remaining problem left really unsolved may be user back backlash. You can aggregate all day long but users may feel like it’s just too much.

We would argue, however, that a well executed user experience and perhaps some solid recommendation technology is going to be able to smooth most of the wrinkles that come from these increasing layers of aggregation.

Top image: jrhode

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