Curation vs aggregation, and why news organisations can’t be ‘the next LinkedIn’

“We are not a magazine company,” he exclaims, unprompted. “We are a media company with a portfolio.”  “We want to build the next LinkedIn, the next Gilt [a US commerce site], the next Facebook,”

M Scott Havens, senior vice president of digital, Time Inc

What does it mean to be a platform? Time Inc’s M Scott Havens is the latest to express a desire to move into the platform industry, telling The Guardian:

“We want to build the next LinkedIn, the next Gilt [a US commerce site], the next Facebook,”

Platforms came up at the BBC ‘Revival of Local Journalism‘ event last week too. Why weren’t regional newspaper publishers doing more to become ‘platforms’ for their local communities?

There is a key reason why news organisations have failed to get into the platform business, however: cost.

Not the cost of investment in platform, but the cost of monitoring it.

True platforms – Google, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn – benefit from the ‘common carrier’ exemption from many of the legal concerns that occupy publishers. True, they may be obliged to respond to legal requests, but they are not generally liable before that point.

News website publishers benefit from similar treatment when it comes to unmoderated comments: until notified of a potentially libellous comment, the publisher can argue that their comments thread is merely ‘a platform’.

But it’s complicated: leave comment threads open on coverage of an ongoing trial, or on a story about racially motivated crime, and you leave yourself open to accusations that you should have anticipated comments that are in contempt of court, or inciting violence. Your defence is weaker.

So being in the hard news business is problematic if you want to be a platform: it is the equivalent of setting up stall during a lull in the middle of a bar brawl, as opposed to the town square. You can’t say you didn’t see the trouble coming.

The BBC itself is an example of just how anxious news organisations are about being a platform for others: its local news sites now automatically pull in headlines linking to local newspapers’ articles – but hyperlocal sites are excluded entirely.

The problem is not only that publishers want it both ways, but that they are starting from a weaker position: LinkedIn began as a tool and added content later; YouTube hosted content for years before it began investing in original content.

Havens’s comments betray a similar issue, despite his background in startups:

“Fortune should have been launching a platform that connects executives and has content. But it didn’t.”

“And has content.” That’s the thing. LinkedIn aimed to meet a need which was first and foremost about information and utility, not content in the sense that Havens thinks.

The Sun, Telegraph and Express all experimented with their own social networks in their time, but it was never clear what they gave users that existing networks didn’t already. The Guardian appears to be one of the few news organisations to bring in content from bloggers and sell advertising against it, sharing the revenues. It did this in fashion before branching out into media, science and higher education

But not in hard news. In hard news content is curated: Comment is Free; the BBC’s Local Live (which does regularly link to hyperlocal sites).

These are not platforms: they are channels.

A platform aggregates. For me, aggregation is distinct from curation in that it is automated: the result of an algorithm. Google’s search results are aggregated by algorithm; Facebook’s news feed is aggregated by algorithm; Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube: ditto.

YouTube’s innovation was to provide the infrastructure to share advertising revenue with video creators and music publishers – a move which managed to be both defensive and aggressive.

I’m curious how news organisations can pull off the same trick – and I hear noises that some are at least thinking about their options. The problem is scaling up: that’s what YouTube did (with a brand bland enough to, too). But curation – it just isn’t scalable.

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2 thoughts on “Curation vs aggregation, and why news organisations can’t be ‘the next LinkedIn’

  1. Pingback: Journo stuff I’ve collected on 07/03/2014 at Sarah Hartley

  2. Pingback: Tip: If your blog comments have moved to Twitter, embed tweets at the end of your posts | Online Journalism Blog

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