Aggregation, Navigation, Web of Confusion

When works of creation, information and entertainment are broadly dispersed, as is the case with web media, aggregating those works and their audiences is the sine qua non of business success. This has obviously attracted intense competition, as I alluded to in yesterday’s post, and I continue to stumble across more variations on the theme, such as the adMarketplace program of Conducive Corporation.

FYI, this type of aggregator serves as an ad broker between dispersed publishers and advertisers. The apparent novelty in the adMarketplace program, as I discovered via MediaPost, is that the firm will pay web publishers a bounty for bringing in new advertisers. So if you have a site about kites, and bring a kite advertiser into the adMarketplace fold, you get a commission on all of that advertiser’s subsequent placements — even if they’re not on your site. What a salesforce multiplier! Intrigued, I poked around and found a ClickZ News article to learn more about Conducive.

So, granted, aggregation is important, but what about navigation?

It used to be that media products came wrapped, either in a physical objects like book, or a time-bound broadcasts. Hyperlinks rip open the wrappers, which is good. But it can also be bad because nowadays, the road to information is paved with distractions.

Take last night, for instance, when I started thinking about navigation while reading a post by Susan Mernit on the Media Center blogsite. I followed it to some thoughts from New Zealand web designer Richard MacManus, who led me to an article by Joshua Porter from which I extracted this snippet:

“Aggregators are promoting a shift in the control of content. They’re challenging the idea that we as designers control public access to information in our domains, that users must view things in the way we prescribe, and that our hierarchy is best to present our content.”

By that point I felt utterly lost with the everything-is-everythingness of it all. Fortunately, Porter also directed me to New Yorker Jason Kottke, who has been blogging about “web technology, photography, media, network science, design … and rip/mix/burn culture” since 1998. A site that long-lasting and eclectic would obviously be huge, so Kottke provides instructions on how to use his site: “The front page is where it all happens. On the left is where I post new entries. You’ll always find the newest stuff on the site right at the top and about 2-3 weeks worth of the most recent entries as your scroll down the page. On the right are some links to the more important pages on the site and a list of sites I like to keep an eye on.”

We need more navigation assistance if web media are going to enlarge their audiences. It’s funny to see a baby open a book from the back, or hold a phone up in the wrong way. It’s not so cute to be an adult confronted with the bewildering possibilities of the infosphere, and not know how to get from need to knowledge.

Tom Abate