The Content Aggregators and the Fat Belly

As social media explodes, the choices for the consumer are increasing exponentially. Our time constrained modern lives cannot consume all the content that is available to consume, and perhaps that is why we should consider hyper aggregation as an option. Some pico-start-ups like Original Signal, Spokeo, and Viral Videos are showing us the way.

Harrison Tang, a student at Stanford University and two of his college roommates have built a new web application called Spokeo, which in Tang’s own words is a “Trillian for Social networks.”

In other words, they allow you to combine your social networks (and other social services) such as MySpace, LiveJournal, Flickr, YouTube and put them into a single page. While most of its functionality is available in say a NetVibes (which is developing a MySpace module I am told), Spokeo’s main feature is its “recommend” feature.

When someone recommends a post, it will show up on his (her) friends’ Spokeo pages. This way, the post can spread through the network beyond the first-degree readership. In addition, much like Digg, the most recommended stories will appear on the Featured User page.

We use Spokeo as an example of one of the growing number of start-ups and web applications that are trying to tame the wild growth of user created content on the Web. Original Signal which went through a massive upgrade recently, does this for headlines from some of the more popular blogs and news sources; Viral Videos aggregates the most shared videos on the web, and scores of others are basically trying to help us make sense of the content bloat.

These sites are part of a trend which is going to continue, and will get increasingly popular. Back in September, Robert Young wrote about a phenomenon he called the “fat belly.” He argued that between the old hit-driven model and the Long Tail concept popularized by Chris Anderson, there is a vast middle class of information – news stories, blog posts and videos.

Spencer Wang, an analyst at Bear Stearns is making somewhat of a similar argument in his latest report, and points out that the big opportunity in the shift to video-over-the-net is in aggregation plays. Or as Young would like to say, play those fat bellies.

The perfect players for this are folks who already have established destination sites. AOL and Yahoo come to mind. In fact, they should not limit themselves to aggregation (aka getting people to submit videos, or sell videos through online stores) and instead of hyper-aggregation, the kind many of these small start-ups are proposing.

Instead of focusing on trying to develop their own competitors to say YouTube or Metacafe, these companies are better off creating aggregation points for end consumers. Yahoo, already does that with their MyYahoo service, which has become more valuable because of its ability to add RSS feeds.

Why not go further, and create Yahoo curated “news” sites that are driven by blogs. Spokeo service when given to say AOL users would mean, they would have one more reason to stick around AOL should use the AIM’s identity management qualities to sign into these other networks, making it easier to access the content from across the web, and as a pay-off keep your customers coming back for more. As companies, AOL and Yahoo’s biggest strength are their audience and their ability to turn that audience into a revenue stream. Hyper aggregation plays to their strengths.

The biggest argument for hyper aggregation is modern life’s biggest constraint: time. No one can argue about the value of niche content, especially for niche-ists. However, most of the population at large falls in the middle. There is a desire to get things pre-packaged because it saves time. Lack of time is why we put up with banality of television. The problem with something like online video is the exact opposite – banality is not an issue, finding the good stuff is. So bring me a packaged Top Videos of The Web Site, like say Viral Videos.