Web Aggregation Needs To Get Smarter

Gideon Gartner

In the world of technology, there are few people who’ve had more of a ringside seat to the industry than Gideon Gartner.

Back in 1979, Gartner founded the now legendary Gartner Group — with a mission to improve the structure and opportunities for the advisory industry. Among other initiatives, as Gartner tells it, he had to convince his venture capital funders to let him effectively start three companies at once serving vendors, users, and institutional investors.

Today, after starting three successful companies —  Gartner, Soundview, and Giga Research — Gartner brings to the industry an unparalleled perspective on the trends that are driving technology.

And one trend that he thinks is likely to impact a wide array of clients and companies is the shift toward curation as a mechanism to manage the vast and overwhelming flow of information.

Says Gartner: “The word aggregation wasn’t in my vocabulary until relatively recently. I think at all my firms we performed aggregation functions without having a name for it.”

“Aggregating in the broad sense (as it’s generally done) is simply collecting information on some topic and disseminating it. But anyone who’s been in business understands that the volume of what’s being thrown at them these days is far beyond what they can handle. So I have to say that what we were doing might be called “intelligent aggregation”.

How important is this trend? Gartner explains, “I believe that intelligent aggregation is absolutely critical for information or content companies.”

The word curation may seem to be a synonym for aggregation, but in fact it’s a double for “intelligent aggregation”. Museum curators do not, I hope, assemble as much art as possible for an exhibition; rather they apply judgment in selecting what they deem to be appropriate.

Curation is essential to the future of all public content, whether it’s written or visual, as my answer to your prior question implies” Gartner explains. “I don’t understand how human beings can put their arms around the growing volume of what’s available, and at the same time meet their criteria re quality.”

Aggregation and curation are fast moving trends, likely to impact many segments and industries in the near term. And for a trend-watcher like Gideon Gartner, that is likely to impact a wide and varied number of firms and sectors.

Gartner says we need better quality evaluation mechanisms that are meaningful to individuals as well as firms, and at least for several more years this can hardly be accomplished electronically. But he thinks the demand will eventually explode, hopefully by y-e 2011.

In fact, Gartner himself has become something of a curator, unable to yet find technology to help him address the current media deluge: “One example is I’ve become a collector of clippings from a variety of publications,and I have hundreds of thousands of them in various categories which in my view affect the ‘Future of America’. I now have over a hundred different categories which will be curated down to the most accurate and provocative bits of analysis which when reorganized and restated, may become an interesting book someday. I’m looking for a sharp journalism student to help push the project ahead. Like many Americans, I’m both interested and confounded about all those issues which we face and which keep me up at night.”

“Just this last week, I was Googling for a site which selected and published editorials from various papers. The first site that came up reprinted all the editorials from 15 or so different but important newspapers. But only today’s papers, no third party commentary, and no guidance whatsoever with regard to the content of each editorial. In other words, no aggregation by topic, no added value.”

And where does video fit in the equation? Says Gartner: “There’s no reason why the same approach which content firms will apply in curating text, should not apply to video as well; video is simply one form of content. The mix of combining knowledgeable editors with new emerging technology should certainly result in video offerings being much more contextually relevant to a large percentage of the market.”

So, is curation a business or a hobby? Gartner says that both technology and paid professionals will play a significant role in the future of the curated web, as the number of firms which apply effective curation as part of a formal quality selection process, will inevitably grow. If we’re lucky, this will occur sooner rather than later.

Steve Rosenbaum is founder and CEO of Magnify.net, a NYC-based Web video startup. He has been building and growing consumer-content businesses since 1992. He was the creator and Executive Producer of MTV UNfiltered, a series that was the first commercial application of user-generated video in commercial TV.

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