Norway’s supreme court Thursday decided [in Norw.] against a man who had published links to mp3 files. On Friday the story made it to Slashdot, where it immediately sparked a lively debate. Starting on top, I browsed my way through threads and comments, getting more and more interested. The debate was mostly very fair, factual and informed. Even entertaining. The Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten used to claim that it provided its readers with a solid basis for forming their own opinions. Well, the Slashdot contributors did just that for me. I got help to form the opinion that the verdict isn’t an attack on the principle of linking on the web, it’s a carefully balanced judgement, where the judges left the courts room to manoeuvre in a case with different circumstances. No need for alarm.
The Slashdot crowd pick up stories, structure information, organize the world according to a certain mindset (“news for nerds”). That way, Slashdot is an aggregator, one of the places where order is imposed on chaos. Others – clusters of weblogs, interlinked by common interests and topics. And then there’s the über-aggregator, Google.
Before the web, before TV, the daily newspaper was the aggregator. It still is, of course, at least it tries to. The daily newspaper’s collage of news and stories from the nation and the world can still be very appealing. It’s strange that newspaper ideologues so often get away with telling us that the newspaper provides coherence, as opposed to the chaos of the internet. The newspaper itself is a masterpiece of incoherence, with all its juxtaposing of hyperimportant world affairs on this page, silly gossip on the opposite. That collage style is also one of the newspaper’s great attractions. To stumble over a truly surprising piece of information that you didn’t actively look for, can make your day. Much the same as discovering a new great blog in a blogroll, actually.
When it’s properly edited, the newspaper lets a world view or a mindset emerge from under its many big and small stories, but now there are so many other world view producers. It’s really not surprising that newspapers or TV stations aren’t able to retain their old role on the web. Sure, many of them are extremely successful in terms of readership on the web also, see the BBC and the New York Times. But I don’t see them as aggregators. Of course none of them thought of inventing a Google News.
Force and counterforce. A strong trend produces its opposite. Google had to be invented, Google News too. Clusters form. Expect to see more high quality forums slash sense-making aggregators. Expect more Slashdots.