I’m thinking that The ascendancy of Hacker News & the gentrification of geek news communities, by Rabble, is, in its quiet way, one of the most important think pieces I’ve read in quite a while. It’s pretty clear that online aggregations of individual contributions are occupying a bigger and bigger slice of the spectrum of useful information sources. And also clear that this new landscape isn’t stable, but steadily shifting underfoot.
First off, I’d recommend reading the comments on the “Gentrification” essay along with it. Like the a couple of the contributors, I think the pattern of conversational flow is accurately described, but am uncomfortable with the use of “gentrification”.
Here are my take-aways, the first couple lifted more or less directly from the essay:
Success as an aggregator is ephemeral.
The pressure of the SEO slime is continuous and unrelenting; a significant evolutionary force on whatever it is online communities are becoming.
The effect of individual burn-out is maybe understated. Consider Slashdot; one reason it has less traffic these days is that the editorial quality filters are pathetic compared to back then; the regime where CmdrTaco and friends had the wheel and just instinctively knew the wheat from the chaff was probably just not sustainable.
The value of following a few carefully-selected primary sources and keen-eyed individual observers just can’t be overstated. The right selection of blog and Twitter feeds can put you in a situation where you’ve already seen most of the good bits of today’s Reddit or equivalent. Yeah, it takes a little more time than just dropping by an aggregator. Whether this is a good trade-off depends on what your job is.
It should be painfully obvious that these lessons probably apply to news loci outside the technology ghetto; today’s hot news fora for politics or sex or knitting are just as vulnerable to online traffic’s fickle flow patterns.