How the Huffington Post helped Rupert Murdoch

The Huffington Post was number one in The Observer’s 50 Most Powerful Blogs at the weekend, alongside plenty of other aggregators.

The Post, says the article, ‘hoovered up traffic’ and ‘made the first generation of bloggers look like two-bit prospectors panning for nuggets in shallow creeks before the big mining operations moved in’.

This is, undoubtedly, true and a pretty decent simile to describe the awesome site’s Death Star-like entry into the blogosphere.

But the Huffington Post isn’t just a big mining operation – it’s a strip-mine operation that decimates the blogging landscape by using the value of whatever it republishes, vaguely repackaging it and leaving a credit-plus-link behind.

Huff Post editors will argue that those links and that traffic are of value to the original site, but really the Post’s aggregation model is the online equivalent of harvesting a village’s annual crop and leaving behind an IOU. The Observer article continues:

In the era pre-Huffington, big media companies ignored the web, or feared it; post-Huffington they started to treat it as just another marketplace, open to exploitation.

That much is true. Huffington, and other mega-blogs like Gawker, opened the door for aggregators that use work done by other people to generate cash, traffic and engagement.

But Huffington and others like it have gone beyond aggregation as it used to be understood; it scrapes, albeit using a human hand as opposed to a bot, taking much more than a header and abstract. Was the effort that went into your blog post or article really worth that hard-to-find link back from the aggregator?

In its wake, other mass meta-aggregators such as Mahalo have followed, blurring the definition of ‘fair use’. It’s a tough one to call, but it’s easy to make apocalyptic predictions about where this sort of thing ends. What else is left when everything has been mined of its value?

Ironically, The Huffington Post was set up to take on the right-wing US blogs and news corporations; to provide a ‘liberal’ point of view and media beast to rebalance the landscape.

But by introducing the slash-and-burn aggregation model to publishing content, it’s allowed corporate behemoths to enter the mass aggregation game, with revenue-generation as the first and last priority.

And, greatest irony of all, Mahalo – a great black hole of aggregation – is backed by none other than News Corp; the greatest enemy of mass aggregation in the world.

So, when you’re confronted with SERPs results consisting of content scraped by Mahalo, earning plenty of cash for Rupert Murdoch into the bargain, remember to thank The Huffington Post.

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The trouble with Foursquare

I’m fairly dubious about claims that GPS-based social networking show-off app Foursquare could lead burglars to empty houses, prompting insurance claims for thousands of iMacs, X-Boxes and Garage Band kit as nerds around the country fall prey to social media criminals.

The idea that any of the smackheads who lurk at the road at the end of my street might be checking out my Crunked Badge status before jemmying open the back door and making off with my collection of Doctor Who DVDs strikes me as fairly remote.

But there is a significant downside to Foursquare that no-one has really discussed. It’s the fact that my heavy drinking has been exposed to me in terrifyingly irrefutable binary data.

What all of those dots and code and pixels add up to is the fact that I have a significant drinking problem*, my check-ins forming an accusatory dot-to-dot around Liverpool like interconnecting veins on a discolored liver.

In under a month I’ve checked in at at least twelve different pubs, bars and clubs, more than once in many instances. And I’ve been unable to check in on several occasions due to lack of iPhone, lack of reception, or – bafflingly – lack of the kind of social media twattery that compels me to start fiddling about with my phone the second I enter a building.

This adds up to a very sorry state of affairs, from the perspective of anyone viewing my life through lens of my Foursquare status updates.

Where are the check-ins of the galleries, theatres, cafes, parks and restaurants I’ve visited? Why did I not check in at those places? I’m just glad I didn’t check in at the off-licenses I’ve visited over the last month.

All of this does raise the possibility of new apps that use a FourSquare API to pretty much create a kind of location-based tapestry of your life – which could reveal all sorts of unsavoury information if you allow your phone to merrily pass on your location to all and sundry.

All of a sudden those unexplained visits to a house on the other side of town could start looking suspicious; that day spent at a rival business could need some explaining; the repeat trips to the bookies; those lonely late-night visits to a brothel, a late-night garage or a crack den…

The possibilities are endless. There’s probably a pleasant upside to these tools, but it’s not immediately clear what they are. As it is, I’m probably lucky to escape looking only like a rather hapless boozehound.

• You can find Robin on Foursquare here

* I’d like to make it clear that, as far as I’m concerned, I have no such drinking problem. Then again, I would say that wouldn’t I?