Blog Post

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.

34 Responses to “The Content Aggregators and the Fat Belly”

  1. Hyper-aggregation allows the provider to own the customer relationship, but effective branding can allow it to own the customer’s perception of the offering’s core value — something much more valuable. For instance, lifestyle brands can obtain best of breed status because their core value is seen as the most productive solution for the customer’s need. (This dominant position allows a niche provider to expand the offering’s scope over time to effectively compete in new growth markets. The resulting threat to larger incumbents also allows the provider to position itself for a lucrative takeover by the incumbent.) Thus, hyper-aggregation in necessarily the end all be all. It can be a path though to that leading position in the customer’s perception of value provision.

  2. My wife and I couldn’t agree with you more. That is why we created We like to link to content anywhere on the Internet, rate it, personalize it on our profile, and discuss with other individuals (whether it be people in the same Lifestage) or family members.

    Let’s tip the world towards goodness and truth.


    David Hosei

  3. Original signal and million dollar homepage both seem to act as hyper aggregators from my POV. Because I am intriqued by how tech can juice “hyper” I am more likely to say OriginalSignal is more a pure hyper aggregator. It is interesting though to consider how an “aggregator” UI when tied to a “hyper” discovery engine could take rich media experience to another level so Viral Videos seem to fit nicely too.

    What are some other examples that fit your description of hyper aggregators? hyper aggregation…I think you’ve coined the term well.

    I’ve enjoyed reading your posts.

  4. With the explosion of content on the Web, it’s not at all about aggregation, hyper-aggregation or even hyper-mega-aggregation. It’s also not about the echo chamber formed by the 1% of users who actually contribute.

    It’s about congregation. The content that’s important to me is the content that is important to other people like me, determined passively not actively.

  5. Great post Om,
    I think the aggregation question is a bit of a red herring (no pun intended).
    My view is that it’s not about a personal view of the web (i.e. traditional aggregation), but about relevant content to a relationship. That’s a fundamental distinction.
    The aggregation is specific to the connection I have with the other person (or organisation). I choose the information I want based on its availability to me. My granny may choose to publish her latest boyfriends pictures to me, but I may choose to ignore them.

  6. Time is one constraint to finding the good stuff but so is effort and ability. Searching and filtering out garbage requires enormous skill and effort even if done passively. Aggregation works because it saves effort and leverages the hive mind. It’s ‘easy’.

  7. Om,

    The “fat belly” was known pre-internet, retail inventory theory had A (hit), B (your fat belly) and C (long tail) stock classes before world war 2. I was actually amazed that all this pre ‘net stuff was never picked up in the Long Tail book, good old Operations Research has a long history.

    As to Aggregation…it is as you say all about making time more efficient – do that and I’m happy, fail and I go away. That too has been a trend since before World war 2 at least!

  8. Thanks Om, for your kind mention. I love your term, “hyper-aggregation”, because it sums up Spokeo quite nicely. Aggregators are useful because readers have limited amount of attention span, and there are simply too much content out there. So, as Greg has put it nicely, what matters the most is how to stream the most relevant information in the shortest amount of time.

    The Web 2.0 aggregators (Spokeo and Netvibes) are different from their older counterparts (portals and newspaper) because they are personalized and automated. Because the sources are personalized, the information is more relevant. Because the information delivery is automated, the news comes faster. I think those who have more than 10 feeds in their readers would all agree that they can’t live without aggregators.

    The biggest problem we see from the today’s readers is “the starting cost”. Adding feeds is not only a hard concept, but a tedious process as well. Spokeo assumes that people are interested in their online friends’ content, and with that assumption, we create a one-button import that significantly lowers the starting cost. I think this is what makes Spokeo different and special.

  9. Jeff Pulver built our company, Network2, such that our take on aggregation is somewhat different. We’ve chosen to focus specifically on quality independent content that’s episodic in nature. We think there are plenty of people out there watching for the next Diet Coke and Mentos, but fewer people are pointing to the great production demonstrated in shows like Galacticast, Something to be Desired, and Alive in Baghdad instead.

    We think that finding great, free internet TV shows, sharing them with your friends, and having ways to review it yourself (rolling out shortly), will build the value of finding shows you want.

    If YouTube is like a box of chocolates, we’re the fine meal you can feed your guests.

    -Chris Brogan from

  10. In response to Hugh, I’ve tried Iceflake, and it doesn’t really DO anything. For one, your friends have to join in order to read them, but with Spokeo, you can read anyone, at any time. At this point, it seems pretty useless.

    I like the idea of hyper-aggregation because not only do I read tons of blogs, but the majority of my friends are split between social networks.

    Amit- I had to chuckle at your Escher-eque concept! :)

  11. Makes a lot of sense.
    The problem Yahoo and AOL might have is that they are also working on their own youtoube-me-too-site. Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t see them sending a user to google to wath a youtube clip.

  12. I have a slightly different perspective. I see MySpace, Youtube and others slowly converging over time in terms of functionality. So perhaps the type of service described above is useful today, but 5 years from now when many of these services are essentially the same why should anyone sign up to 100 different networks and use this service to aggregate duplicated content? It seems like it has a limited lifespan. Eventually, just like with instant messengers, all the people in your circle will merge to one platform.

  13. Exactly right. The problem is not aggregating content, it is helping people find the good content. We need tools to help people focus their attention and filter through all the crap.

    On video specifically, have you seen Findory Video? Findory Video recommends videos from YouTube, Google Video, and a few other sites based on the videos you watch.

    To try it, just go to

    do a couple searches (e.g. “wallace gromit”, “lecture”, or “engedu”) or browse by subject, click on a few videos, then go back to

    to see a new, fresh front page with your recommendations.

  14. A new feed reader/aggregator that I’ve really got into lately is Threz (

    I have to keep track of literally hundreds of feeds daily so the great thing about it is that it automatically sorts, tags and groups each article depending what me and friends have been reading.

    Its kind of hard to explain, but really impressive when you see it.

    They’ve just added custom feed groups as well, which kind of adds a new dimension to it..

  15. I agree with you completely. In fact, the trend to hyper-aggregate Web 2.0 content under one platform may actually turn out to be very viable indeed. We are already seeing enterprising brains working overtime on such projects. Yes, I agree again when u say that ppl need such sites.

  16. Sounds a lot like Mugshot (, a web site/software combo that allows users to show updates from all their in one place, and likewise see live updates from their friends. Mugshot already works with the usual suspects — Flickr, YouTube, Facebook. The key difference is that Mugshot is an open source project sponsored by Red Hat, so anyone can chip in to add support for new sites or host their own instance of the software.