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Aggregating, And Being Aggregated




I've been playing around with the Tomahawk Music Player. Tomahawk is described by Word Magazine (which is where I first saw mention of it) as a "high-precision one-stop desktop app for millions of tracks from every last corner of the web". It's a pretty good description. Tomahawk runs many sources of music side-by-side, so you can plug it into your Spotify subscription and your iTunes library, but it will also crawl the web to find music wherever it exists (including Soundcloud, YouTube, Grooveshark and many more) and enable you to play it seamlessly regardless of source.

It's been developed by the open source community (people like Richard Jones, who years ago worked on the scrobbling capability that was pioneered on LastFM, have been involved). The smart thing about the service is that since it doesn't host any of the music it plays, it doesn't have to deal with any of the licensing issues that the places it is streaming from do. And it also has some rather neat functionality that enables you to create playlists based on any number of criteria including familiarity, mood, danceability, duration, tempo, and even a measure of the online buzz about an artist or track.

I've been using it a lot, and doing so reminded me of using publishing aggregators such as Zite, Flipboard,, Pocket and Instapaper and the way in which they enable access to a broad range of content without requiring you to visit the source of the content (with Pocket and Instapaper you need to be on the content to initially bookmark it of-course), frequent the publication websites or download their apps.

A couple of weeks ago, the Editor-In-Chief and Publisher of Technology Review wrote a searing piece declaring that (in stark contrast to Chris Anderson's rather silly The Web Is Dead piece from a couple of years ago) the future of publishing and media doesn't lay with applications but with the web. Christopher Mims, a Technology Review staffer, balanced this with an exposition that was slightly antithetical to that set out by his boss, arguing that instead of consuming via walled-garden publishing apps, we're increasingly consuming content through aggregators like those above.

Whilst we may not quite be at the point where aggregators are replacing newspaper and magazine apps, my own experience is that aggregators offer an enhanced user experience due precisely to the fact that they can aggregate content from multiple sources, and also offer unique functionality that curates the most shared stories from my social networks and positions those alongside my Instagram and Google reader feed creating a far more personalised experience. As the Mims' piece points out, aggregators typically offer an excellent reading experience where advertisements are stripped from the content we consume.

Layers of aggregation are another example of just how difficult it is these days to keep any kind of control over access to your content. The lack of monetisation for content accessed via these apps is an issue, but aggregation of content through different means is simply not going to go away anytime soon. So I'm left feeling that the longterm future is more likely to be about embracing it, and exploring ways to make it work better as a business model for both aggregators and publishers. 

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