My friend Boris Anthony – the information architect for Global Voices and all-around super-smart web 2.0 guy – said something about 18 months ago that I remember very clearly: “None of my clients want weblogs anymore, they all want aggregators.” Global Voices was one of those clients. We tend to think of our site as an “edited aggregator” – our editors look at thousands of blogs and translate, contextualize and amplify those we think have something to say to a wider audience. The hope, going forward, is to make this process more transparent, showing everyone the blogs we’re reading to create our roundups and giving everyone access to the aggregators we’re using. (This isn’t going to be in our next redesign, which you’ll see early next week, but the hope is to bring it online in the first half of this year…)
Aggregators have seen a surge in popularity in the African blogosphere over the past couple of months. I’ve been running a very simple, vanilla aggregator for almost three years now – BlogAfrica.com, which I launched with friends at AllAfrica.com. It’s now running on the same (occasionally overloaded) server that I run this blog on, and is certainly a useful tool if you’re interested in a wide-ranging, unfiltered look at African blogs. But there’s room to do much, much better things with aggregating African blogs, something I’d be interesting in exploring if I weren’t bried neck-deep in the other projects I work on.
Fortunately, African innovators are pushing the envelope. The Mail and Guardian is hosting Amatomu, which advertises itself as “The South African blogosphere, sorted”. The sorting refers to the site’s ranked lists, which list blogs in terms of their popularity in terms of unique visitors. Amatomu is able to calculate this by asking participating bloggers to put a badge on their sites – by analyzing how many users see this badge, the system can calculate how many readers see the blog. The same basic idea is being used by Justin Hartmand and Mike Stopforth with their new aggregator, Afrigator, which tracks blogs from all around the continent and invites users to rank individual posts.
Afrigator is very, very pretty and strongly suspect that it will make BlogAfrica obsolete at some point in the near future. I would urge anyone who has a BlogAfrica blog to register it on Afrigator as well – it probably isn’t realistic for us to take the list of blogs from BlogAfrica and add them as a whole to Afrigator as they need to be classified by country and because bloggers gain benefits when they add the badge to their pages.
I wonder, though, whether Afrigator’s ranking system will lead to conflicts about what is and isn’t an African blog. I’m currently registered in the system as a Ghanaian blog, which is a stretch to say the least – it probably won’t matter if my blog remains lowly ranked, but I can imagine it becoming more controversial if there are non-African African blogs in the top ranks (and I’ll probably pull out of the aggregator if this happens…) Will competition create incentives for all of us who care about Africa to write more and write better? Or will it create unhappiness and resentment between bloggers?
Questions about ranking aside, one of the reasons aggregators are so popular is that the African blogosphere continues to grow, adding new voices and perspectives every day. Increased tension and strife in Zimbabwe appears to be causing more Zimbabweans to raise their voices online, and I’ve been enjoying seeing new contributors to Kubatana’s blog site, including Clayton Marange and Natasha Msonza. Welcome to everyone who’s raising their voices – let’s hope that the rise of African aggregators helps the world hear some different African voices.