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The rise of the African aggregator

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.

20 thoughts on “The rise of the African aggregator”

  1. I must agree BlogAfrica is undoubtedly a great effort to promote the African voices to the world. I think regional blog aggregators must definitely be brought into the spot light especially if one wants to analyze the sentiments coming out of the region for example gauging the political sentiment within the region.

    Great work and I am impressed to see Global Voices at the forefront of this initiative

  2. Thanks for the mention Ethan. I’d like to see functionality in the near future that allows bloggers to submit blogs in channels (countries) according to:

    1. Where they currently reside (as in my case, South Africa)
    2. Who they right for (perhaps multiple channels – three max – could be selected here)
    3. Where they originated from (as in the case of ex-pats)

    This should cover all bases…

  3. What a brilliant post. I do think we’re in a new era with content in Africa and as access becomes more readily available I have no doubt that Africa will have its say in a very big way.

    The idea of competition on Afrigator could be a contentious one but one that I hope we’ll avoid. The idea behind ranking is to incentivise bloggers from all over the continent to write better and create better posts that provide more thought provoking reading.

    As you mentioned we have some key issues to deal with across the continent however we as African’s have been largely limited to the exposure we could get dealing with first world countries. Hopefully Afrigator can change this even if only a little bit.

  4. Pingback: Global Voices Online » Blog Archive » Africa: the rise of the African aggregator

  5. Pingback: Jikomboe » Blogu Afrika: Amatomu na Afrigator

  6. I have addressed the channel-issue on my blog as well, asking what it means to non Africans. I don’t think the channels will work against the spirit of blogging in my opinion. What I don’t buy is the rating system, any rating system for that matter!!!

    I’m eager to see the new GVO… and don’t be in a haste to pull down the good old BlogAfrica. It’s an historic landmark in the African blogosphere worth preserving. Is it for sale?

  7. The new GV is hot. I think it’s going to surprise a lot of people – right now, we’ve got amazing stuff that people find hard to find. Very soon, people are going to have a much easier time navigating the site and finding stories they hadn’t known they were interested in…

    As for BlogAfrica… are you making an offer, Imna? I’m open to propositions… :-)

  8. Pingback: links for 2007-04-07 | Mike Stopforth

  9. I just came across Afrigator independently today, very exciting development!
    On the issue of competition, I am inclined to think that the aggregators will lead to more of an incentive to produce higher quality, better written posts.
    Thanks for the info on Amamotu, and all the great work with BlogAfrica!

  10. Pingback: Global Voices Online » Amatomu: The South African blogosphere, sorted

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  12. You guy you are not serious, the post is totally wimpy and kinda wack. Your aggregator is dope, but i hate the color scheme. Change it, advertise yourself, and i bet you will be hot, your domain name is.

  13. sir
    please include my new blog in english in the aggregater listhttp://bluewhale-bluemangobooksblogspotcom.blogspot.com/

  14. Grace Bible Foundation is sponsoring a life call show called “Africa Voice”. If you live in Washington DC area then you can call in to the show at 703 534 9878 or listen on line at http://www.wust1120.com live from 6-7PM every saturday.The show is about various doctrinal issues as it relates to the Bible. Things like speaking in tongues, is it biblical? divorce and remarriage? women as preachers in the church, gifts of healing and prophesy, have they ceased or are they yet in existence? Is Jesus Christ fully God and fully man, only man, only god?

    We need volunteers to help on the show.

  15. And it turns out you were right. Afrigator is now the ONLY aggregator worth talking about in Africa. It is the ONLY one paying attention to bloggers in Africa as a whole and letting the market decide who goes where in the rankings.

    I think they have only scratched the surface and the guys there seem to know exactly what they are doing, this time next year, we will be talking a completely different language with Afrigator.

    As you can probably tell, I love the ‘gator, a one stop shop for an overview of the state and depth of the wired Africa.

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