Every time I log onto YouTube or Facebook and I find out that the layout is suddenly different, I rage. Today, it took me a full minute to find where the hell I could message other users. There used to be a clear indicator of where that button used to be, like “messages” or “inbox” or something. But now I have to dig through several other options to find it, and it’s usually hidden amongst other pieces of text which steal your attention away. There’s still much animosity towards Facebook timeline – from articles to hate pages and videos.
Although people dislike these periodical changes, there’s an important reason for them: distribution and aggregation. They are central to gaining people’s attention and money.
As defined in the lecture, distribution can mean many things, and these extend to both old (pre web broadcasting like newspapers) and new (web 2.0 ) forms of publishing platforms. Andrew talked about how it could mean sharing, dividing up, dispersing through space, and arrangement. There are also variations to each of these definitions. For example, sharing could represent both the old school dissemination of music through CDs, top-down, from music companies to the average consumer. Or it could mean the P2P sharing of files between users.
Things that can be distributed are older things such as books, letters, and films and new file formats (mp3, eBooks, apps), as well as industrial processed like water, oil, gas and light. Devices like the kindle are king now because its mode of distribution (digital books) allows for convenience and success.
Aggregation was explained, in Andrew’s words, the “gathering, combing, or bringing code, text, images, sounds, code – and platforms…of anything that can be distributed as a whole…into increasingly flexible and variable forms of organization”. Basically, this means the gathering and organizing of data. This could be something like collecting songs into your own YouTube playlist. Websites act as aggregators for us. Stereomood organizes songs by moods – sad, happy, angry, funky, nostalgic, female, sexy, sunny day, etc. Songs are then compiled by mood for us to listen and search for. It then takes data of trending moods and tags to display.
Presently, distribution and aggregation are central to publishing, and it is changing many processes today. In the past, content was the focus. Andrew used news as an example. Before the internet, broadcasters disseminated information top-down to the population. But now everything is online. Everything is individualised. We choose when and what articles, films, shows and games to engage with.
Therefore the web needs to distribute and aggregate information such that our attention is captured and sustained, so that we choose to click on that link or watch that video. There are different types of aggregation and distribution, appealing to different types of interests. An example is Yahoo news, which appeals to the casual newsreader. Located next to the Yahoo mail login page, the news articles target people aren’t necessarily looking for news. There are taglines of celebrity news and murder stories. In contrast, Crikey’s page markets itself as “independent news”, and political headlines take up much page space.
Let’s take a look at how YouTube has developed to attract an ever growing viewership. Links were taken from the Internet Archive Wayback Machine (though I screenshotted the last one). Click on the pictures to be taken to the old webpage. Pay attention to how the website’s filtering functionality has evolved.
2006: Now there’s more types of data that are visibly being displayed and organised. More attention is given in the form of tabs, to the categories of videos. We are actually given more information towards what the featured videos are through descriptions and star ratings.
2008: Not much has changed. There’s more opportunity to filter videos through tabs – “most discussed”, etc. There’s a real-time data aggregation mode – “videos being watched right now”.
2010: There is more focus to videos “recommended for you”. It tracks the user’s interests to deliver them videos of similar content. More attention is being paid also to “videos being watched now”, as it has larger thumbnails and is not squashed at the top of the screen.
2012: Wooooahh. Starting to get pretty different. There are now visible categories (before you had to click on a tab or link to get to them) for people to sort through. There is now more colour differentiation. Featured videos are pushed to the side.
2013: Now there are videos under categories and different channels. What I’ve noticed is that these seem to be linked to what I’ve been watching – ‘thefinebros’, gaming videos, videos of Jim Carrey, and others. ‘Music’ and ‘Most popular’ seem to be categories pinned to the side, so although they aren’t as displayed as important as the other videos, maybe they act as staples. Videos based on your viewing interests are central, but people pay attention to music and what is viral.
Looking back really conjures up some nostalgia and depicts how fast the internet develops. The webpage from 2010, although only from 3 years ago, is already looking dated. And although I have been agitated at these layout changes, it seems to have been for the best. The 2013 layout appears slick, and utilises its space more effectively to attract views.
I want to wrap up with the repercussions this new distribution-aggregation culture has for us. Danah Boyd, in one of our readings, identifies a few consequences. One point she brings up is that humans learn to consume information which is not useful – “we are biologically programmed to be attentive to things that stimulate, such as content that is violent or sexual (…).We’ll find ourselves consuming content that is least beneficial for ourselves and for society as a whole.” Another is that ‘power’ still reaches the creators, but through “other intermediaries”. Websites like facebook are still profiting from users.
There is a movement against these new distributor-aggregators. In the lecture, Andrew talked about how Facebook was flawed, that it was too centralised, that it acted as an intermediary for every single website and application, and that privacy was being destroyed. There is a new way to distribute and aggregate, and we must move toward it. Diaspora is an example of this.