Monday, March 30, 2009

Information Overload? Filter Failure? Here Comes Alltop…

Aggregation Without the Aggravation

There are several places I visit at least once a day to keep up with what’s going on. I usually stop at the larger news aggregator because it saves time. But I’ve always wanted a personalized aggregator for the news outlet and blogs I’m most interested in. I haven’t found one that fits my idiosyncrasies like a glove, but I’ve found that Alltop is a good place to start.

Alltop says that its purpose is to help you and me answer the question, “What’s happening?” in “all the topics” that interest us. Whereas a search engine might be great in answering a query such as, “How many people live in China?” Alltop’s intent is to answer the question, “What’s happening in China?”

This grand aggregator, collects the headlines of the latest stories from the best sites and blogs on the web and then they group these collections — “aggregations” — into individual web pages. They display the five most recent headlines of the information sources as well as their first paragraph. The feeds are refreshed approximately once every hour, so it should be as current as they come.

It says upfront that Alltop pages are starting points—they are not destinations per se. “Ultimately, our goal is to enhance your online reading by displaying stories from sources that you’re already visiting plus helping you discover sources that you didn’t know existed.”

It’s not there yet in my case, but it’s doing a fine start. And if you submit your feed, and other feeds you’re interested in, Alltop will build it into their system. The site must have RSS feeds however, or they cannot be imported into Alltop.

Imagine if you are a Political Officer in Latin America and have the option of being able to check with one click of a mouse “one online rack” that contains all the headlines of the newspapers and blogs in your region -- wouldn’t that be super? Alltop is not quite at that level yet, and inclusion depends on availability of feeds but, if you want it done and you send in the feeds, they might just build you one.

Here are the things I like best about Alltop:

#1. I can go to one page and scroll through the headlines of the sites I’m interested in quickly. Saves time, mouse clicks and my eyesight. See Diplopundit’s Alltop page. And if you’re a speed reader and a news junkie rolled into one, you probably will find this really cool.

#2. Pointing the cursor over a headline prompts the display of date and first paragraph so I can decide quickly if I want to read more or skip the item.

#3. If I have already read a specific article without using Alltop, the headline of that article is grayed out in my Alltop page, which allows me to skip it quickly.

Here are the things that need some refinement:

#1. The topics are currently limited, but they welcome suggestions for additional topics and you can submit additional sites. Requests for inclusion can be submitted here:

#2. I don’t know many feeds run through Alltop, but government agencies and think-tanks even those with multiple feeds are not really represented at this time. They did say if you submit the feeds, they will build the page.

#3. Some topics (see Politics) are so extensive that its Alltop page is quite long. The politics page is a mish-mash of feeds from online newspapers, individual blogs, organizations, global affairs, etc…. it’s almost as wild to navigate as the web. Well not nearly as wild but you get the drift. I would like the additional functionality of creating my own tabs or breaking down my page into several main topics (similar to Huffington Post) instead of lumping everything into one single page. This would allow me to create a tab for world affairs, politics, technology or whatever else interests me.

#4. I would like the added functionality of a site/blog look-up to help me build my My.Alltop page. Right now, I either have to scroll through the topics listed or browse the alphabetical listing. This takes way too much time. I already know which news outlets and blogs I want, I should be able to just look them up and add them to my page without having to dig them from the ever-expanding topics and ABC-listing #5. I’d like to be able to pick the color displayed, but -- I can live with orange.

Alltop is owned by Nononina, a “two guys and a gal” in a garage operation—according to its website one guy in a home office (Will Mayall), one gal on a kitchen table (Kathryn Henkens), and one Guy in United 2B (Guy Kawasaki). “They’ve been working together since the previous century and are still friends.”

This post is cataloged under “technology and work” where I occasionally write about online thingies that I find interesting or could be useful at work. I have no personal investment in Alltop or Nononina. Have fun building your own page!

No comments: