Overcoming Information Overload with Information Aggregators

By: Ron Tower

The Web continues to grow rapidly. Users find it difficult to know where to spend their browsing time. Web site owners find it difficult to attract visitors. Information aggregators help with these problems.

Information aggregators provide a summary view of what information is available and allow the user to go to the information source for the details. This saves users time and helps them not to miss information important to them. The summary modules often are all they want to know at a particular time. Web site owners can provide information modules that can be included on other Web sites, but they can also be displayed within an information aggregator. Providing useful summary content builds up good will and ultimately attracts more visitors to their site to see the details.

The fundamental building block of an information aggregator is a summary information module.

This is the content that is organized and displayed by the information aggregator. The following are some types of modules:

  • RSS feed

  • Web page fragment

  • Web page extract

  • Vital signs

  • Directory entry

The module content must be served to information aggregators in some standard format that is commonly known by the content providers and that is supported by the information aggregators. Here are some common formats:

  • XML file

  • HTML fragment file

  • Commented HTML file

Typically these files will be accessed using a standard protocol such as HTTP.

The modules are displayed in the information aggregators in different ways by different tools. Here are some common layouts:

  • 2 panels

  • 3 panels

  • Single column in time order

  • Multiple column portal page

There are two main ways to get an information aggregator. One is as a desktop tool that you can download and run on your machine. The other is by logging on to a Web site.

Beyond the support for displaying content modules of different types in a useful layout, there are some other related features and approaches that could be included:

  • Personal Web directory and knowledge base

  • Capture tool

  • Editions for targeted user groups

The main types of information aggregators available include personal portals such as My Yahoo () and My Way () and various RSS readers (). The portals are typically restricted to the specific content modules that they provide and are oriented toward a generic audience. The RSS readers typically are just for reading RSS, but some are expanding out from this base.

The next generation of information aggregators will support a wider variety of information modules and narrowcasting to more specific information communities. For example, see Personal Watchkeeper ().

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