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A history of aggregation

Posted by: | October 22, 2009 | No Comment |

When Julius Caesar first made government records public, audiences other than wealthy elites and government officials finally had access to Roman news. With the access, came the urge to tell. With this mindset, pen and paper, aggregation was born.

Early aggregators copied the posted news by hand and then sent them in “packets” to whoever requested them. Also, Mitchell Stephens says that the Roman politician Caelius mentioned having to pay for a news packet to send to Cicero, the famous orator who was stationed in far away Asia Minor. This packet was made up of aggregated news that wasn’t yet distributed (but was posted in public) by the government.

Early news was spread in letters from Caelius to Cicero.

(Picture taken from Inside by Shell’s Blog.)

Early aggregators put everything they could into these packets. Indeed, Cicero complained about sensationalism and “tittle tattle” that was prevalent in these early news packets. But after studying societies that went insane without news sources, Communication 455 students knew Cicero wasn’t going to make his complaints that big of a deal. He had news. He had updates. He had them organized into a neat little packet.

How would he know that these little packets would take on a life of their own?

Aggregation took on several forms. In publications, and specifically the acta, different types of news were printed in different news products. Already there were separate actas for many differenet government services. One could say that these types of news were aggregated and collected into their own news sources, since the only direct form of news straight from the source was the original acta posted by the government to the people.

  • Coffeehouse and salon owners began to make their own newssheets to serve their specific clientele.
  • Fast forward to the late 1990s: Matt Drudge was spreading the word of Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky in The Drudge Report.
  • Fast forward to 2009: Jim Romenesko is now the leading source of news about the media, despite not writing an inkling of his own news. He looks at articles online (liken that to viewing the acta in a public place), summarizes them (writing a letter), and then posts it online in his version of a news packet – his widely-read column.

It’s aggregation at work. A process Caelius practiced has now been refined to meet the standards of the digital age.

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