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October 8, 2009 / compassioninpolitics

Information Aggregators and Dashboards

On the Value of Information Aggregation

As the information arms race practically explodes our collective brains, the role and importance of information aggregation will dramatically increase. Hongwei Zhu, Michael D. Siegel, and Stuart E. Madnick from the MIT Sloan School of Management highlighted the importance of information aggregation back in 2001:

We have seen dramatic growth in the amount of information on the Web. This trend will continue in the future as the last-mile bottleneck is being removed in developed countries and infrastructure is put in place in developing nations. Finding relevant information and extracting value from it is becoming more important for businesses and individuals. The emergence of information aggregation on the Internet provides an effective way of retrieving and managing relevant information that is dispersed all over the Web. The opportunities abound for businesses to provide value added services using aggregated information.

Information aggregation is useful in a number of ways, such as comparing goods and services, providing personalized service in exchange for close relationship, and gathering information from different parts of an organization. These characteristics can often be combined to maximize values in the aggregated information. For instance, a relationship aggregator that aggregates financial accounts can also aggregate information on various investment instruments to assist customers to adjust their investment portfolios. In the case of Cadence Network, the intra-organizational information aggregation service provider also offers effective comparison analysis tools to its customers.

Value creation mechanisms are important for the success of e-businesses in information aggregation. By extracting value from the aggregated information and combining it with domain knowledge in a specific industry, an information aggregator can provide a variety of value-added services, which will generate multiple streams of revenue necessary for the sustainability and growth of the business.

The authors correctly allude to the fact that the web is decentralized information and combining its information repository (or coffers) can help make sense of it and hopefully improve human understanding of the world.

Information Aggregation Examples
What types of aggregation, information, and services might this include? Well Alltop, Techmeme, Digg, and POP URLs are some of the most famous information aggregators and as APIs for developers open up the potential for combinations and permutations will only increase. The creative use of widgets, RSS feeds, and mashing up data feeds can create new and useful content around salient issues, particularly of the long tail variety.

Information dashboards may indeed be one of the time saving saving graces of social media (along with community, communication, and transparency). CK Prahalad, a professor of business at the University of Michigan wrote about the use of kiosks called e-choupals to improve government services and productivity. His more recent book discusses The New Age of Innovation in which the business trend toward mass customization is enhanced with information technologies [the table of new applications from p. 251 to 257 is most useful–much of the rest seems to re-iterate the move toward mass customization] Also, the overall shift toward (technologically enabled) transparency brought about by social media technologies both inside and outside the Obama administration is an ongoing source of Government 2.0 innovation.

Information Aggregation and Social Media Community
One can follow the lead created by hyper local news aggregators like Topix, Outside.In, and Every Block (also refered to as community news aggregators). In fact, you can use the Alltop model to create your own aggregator on the WordPress content management system for community news and local activist networking.

Locally, in Nashville we have a fantastic community information aggregator called Nashville is (If you’re interested in the topic, you might consider looking at the same site a year ago in the Wayback Machine for another aggregation example) The newest version of Nashville is talking looks like it was taking some cues from the BBC design and user experience (UX) in terms of content widgetization (and ultimately a possible future nod to customization via moving widets for a individualized information dashboard experience).

Other Noteworthy Examples of Information Dashboards
Another aggregator model, which is more curator based is Browse My News which powers the topic aggregation at E-learning Learning as well as Work Literacy. Some aggregators become like pseudo magazines, which certainly adds to branding and design aesthetics.

There are an assortment of personalized information dashboards including Net Vibes, Protopages, Page Flakes, Zooloos, Yahoo Pipes, and iGoogle. My Alltop offers rudimentary customization which allows you to create an interface based on your favorite Alltop blogs.

Other aggregators include life streaming applications like Friend Feed,, and the now defunct RSS Remix (a fantastic tool–to bad its lost in the ether). My guess is that the rise of widgetized and embeddable content, information overload, the push toward mobile (which is another benefit of aggregation), and emphasis of workplace productivity (aka ROI, accountability, bottom lines, and transparency) will all drive the rise of information dashboard design for internal and external communications.

Metaphors for Information Dashboard
Its been said that the web is “small pieces loosely joined.” In such an environment of decentralization, it makes sense to think about the starfish metaphor (and model) as a way create order and make sense of the storm of data. It seems the model that’s been followed by the original edupunk Jim Groom has used to coordinate online information flow at Mary Washington.

The Future of Information Dashboards and Design
The current widgetization via delicious and Flickr tag aggregation as well as collecting the best topical RSS feeds are the primary outlets for aggregation now. However, as aggregation and personalization improves, the move toward filtering (via personalization, trust/ranking/rating/social graph distance) both on an automated and curated basis. As we look toward the future of information dashboard design, customization and personalization will create greater user relevance and hopefully greater user data, testing, experimentation, and iteration will yield community engagement.

1. For more on information overload check out the Information Overload Research Group.

2. The spider model was borrowed by Robert Scoble in his social media starfish and perhaps as well by Jesse Thomas and Brian Solis’s social media prism.

3. Here is an example of Twitter Tag aggregation via the Go Public for APTA

4. I’ve spoken in terms of widgets in the cloud, whereas many widgets can be desktop based as well and can be accessed without the use of the internet.

5. This design blog covers enterprise 2.0 style information dashboards almost as well as any. It includes white papers, templates and wire frames, and visual examples. [although many info/ux and design blogs are peripherally covering these issues such as user experience design and data visualization]


Leave a Comment
  1. BoychommA / May 15 2010 3:47 pm


    I’m a student from Raanana (Israel).

    I have to analyze how much time someone spend on internet.

    There are websites which are a guilty pleasure, but there are websites which only have a visits duration of 40 seconds.

    I would like to know how much time do you spend on internet (day/week/month).

    Thanks for your help!


  2. compassioninpolitics / May 15 2010 4:08 pm


    Probably about 30 to 35 hours a week–although there are weeks where it dips to 20 to 25.

    However, often that is “continual partial attention”–in other words I’m online, but I’m reading a book…..or I’m online and watching TV.

    Its hard to assess such usage in the context of multi-tasking.

    Hope the study goes well.


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