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Are you a creator or an aggregator?

September 5, 2010

Last week, I found myself in a meeting with the developer of a series of sports-based web portals. The websites, all built using an identical design template, attract an incredible number of visitors and incorporate a huge amount of content – news, information, player profiles, stats, clubs, travel etc. Pretty much anything you could ever possibly need or want to know about your favorite sport is accessible with just a couple of clicks of a mouse.

The most interesting thing for me, however, was not so much the incredible traffic that these sites are able to generate, but that not a single piece of content – with the exception of a couple of blogs – was actually created by the publisher.

These days, with RSS feeds, affiliate and syndicated content programs and easily accessible online databases, all it takes is some nifty coding and a decent content management system to create a fully functioning, fully populated web portal in just a couple of days. And if you know your SEO stuff, you can have your new audience “liking”, “digging”, sharing and linking to your aggregated content on social networks and forums around the world as quick as you can say “delicious!”

This undoubtedly is a very impressive demonstration of how you can use the latest online technologies, sophisticated search engine optimization tactics and social media smarts to drive huge amounts of traffic to a website or portal. However, many developers are thinking that the logical next step is to convert that high volume of traffic into a living, breathing community. And this, in my opinion, is where the model breaks down.

As far as I am concerned, making the transition from an aggregated content website to an active and useful community requires more than bolting on a Facebook-style social media platform to the portal. Successful communities – whether online or in the “real” world – thrive on participation. Participation is dependent on passion. And passion is specific not general.

When I visit a website to indulge my passions, interests and hobbies, I want to immerse myself in authoritative, entertaining and relevant content. I want to read expert opinions and unique insights from people who not only know their stuff, but who share my interest and who can articulate their thoughts in a way that entertains and educates me at the same time.

Yes, aggregated content and SEO can create huge amounts of traffic, but without a voice, an opinion, a personality or authority, they will never deliver the passion that creates a community.

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