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Blurring the Lines of Ownership with Social News Aggregation

Posted by Robert Creutz on Sep 14, 2010 2:08:00 PM

social news aggregation resized 600“Social News” services are becoming a trend in the news publishing industry.

The New York Times recently announced that they had partnered with the tech incubator Betaworks to create a social news service titled News.Me. 

The goal of this project would to be to create a customizable news hub for users, allowing them to cherry-pick the news feeds they want to read on a regular basis.  

These news feeds would first be accessible via devices like the iPad and also would likely sync with sharing options from social networks like Facebook and Twitter.

While the New York Times’ social news application will most likely only include stories from their own company, many other services target the aggregation of stories across the board.  Grabbing news from a variety of sources  provides a wealth of benefits for a reader, the most obvious being the ability to customize their own ‘personalized newspaper.’  

However, news publishers need to keep an eye on the social news aggregation sphere as it continues to grow, both because it represents the future of readership as well a potential danger to their business model.

News outlets and publishers face the danger of their content losing value as it makes the rounds to various aggregation and social news sites, with some services taking more liberty in the volume of content they are pulling.

Plagiarism may also become an issue as author attribution and citation practices lose ground in favor of more efficient content distribution.

Online news aggregation has actually been around for quite a while. Popular sites like Digg and Reddit allow users to up-vote or down-vote stories to determine which are most visible to the public. 

A variety of Android and iPhone apps allow users to mix and match their favorite news sources and display them on their mobile phone screens.  Google has been keen on aggregation for some time:  their Reader service allows a user to customize their favorite news feeds from around the web and the Google News site automatically grabs links from the top stories online.

The social side of news has also been making its way into various news outlets. is integrated with Facebook so that users can view which stories their friends like and have commented on.  Popular blogs like, integrate with Twitter, Facebook and Digg to allow users to instantly vote on and comment on a story.

Rupert Murdoch, who owns the Wall Street Journal as well as Fox News, created a stir in 2009 over Google News’ use of his company’s headlines.  He stated that Google should pay for News Corp. content that was being displayed to users.  Google argued that use of the headlines fell under Fair Use copyright laws.

Although Google and many other aggregation services are currently only pulling headlines that link to news stories on external sites, publishers need to keep their eye on the trend as it evolves.  Fresh companies in the news aggregation arena might be more likely to push the boundaries of Fair Use and take more than a ‘blip’ from a story.

Plagiarism is an issue that is more than likely to surface for publishers as news aggregation and customization services continue to grow.

As a publisher’s content becomes more ‘spread out’ across the web it can also shed attributes such as references to the original author.  News aggregation ‘gone wrong’ can also hurt a publisher by devaluing their content as it surfaces on various other platforms. 

The best solutions will be ones that allow readers the maximum in news customization but with minimal risk for publishers to include their content.


Wortham, Jenna. “Betaworks and the Times Plan a Social News Service.” The New York Times 9 September 2010.

O’Dell, Jolie. The New York Times Is Preparing Social News Service Dubbed 10 September 2010.