We Are All Aggregators Now

Among the many lessons learned from this “new media revolution” spurred by the violent protests in Iran, one is that

Among the many lessons learned from this “new media revolution” spurred by the violent protests in Iran, one is that we are all aggregators.

The Huffington Post, Andrew Sullivan and Nate Silver are not the only ones. Anyone posting links to stories about the protests, putting an #iranelection hashtag on a Tweet, or embedding the YouTube video of Neda’s death on their blog is an aggregator. They have “followers” and “friends” that are interested in what they are reading and listening to and watching.

With Web tools, we all have the power of the printing press, a radio transmitter, even a television production studio.

And now users, from Iranian protestors to participants in projects like Twitter Vote Report, want to be part of something bigger. This is sharing a scene, a photo, a link, or a story so that it can be gathered and generate a mass message–one that will empower people and maybe even enforce change. In other words, this isn’t Twittering about your sandwich anymore!

On the Web, “every medium is right next door to every other medium,” explained Clay Shirky, internet theorist, author and NYU professor, in a recent discussion for TED (Technology, Engagement, Design). “Media is increasingly less just a source of information, and is increasingly more a site of coordination because groups that see or hear or watch or listen to something can now gather around and talk to each other as well.”

He has been thinking about how the history of media formed this new connected landscape and allowed for Iranians to subsume their regimes’ messages to spread reports across the Web.

“The moment our historical generation is living through, is the largest increase in expressive capability in human history,” he said.

He explained that it’s obvious that this “new media revolution” was born from the Internet and its social networking tools. But he also noted that our “social norms,” the communication habits ingrained in our psyche for centuries, have evolved.

Now that all media is digitized, from phone calls via Skype to radio shows by podcast to TV shows on Hulu, the Internet has become media’s ultimate Swiss army knife for revolutionaries. “It’s like you had a phone that could turn into a radio if you had the right buttons,” he explained at his TED discussion. “Members of the former audience can also be producers and not consumers.”

In the 20th century’s media world, dominated by TV, radio, newspapers and movies, “the media that is good at creating conversations is no good at creating groups. And the media that is good at creating groups is no good at creating conversations,” he said.

“Whereas the telephone gave us the one to one pattern, and television, radio, magazines, books gave us the one to many pattern, the Internet gives us the many to many pattern,” he explained.

Case in point: today, on June 22, a photo shot by professional photographer Newsha Tavakolian illustrates a front page story in The New York Times: “Web Pries Lid of Censorship by Iranian Government.”

Dozens of digital cameras freckle the photo, poking between Iranians flashing the peace sign.

In the article, Brian Stelter and Brad Stone wrote:

Iran’s sometimes faltering attempts to come to grips with this new reality are providing a laboratory for what can and cannot be done in this new media age — and providing lessons to other governments, watching with calculated interest from afar, about what they may be able to get away with should their own citizens take to the streets.


One early lesson is that it is easier for Iranian authorities to limit images and information within their own country than it is to stop them from spreading rapidly to the outside world. While Iran has severely restricted Internet access, a loose worldwide network of sympathizers has risen up to help keep activists and spontaneous filmmakers connected.

These activists are “connected,” not just to each other, but the entire world through the Web. Their “connectedness” is probably why so many of them are taking the photo in the first place. We Are All Aggregators Now