Meg Hourihan, Kinja's project director and a founder of the blog publishing service Blogger, said she was ambivalent about the trend toward smaller and smaller scraps of information: "If you read 500 snippets, you can seem really up to speed at a cocktail party, but are you really prepared to make good decisions about the world?" At least with Kinja, she said, gathering those snippets is a more efficient process.
I'm not convinced any of these aggregators will ever catch on; I think people enjoy going to a few individual sites, with distinctive designs and unique voices. The whole aggregation movement reminds me of the Internet Channels concept, which was the Next Big Thing in 1997 or so -- a solution looking for a problem.
But Hourihan is right to be concerned. People only have so much free time for reading, and if we're using that time to read our favorite, narrow-scope blogs, we might miss out on the big picture (I touched upon this last year in the Boston Herald, with respect to media coverage of the Rhode Island nightclub fire. The piece is available on Lexis-Nexis).
What really strikes me about the above quote is the mention of cocktail parties. I'm consistently surprised at how cocktail parties are a major, unacknowledged force in decision-making. Right now, my classmates in medical school are trying to plan their fourth years and choose their specialties. I never suspected such significant decisions would be swayed on the basis of percieved social interactions, but it's happening. Anesthesia, for instance, has a poor cocktail party chachet, though it's rewarding in other ways. I suspect dermatology is great for get-togethers. My psychiatry rotation provided some interesting acecdotes, but I remember it also made people a little uncomfortable.
Acknowledging the cocktail party factor in decision-making is a step in the right direction. But it's still unclear what people mean by it -- Hourihan's quote suggests cocktail party stories are about impressing people without taking the time to really know a subject. Style over substance, in other words. A more benign view is that people like sharing the most stimulating information experiences possible, and they pick their news sources, and careers, accordingly.