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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Topic Hubs

The term topic hub was not something that I was familiar with until John Tropea used it to describe the content communities Social Media Informer, eLearning Learning, Mobile Learning, Informal Learning Flow, Communities and Networks Connection that we've been launching.

John really has helped me better understand and describe the value proposition of Topic Hubs.

Hard to Understand a Blog Network

In his post Communities and Networks Connection blog aggregator:
.... newbies to the blogosphere sometimes haven’t go time to immerse themselves and build a subscription of blogs they trust, this takes time, but it’s well worth it for personal experience. This also happens to me, I haven’t got time to find and build a list of sources for topics I’m slightly interested in, as I’m too busy on the topics I am interested in.

Anyway, for newbies and others, there has been a movement where this stage of finding and reading blogs on a topic has been made a whole lot easier. The blogosphere has matured and blogs on a topic have proved their worthiness (blogosphere self regulates reputation) and coalesced into one convenient space.
This is very true. It's hard to understand a single blog. I've been exploring exactly that in my recent post: Index Page. It's even harder when you try to understand a network of bloggers. I don't necessarily claim that content communities (or should I call them topic hubs) solve that problem, but they at least help to some degree.

Topic Hubs Bring Together a Network

In How relevant are communities of practice in a network age?, he defines one of the needs for a content community that I see as well:
one thing we do forgo is the neatness of a topic hub, compared to scattered content. What I mean is that if you network you know how to tie all the scattered content together as you blog about it and bookmark it. But for new comers, finding all content on a topic in one page is always easier.
Topic Hubs Require a Form of Community

John then describes a key requirement for topic hubs to work...
if you want to build a topic hub (a clearing house on a topic, as well as learning from each other whilst you’re building your practice via conversations), you need a community, people become members of a shared space, which is a commitment to contributing to the aim.
While Nancy White tells us that topic hubs are somewhere in between a network and a community, there are community like aspects required to create a hub. You need people who are focusing on similar topics. Most often these people are part of a network that has elements of community. Certainly in the eLearning world, bloggers have some kind of community.

The bottom line for these kinds of topic hubs is that they focus on the needs of the content consumer: creating a site that makes it easier to find and navigate a complex network of content. These sites also take advantage of a existing phenomenom, the loose community of blog networks.

I look forward to Nancy, John and others helping me to understand more about all of this.


Stephen Downes said...

This basically recycles Hegel & Armstrong, net.gain

Topic hubs are not the way forward. Focus on being a network, not being spikey.

Tony Karrer said...

Stephen - how do you view OL Daily? Isn't that a human powered aggregator / topic hub?

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora Tony

Communities tend to be made up of those who have widely diverse interests. I believe Stephen is right in that a network is most likely to succeed (especially if it is made up of such a community).

In my commentsphere, for instance, I am forever amazed at the diverse group of people, of all types and background, who are part of it. And though they are held by a common thread, the strength that I see in that network is not because they all have a devotion to one topic, but that their other interests permit them to bring different qualities to the forum.

And while the size of the network is important to the facile way that it can function (and this is important too) its makeup is just as important. It is strength in diversity.

Catchya later

Anonymous said...


Topic Hubs are a nice name, but they can be vague in describing the system behind it. A more precise name would be blog aggregators.

We know communities are a group of people with a shared identity who build and learn in a shared space.

Whereas networks are people in their own space, connecting to other people (there is no communal space here).

What we are doing is hand picking some sources from a network, and creating a playlist. Those people are still doing their thing in the network, they may not even know they are in someone's playlist...their behaviours don't change, yet you are getting value in aggregating them.

When you think about it I subscribe to most of the blogs in CNC. If my RSS Reader was public, like you can do with Bloglines, then I could offer a very very simple version of CNC.

I mentioned several hosted sites at the end of my CNC post.

In the end, blog aggregators are not networks or communities. They just piggyback on what already exists.

If you have an RSS Reader you are a blog aggregator, only you are doing it privately, rather than a public aggregator like CNC.

I posted something about a year ago on this

Tony Karrer said...

Ken - that's a great point about diversity.

John - since this also brings in content outside of blogs, I'm a bit concerned that calling it a blog aggregator is misleading. I guess aggregator is correct, but there's also the rest of the stuff going on. I'm not sure that I would call Digg or TechMeme aggregators either with the value placed on top.

For someone like yourself who is already immersed in the world of CNC, then the topic hub only has value if it helps for quickly finding content (which sometimes it does for me). The real audience are not the folks already subscribed to all of these feeds and deeply immersed like yourself.

You are correct that there are a lot of different ways that someone can create something in the blog roll, aggregator, topic hub space.

This has been helpful because I'm seeing some points of differentiation.

Nancy Devine said...

i'm a relative newcomer to the blogosphere. i began my own blog last october.

the resources about blogging and micro-blogging available to me online could be overwhelming. but,
to some degree, i ignore the vastness of it all, because i'm looking for something else.
what? i look for people online who are receptive to helping me and listening to me.

if i comment several times on a blog and i get no response, i'm done commenting. if i comment on a blog, quite often one that is tangential to my experience as a teacher and writer, and i get a response, especially one that is helpful, i'll go back to the blog.

i'm not sure if the right word for what i'm discovering is community or hub. i will say that the online places where i feel most welcome seem to include those with wide content interests (business, technology, education...) but who share a certain sensibility, one about connecting to others in the context of essential matters.

there is something to be said, though, for slogging through a lot of the internet alone, figuring it out. if i compare what i know now to what i knew when i started this fun in october...i can't. suffice to say, that two weeks ago i had the belief that i could probably edit a small part of my blog's html code. (when i started blogging in october i didn't know how to embed video in a blog post). i did edit the html code successfully.

i'll sum up like this: the blogosphere allows me to connect with people who want to connect, and the blogosphere forces me to connect to capacities i have that i might not have known about prior to all this.