The browser hijackers: how aggregators don’t share the love

Whose browser window is it, anyways?

Link aggregators like Digg, Newsvine, Shoutwire, Fark, Delicious, Reddit, and Spurl are increasingly popular ways to find and track news … but there are some differences between them. Especially regarding how they treat your browser window.

Digg: mine, mine, mine
Digg likes your browser window – a lot. Just like the seagulls in Finding Nemo. So much so that clicking on links in digg opens up a brand new window. After all, why share when you can just have your own?

NowPublic: it’s … my … p-r-e-c-i-o-u-s!
Sharing does suck. But NowPublic would rather share the pie – even the bottom slice- rather than let everyone have their own pie. All is fair in love and war (and aggregating) and memories are short. Maybe you’d forget where that un-freaking-believably great link came from, if you weren’t constantly reminded.

Netscape: mommy, mommy, look at me!
Sharing doesn’t suck if you get the best piece. Why take the bottom of the totem pole? The side – especially the left side – is much more imposing, prominent, and lickable. Err … clickable.

Shoutwire: what do you mean, “your” window?
The bottom of the totem pole? The side of the totem pole? Are you joking? Shoutwire has nothing against sharing … as long as it gets top billing. Right across the top, baby, and yes, that’s our Flash ad making your CPU race. Click on it. Now.

Newsvine: other sites? What other sites?
Aggregator? What’s an aggregator? The news is here – we have the news. We are the news in fact, and there’s no reason to go anywhere else. Just vote already. OK? Or, if you really must, post a comment.

Some context for this post
I wrote this post because I’m tired of going to an aggregator, clicking on a link, and getting my browser window spammed, or new windows generated.

Aggregators, their value, their revenue
Aggregators are supposed to collect news or cool links. Social aggregators apply some mob logic to the equation, but it’s still news or cool links.

The value that aggregators bring is filtering.

There’s a lot out there on the long, long tail of the world wide web. Too much for any one of us to find everything. Too much for any one of us to find everything we’re interested in. And too much for any one of us to find the best of what’s interesting.

Filters let the cream rise to the top. (At least, that’s the theory.)

Since aggregators add value by filtering, they’re entitled to rewards. Money, not to put too fine a point on it. As our eyeballs dangle on strings, fixated on the flickering lights of our favorite filters, they paste ads on our brains. Occasionally, we click on one of them. The aggregator aggregates a few pennies.

That’s OK. That’s cool. That’s good. They’re happy, we’re happy. But. (Isn’t there always a but?)


The map is not the territory
Aggregators are the map. They show us how to get from Bush bashing to techno-hippy news. And we appreciate it. But aggregators are NOT the territory. They’re not the Bush bashing or the techno-hippy news.

The pipe is not the water.
The lense is not the view.
The artery is not the blood.
The reporter is not the story.

When aggregators forget this, they try too hard. They want to be too much. Then they do things like Netscape and Shoutwire and NowPublic: trying to control your browser window.

More than they deserve
When they do this, they are trying to extract more value than they ought.

These aggregators are behaving like old media. They are acting like About, where links always circle the wagon and lead visitors on a merry-go-round inside the walled garden. They are framing other sites’ content … something that I thought we had shunned into nonexistence almost a decade ago.

They are trying to package and profit from others’ work. This is taking more than they deserve. This is hijacking. This is an ownership mentality, not a partnership mentality.

Bottom line: it’s not right.

. . .
. . .

The good guys
Reddit, Spurl, Simpy, and Delicious all open links in the existing open browser window. This is what they should be doing, and they are to be commended for it.

A final note:

I can’t get too worked up about aggregators that open links in a new window. It’s annoying, but those of us who are not newbies know how to open links in new tabs, or already have our browsers set up to do that. It’s the aggregators who try to control our browsing experiences that annoy me.

It’s worth noticing that popurls, the aggregator of the aggregators, also opens links in the same existing window in which the link was clicked. Way to go.

I welcome feedback, on your blog or in the comments below.


4 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Hmmm… not sure why we don’t appear on the “good guy” list. Unlike most of the other sites on the list, we host content *and* provide links, but our links open in the same window.

  • Hi Mike,
    I’ve noticed a tendency of a lot of Newsvine users to post huge chunks – sometimes the whole thing – of posts or stories that they are linking to. Perhaps I’ve seen a skewed sample … but that’s what I’ve seen so far.

  • Good points, John. I personally don’t think the issue is about the target window, but about how the Aggregator which sources a link tries to own the displayed story by wrapping the window in an IFrame. I think this is generally done to encourage feedback on the story, or for metrics: the aggregator may want to track how long the story is open and has focus. So there is definite utility behind this, and I don’t think the aggregators are selling the utility very well.

    I agree, though, that putting Flash ads in a wrapper is pretty repugnant.

    In the early days of Reddit, the “wrap in iframe” was the default setting, but user response was negative. While the feature is still available, it’s off by default.

  • Hey, interesting, interesting. I’m certainly glad my Simpy is the Good Guys Group. I had to reject several user requests to open links in new browser windows and explain how it can be done with browser tabs, etc.