Getting a grip on citizen media

If all this newfangled Web content being written by almost anyone and about any topic is going to be of any value, business value in particular, then somebody’s going to have to find a way to organize the bookshelves. And soon.

John Palfrey, executive director of Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for cyberspace research, wants to be one of the librarians. Palfrey and colleague Jim Moore have founded TopTenSources, a site that promises to help Web users find their way.

Two guiding principles underlie the approach to TopTenSources: Human beings need to be part of the search process for it to work well, and less can be more when trying to find the best information.

TopTenSources will present to visitors an array of topic-specific lists that do pretty much what the name implies: guide seekers of information to what are judged to be the best Web sources. Currently there are about 100 lists, but Palfrey envisions tens of thousands springing up as the site matures.

The 10-best lists are compiled through a combination of objective measurements (visitors, links, update frequency) and the subjective judgments of editors and researchers who will be paid to keep tabs on what’s out there.

“We’re hoping to introduce the idea of limited search…if you don’t want to see the whole Web but just a group of hand-selected sites,” says Palfrey.

“We’re not going to compete with Google or Technorati or IceRocket, but we can give you some things based on our methodology that we think might be relevant to your query.”

But how does all of this guiding, aggregating and community building add up to a business? “We’ll look for relationships with other parties who are interested in both sponsoring an area — not advertising necessarily in the sense of context-specific ads — but sponsoring areas of interest,” says Palfrey.

How are they going to deal with the inevitable complaints from those who take umbrage at not making a particular TopTenSources list? “We want to hear from people about why they think they ought to be on the list,” he says.

“In a lot of cases we’ll hear from people who are a wonderful source on a given topic, but for whatever reason they don’t make it through our methodology into the TopTen list that we’ve created. So it’s possible we may create another methodology around that person.”


–Squeaky wheels are always welcome here. The address is

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