Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

What if Facebook Ever Got Serious About Becoming a News Aggregation Vampire? Well, It Would Be a Sparkly One!

Here are two quotes that got me thinking about what would happen if Facebook–whose user base is inexorably marching toward 400 million–ever got serious about the news aggregation business.

First, perpetual apple-cart-upsetter Mark Cuban raised everyone’s hackles this week by taking aim at online sites that aggregate news from other sources, especially Google (GOOG).

Among other colorful things Cuban said during a keynote speech:

“Google is a vampire, and you run scared. There is no reason to be indexed in Google….You haven’t gotten anything back except that you’ve turned into zombies….You’ve got to realize they’re vampires and you can’t be the dumb blonde showing your neck.”

Then, yesterday, in a fourth-quarter earnings call, AOL (AOL) CEO Tim Armstrong, answering a question about the renewal status of its search deal with Google, talked about how other outlets, especially Facebook, are now more important than ever to getting traffic for his company’s content.

“Our strategy on distribution is not relying on search,” said Armstrong. “Fragmentation is our friend.”

It was a curious way of putting it, but the message was clear and correct–it will be increasingly obvious that consumers are inevitably moving away from the only-search paradigm to that of discovery through social and other jacked-up affiliation networks.

Of course, this puts a site like Facebook in the catbird seat, given that vast seas of rich data flow through it all the time.

In fact, Facebook is already one of the bigger sources of traffic to media sites, behind just Google, Microsoft (MSFT) and Yahoo (YHOO).

That’s because, at any given moment, Facebook users are trading bazillions of links to articles, blogs, videos, photo images and more, pointing the way to their friends in a giant did-you-see-this mosh pit.

While this is dispersed widely all over the social networking service–on the Wall, on fan pages, in email, in comments–one has to wonder what would happen if Facebook ever decides to start corralling the information with some kind of aggregation method.

Could it pick the most linked and emailed stories of the day? Could it select the most popular photos? Could it tell you accurately what its little slice of humanity was buzzing about on a minute-by-minute basis?

Of course it could, but as more of a new sparkly “Twilight” vampire than the scary old-time one Cuban described.

Not that it will. I once queried Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg about the idea that Facebook could make some sort of newfangled competitor to the still-powerful Yahoo News.

No, she replied pretty flatly, noting that the whole service was already about people sharing all kinds of news and information with their friends.

But, it is clear to me, that–much as Google moved into the automated new business–Facebook could do the same anytime it wants to and create what would probably be one of the top aggregation sites for any topic on the Web.

The Silicon Valley phenom certainly could not be as easily de-indexed as Google by worried media companies, because the skeins of information are so enmeshed that separating them is impossible. And why would you?

In his speech, Cuban urged traditional media creators to stop the aggregation madness.

“Show some balls,” he said. “If you turn your neck to a vampire, they are [going to] bite. But at some point the vampires run out of people’s blood to suck.”

In a deeply socially connected world though, it’s a very different story. And in that world, vampires really do live forever.

Please see this disclosure related to me and Google.

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