The company Gnip, found at Gnip.com, specializes in the aggregation and sale of data from various social media sites. Gnip provides firehose access to user posts on websites such as WordPress, Twitter, and Tumblr, “firehose” meaning that Gnip collects the full data stream from these websites. The data is then made available to customers. Gnip is an excellent example of what Beer & Burrows term a “popular culture data aggregator” in their work Popular Culture, Digital Archives and the New Social Life of Data (Beer & Burrows 65), as the site collects data from many different sources to provide a particular service.
Data aggregators such as Gnip enjoy considerable power in our modern society, dominated as it is by cultural exchanges via social media. As Beer & Burrows observe, data aggregators allow for social trends to be tracked on a very large scale (Beer & Burrows 65). The sheer scale of observation permitted by data aggregators enables the flow of web culture to have a very real impact on corporate behavior. Gnip’s clients can employ the company’s services to determine the popular reception of a product, marketing campaign, celebrity remark, or similar cultural objects. Armed with knowledge of the broad online opinion toward an item of interest, a client may then take steps to rectify a negative reputation or exploit a positive one. Gnip and similar services may well indirectly influence their product; a client who ramps up online advertising or hires Web users to praise them based on Gnip’s data will impact the flow of the data firehose.
A data aggregator which immediately sprang to my mind while reading Beer & Burrows’ work was Metacritic, a website which aggregates critical reviews on films, games, and TV shows. Itself a form of data aggregator, Metacritic also falls under Beer & Burrow’s definition of a “viewpoint or opinion archive” as the site allows users to post reviews rating the desirability of a product (Beer & Burrows 54). Metacritic as data aggregator has a demonstrable effect on at least one industry encompassed by the site. You may be familiar with the popular video game series Fallout, in which the last two releases were high-profile, big-budget titles. Obsidian Entertainment, the developers of the most recent game in the series, Fallout: New Vegas, signed a publisher contract which made certain pay bonuses contingent upon the game’s reception of at least an 85 on Metacritic. Creative Assembly, another notable dev studio on a high-profile series, the Total War games, recently expressed the importance of Metacritic scores to their design process.
Data aggregators offer modern companies unprecedented levels of awareness of their presence in the dialog of popular culture. Gnip is particularly interesting in that, rather than an aggregation of reviews, clients access Web users’ opinions voiced in an environment where posters may not intend to rebuke or praise a company directly. Companies thus potentially alter the nature of sites Beer & Burrows term as archives, imbuing those not labeled as “transactional” archives with an element of commercial exchange.