Flocking To the Stream
By Jeff Sayre
I recently began to go through some article backlogs on the websites of various people whose thoughts and perspectives I want to understand better. One such person with whom I’m trying to play catch up is Nova Spivack. If you don’t follow Nova then I suggest taking the time to remedy that egregious error.
Since I’m basically working through Nova’s article archive in reverse chronological order, it may very well be that in the future, I’ll scribe thoughts on some of his even older ruminations. So, if that occurs, please pardon this information time dilation.
I read Nova’s article, Welcome to the Stream – Next Phase of the Web, with great interest. With all the buzz about Google Buzz over the past eight days or so, this article made me think about the yet-another-stream phenomenon (YASP). *1
What is YASP? It is that somewhat exciting but ultimately frustrating realization that there is yet another social networking, microblogging, curated, real-time, threaded-conversation service that you might have to join so that you don’t get left behind.
The idea of user streams is interesting. As I read Nova’s article, the imagery of a kayaker navigating down world-class rapids came to mind.
There is a qualitative difference in streams. Some streams may drizzle like a gentle shower, while others furiously flow like class-5 rapids.
Unfortunately, a higher flow rate does not necessarily equal higher quality. In my experience, there is a noticeable decrease in the signal versus noise ratio as the flow of each stream increases. This is why it is crucial to follow only those people with whom you are genuinely interested in hearing their thoughts. Simply following someone (or following them back) to build your follower numbers is a sure-fired way to increase the noise in your stream.
High Flow Is Not Always Healthy Flow
As users begin to tap into more streams, those streams usually start flowing faster. As Nova states, we need to create filters, or gates, that can discriminately select the signal from the noise, that can help to slow the flood of information.
Look at Twitter. As you follow more and more people, the rate of flow increases. In turn, you must work harder to fish the nutritious data from the swollen data stream. Eventually, the stream can become too treacherous to navigate. So, you either drop a number of people, thereby reducing the flow and hopefully increasing the signal to noise ratio, or you portage on over to another stream with more gently moving data.
This is exactly what some people did last year when they tried an experiment, switching from primarily using Twitter to only using FriendFeed. Of course, that stream quickly became a fast moving torrent as well. So, what’s next? Will these users jump ship once again, looking for the next, best, newest, and maybe calmer body of data to sail?
Well, we already have a new test underway with the introduction of Google Buzz. Many Twitterers have Gmail accounts and many of them activated their new Buzz stream. However, the early consensus from Buzz users is that Buzz is a Twitter-FriendFeed hybrid.
I tried using Buzz for several days but found that it was too much information being shared by too few people. It was a lot of noise and not enough signal.
Of course, my impression could also be the inevitable result of information overload. When you have too many concurrent streams to navigate–Twitter, Facebook, Skype, iChat, an IRC channel or two, email, and Buzz–it becomes a little too much to take in. So, what’s the answer?
Taking a Break From and Portaging Your Streams
The key to navigating successfully and safely in any fast moving, constantly changing environment is to get out of the flow every so often to rest and reassess the situation. Let the flow pass you by and take a break. The stream will continue to flow without you.
Even the best world-class paddlers have to get out of the rapids periodically and take a break. When they return to the stream, they concentrate only on what is ahead and never worry about what has already passed them by.
Sometimes, though, you have to take your kayak out of the water and portage to another stream. That’s an important lesson to us all. You cannot successfully navigate every stream at the same time. Pick a few streams to monitor at a time. Then portage on over to another stream or two for awhile, taking a break from the others.
What does this mean for Google Buzz’s future? What does this mean for other microblogging service providers that inevitably will come to the party, trying to get you to put another kayak into their stream?
Well, as the number of streams continue to increase and as the flow rate of each stream picks up, people will grow tired of having to subscribe to, having to join yet-another-stream phenomenon (YASP). Does the Web truly need additional stream providers each with their own data silos? Is there a user-centric solution to this rapidly growing, overflowing-stream issue that puts YASP to rest once and for all?
There is, which is the subject of my next post—A Flock of Twitters: Decentralized Semantic Microblogging.
1. YASP: Yes, I just made this phrase and acronym up. Feel free to spread it around the Web, turning it into yet-another-disgusting buzzword (YADB).