There are many big brains in the tech industry but one of the sharpest is Nova Spivack’s. He is one of those people who has so many concepts banging around in his head that you can literally see the neurons ablaze as he talks. I’ll admit that I sometimes fear conversations with him, lest my ignorance quickly be revealed. So I was happy to read about his latest concept, The Stream, as it dovetails perfectly into something I’ve been noodling on lately.
The theory behind The Stream is that the next phase of the Internet lies in “the collective movement that is taking place across” sites and services. That the ideas and conversations occurring on Twitter, Facebook, FriendFeed and the like are a new layer on top of the existing Web. As Nova puts it:
The stream is our collective mind, what the Web is thinking and doing right now… a world of even shorter attention spans, online viral sensations, instant fame, sudden trends, and intense volatility. It is also a world of extremely short-term conversations and thinking.
His concluding question is, of course, how users are supposed to cope with the stream. And that’s where I’d like to step in. I’m all for the idea of a dynamic stream. But it’s time the rest of my online tools caught up.
The camel’s back broke for me last week as I was going through my RSS feeds. Keeping up with individual items has been a thorn in my side for months now. I can never manage to check them daily and inevitably end up reading only the first few dozen, then deleting the rest. So I was already cranky when I came across an item touting the latest social profile aggregator (I honestly can’t remember the name now). I almost threw my laptop out the window. I have no desire to 1) aggregate everything into one place or 2) visit a Web site to do this. That’s when the light bulb came on: I no longer want to visit Web sites. I want pertinent and relevant information delivered to me on a desktop app and on my Facebook feed. I just don’t have the time or inclination to click around anymore.
I’m not the only one in this mood. Webgiftr, a reminder/recommendation service for gift giving, recently announced that it is shutting down its Web service and migrating all user data to Facebook. The company clearly saw dwindling site visits combined with increased Facebook activity and did the math. One of our Innovate!Europe finalists, Mixin, is integrating event information into the Facebook feed, making it easier to determine where your friends will be this weekend. This shows foresight on their part and I hope other services begin to follow suit.
I agree wholeheartedly that the stream is a smart – and potentially lucrative – concept on which to place your business bets. The trick now will be two-fold: integrating it into the necessary, high-traffic sites and applications and homing in on the content streams that will matter most to consumers. FriendFeed hits closest to the mark currently; it’s key problems are an unpopular interface, difficulty integrating real-world friends, and too much noise. But if it can face down those challenges, it seems to me a relatively seamless way to insert the stream into everyday consumers’ lives.
In short, I love the idea of The Stream. It’s time to think about content, and our relationship to it, differently. The age of the frequently updated Web site is over. Thinking about content, in all its forms, as an ever-shifting overlay to our time online should be our key focus in the months ahead.