Welcome to the Stream

You’ve probably heard the term “stream” in relation to attention, as in “attention stream”.

The usage of the word is spreading, however, and is now finding its way into web application vernacular. It is called a “lifestream”, “socialstream”, “friendstream”, “contentstream”, among others.

It has come to mean a list of the always-updated items in a system. Here are a few examples:

  • Twitter
    The stream in Twitter is the list of latest sms messages from your friends
  • Facebook News Feed
    This stream has lots of different types of items, made up of activities like adding friends, joining groups, and adding applications
  • RSS readers
    Your RSS reader displays a stream of the latest posts from the blogs you subscribe to
  • Del.icio.us Links
    Your list of links submitted to Del.icio.us is a linkstream
  • Digg Spy
    The latest items added or dugg in digg

It should be apparent that almost any items updated in real-time can constitute a stream. And therefore a stream can be used in almost any application that people use. The question is: is it useful to see a list of what you’ve done or what you’re friends are doing? In many cases, it is at least interesting, if not useful.

You’ve probably heard the term “stream” in relation to attention, as in “attention stream”.

The usage of the word is spreading, however, and is now finding its way into web application vernacular. It is called a “lifestream”, “socialstream”, “friendstream”, “contentstream”, among others.

It has come to mean a list of the always-updated items in a system. Here are a few examples:

  • Twitter
    The stream in Twitter is the list of latest sms messages from your friends
  • Facebook News Feed
    This stream has lots of different types of items, made up of activities like adding friends, joining groups, and adding applications
  • RSS readers
    Your RSS reader displays a stream of the latest posts from the blogs you subscribe to
  • Del.icio.us Links
    Your list of links submitted to Del.icio.us is a linkstream
  • Digg Spy
    The latest items added or dugg in digg

It should be apparent that almost any items updated in real-time can constitute a stream. And therefore a stream can be used in almost any application that people use. The question is: is it useful to see a list of what you’ve done or what you’re friends are doing? In many cases, it is at least interesting, if not useful.

Satisfaction’s Lane Becker suggests (and I think he’s right), that streams are as core to today’s social applications as the checkout sequence was to apps 5 years ago. He says:

‘The “stream” — let’s call it that, because “river” just doesn’t cut it — is, like tagging, one of those canonical, web-native inventions that is already so totally fundamental to inhabiting an online social system that its adoption is inevitable in every app that plans to aggregate people in a collaborative networked setting. The stream is to this round of the web what shopping carts were to the last one. It’ll show up everywhere, but put to very different ends in different places.’

In addition, many apps are starting to tout the stream as an important feature they offer. In a recent post on Mashable, streams are mentioned several times in relation to the newest social startups: 20 Ways To Aggregate Your Social Networking Profiles.

The stream trend is only increasing. Anything you can grab via an API or RSS can be a stream.

And because of this, because it feels like we’re really starting to see the emergence of a new interaction paradigm around streams, I keep hearing Pink Floyd singing “Welcome my son, welcome to the stream”.

Published: July 19th, 2007

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