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We join spokes together in a wheel, but it is the emptiness of the center hole that makes the wagon move.
We shape clay into a pot, but it is the emptiness inside that holds whatever we want.
Vindu Goel, Twitter’s Stock Crashes Back to Reality
Time for a dramatic rethinking of the Twitter user experience.
The third point, expanded:
Imagine in an offspring of Twitter I could tag people with topics. Like ‘tag @billburnet #startup #tech #socialCRM’. Then, I could select different streams in my total stream by using tag algebra, like ‘stream #tech OR #science’ which would show me posts from people I have tagged #tech or #science, even when their posts aren’t tagged explicitly.
Even better, expanding on 2 above, Twitter could proactively create defined and curated streams — like Tumblr has — for topics like Tech, Photography, Olympic Skating, or The New Aesthetic. I could add those to my stream without having to follow the specific people involved, or simply go to www.twitter.com/streams/tech. These would obviously be a huge advertising opportunity, since real estate there — like a prominent IBM ad on the Tech stream and occasional sponsored tweets in it — could be worth a fortune.
Get with it, Costello.
Karen McGuane, Don’t Let Paper Paradigms Drive Your Digital Strategy
It’s not just paper paradigms we need to avoid, it’s the paradigms of the pre-social web. Here’s a talk I gave in 2010, anticipating liquid media’s future dominance: Social Media Blur | Blogs, Networks, Streams. A quote:
Now, we are headed into the fourth phase of social media, where the growing market impacts of streams will begin to impinge on computing in general, so we will see streams become primary design elements of operating systems for computing and mobile devices. As this advance spreads, the premises of the earliest phases of social media can begin to be considered as layers in an architecture. Old school blogs and other publishing models that create static web pages will increasingly be treated as an archive, or as a source for social objects referenced by URL, but where the URL is used to fetch the content and display it in the stream, just as today photos are being resolved in Twitter clients. In the near future, all media types will be resolved in place, in the stream. This will create interesting issues with advertising revenues and other media control issues, but in the long run, ads and other metadata will be pulled along with the context-free slow media into the socially-embedded context of streams.
These are the chunks McGuane is alluding to, and the OS-based streams are finally appearing in iOS 7. It’s coming on.
Stowe Boyd on Social Media Blur: Blogs, Networks, Streams - Anja Waltemate
Stowe Boyd talks about the social media blur. He focuses on blogs, networks and streams, their continuous rise and how they tend to be blurred nowadays. He clarifies why the open stream model is becoming the dominant social motive of all technologies moving forward and why we’re going to be living in a web of flow.
Here’s my post summarizing that presentation.
Jonathan Glick, The News Article Is Breaking Up
Long-form writing will survive and will do so by abandoning news nuggets. What emerges will offer a liberating business model for writers. Within the next ten years, long-form writers will accept that their readers have seen the facts of the story live as it happened, probably elsewhere. The longer content that succeeds in that environment will be pieces that provide the most value as backgrounders, news analyses, and commentary.
The good news for writers is that this dovetails with their financial and intellectual interests. Via a variety of social-mobile platforms, they will pass along facts and pictures as soon as they obtain them — or verify them, depending on the writer’s journalistic standards. Writers who are especially good at doing this real-time reporting will develop audiences who are attentive to their mobile alerts. News nuggets are highly viral, so successful reporters will very quickly be introduced to huge numbers of readers.
Through this loss-leading channel, writers will then be able to notify their readers about longer-form articles they have created. Unlike news nuggets, which cannot be protected and whose facts are instantly everywhere, personal pieces reject commoditization. Their value will hinge on the author’s subjective perspective, experience, or knowledge. They may be longer than news articles today, uniquely styled, visually interesting, or delivered via video or audio. These pieces will written to be saved to read later — for that time when the reader takes a moment to relax, learn, and enjoy resting by the side of the stream. Social and mobile platforms make payment much easier, so it will be practical to charge a small fee. Fifty cents for thoughtful analysis is inexpensive, and yet it is the cost of an entire newspaper today.
There is nothing sacred about the article for the transmission of news. It is a logical way of packaging information for a daily print run of a newspaper and a useful format around which to sell display advertising. It has survived into the Internet age for reasons of tradition and the absence of better formats. We have come to accept it as a fundamental atom of news communication, but it’s not. Given faster, easier alternatives, the article no longer makes sense to mobile users for consuming news.
News will go one way, into the stream as scannable updates, and analysis will go the other, toward a new long-form business model for writers. I believe it will be a happy divorce.
Glick is another person who sees the changing nature of reportage in the world of liquid media. His conjectures about the shifting financial model for writers are interesting, but he misses the larger philosophical implications inherent in the liquid media world he describes.
Now, Glick suggests that writers might opt to create and release fragments — facts, quotes, dates, observations — on the fly, rather than waiting to collate them all into a traditional article. And we may need tools to find all these bits, and pull them into some form that can be experienced like an article.
The deeper tectonic shift is that we are moving away from the notion of a permanent, unchanging, written object — the article — published in a specific issue of a specific publication, as the source of our understanding of events. And while the traditional article can be cited elsewhere, its existence and identity has always been tied to the publication. Nowadays, the ‘article’ may be just some collation of bits, contextualized by the reader, not by a single author.
The same old school publishing model was carried forward into the first generation of online media, and still remains in the current model of web publishing. This blog, for example, relies on Tumblr to produce a unique URL to represent my post, which is the modern, pint-sized representation of that fixed identity. My blog domain is stoweboyd.com, and posts generated here have that unique domain at their head.
But in liquid media, my words do not have a single fixed identity: their identity is uncertain, in the Heisenberg sense. They have characteristics of being a particle, fixed in space, and at the same time, a wave, propagating outward from the point of publishing, once the first URL is dropped into the world stream. A lot of what I publish is explicitly other people’s words, like Glick’s at the top of this piece.
The nature of streaming media has changed everything. Instead of posting our words on a wall where people come to read them, we scribble them and throw them into the stream, where they wash wherever the stream takes them. And, along the way, others repost parts, clip paragraphs and images from the original and the millions of copies made, until finally the existence of the original piece is best considered as its trajectory, its decomposition into whatever bits others found interesting, if any. Dozens or hundreds of new URLs are created, some pointing back to my original post, here on stoweboyd.com, but others point to copies, snippets, misquotes, or outright plagiarism.
Systems like Tumblr do a limited job of keeping track of the distribution and decomposition of our posts, but it is an inherently impossible task. There are too many ways for people to cut and paste, too many ways to repurpose our words and images, and anyway, the main channel of the world stream is not Tumblr, but Twitter. Twitter is where the stream is fastest, widest, and deepest. It is there that we look for the newest and most important flotsam, perhaps noticing the source, but often not, because the original source may have been lost along the way. Yes, we may have a URL back to a source, but that may lead to someone quoting another intermediate source with added commentary, and that can lead back to another, and so on.
From the viewpoint of the person in the stream, the ‘news’ that is floating by is experienced compositionally. The stream is like a palimpsest, where newer material have been overlaid over older, and you may be able to see through, or maybe not.
The decomposition of media content as it is decontextualized in the stream means that we each have to rebuild context anew as we pore through links, reposts, and others’ commentary on the bits.
In a liquid world, news is a mosaic, pieced together, and where every tile in the mosaic is itself liquid, made of streaming bits. So the wave is made of particles, but each particle is a wave when you zoom into it. News, and our experience of it, is therefore increasingly fractal. You can choose any scale, it seems, and find the same meandering stream at the core of things.
So Glick is right, as far as it goes, but more is changing than the nature of articles. Our experience of ‘news’ is changing, and behind that, us: we are being changed.
You make your tools and they shape you, Kenneth Bouldin said. And if we flow everything of importance into a raging stream, then we must learn how to swim.
Two on this list of Google APIs that are ‘deprecated’ — meaning that they will be shut off in the not-too-distant-future — caught my eye: Feedburner API and Wave API.
Wave has proven to be such a one-eyed goat that Google announced its shutdown back in December 2010.
But this series of events in the history of Feedburner is the sort of thing that makes me scratch my head (via Wikipedia):
On June 3, 2007, FeedBurner was acquired by Google Inc., for a rumored price of $100 million. One month later, two of their popular “PRO” services (MyBrand and TotalStats) were made free to all users.
On May 26, 2011, Google announced that the FeedBurner APIs would be deprecated, leaving the long-term availability of an API for FeedBurner uncertain.
Perhaps there’s no better example of how quickly we have caromed past a social web based on RSS to one based on streams. And there’s Dick Costolo, a founder of Feedburner and now CEO of Twitter, the canary in the coal mine.
I am pulling my thoughts together for tonight’s panel at The Podio Store, on the topic of Tools For Work. I will be on the panel with Eugene Kim, David Skult, and Jon Froda, and we’ll be talking about works tools of the past.
We can learn a lot about email and its impacts on work. Most today don’t recall the time prior to widespread email adoption in business, or the transitions involved. We have internalized email to such an extent that for many it is impossible to envision business without it.
One thing we DID learn through the adoption of email is the underestimation of the costs of transition, and the enormous impact of second order effects once the technology has been ubiquitously adopted. Most large businesses required a return on investment analysis to demonstrate direct cost savings prior to adoption of email; in over 70% of the time, no subsequent analysis was performed to see if the expected efficiencies had been achieved. Insteda, the second order effects took over, and companies realized that their businesses had changed so fundamentally post-email that there was no practical way to remove email even if it in fact cost more and led to inefficiencies.
We can anticipate that the same second order effects (as identified by Sproull and Kiesler in Connections) are at work in other techonologies like instant messaging and the streaming collaboration tools that are emerging today, like Podio.
Stowe Boyd, The Business Case For Streams versus Email
How Is This Different From Email, And Does That Matter?
Email is not predicated on social networks, except to the extent that the users of email are networked. The premise is that there is a universe of individuals (and perhaps named groups) to who messages can be directed. And they can send messages to you, if they know your email address.
Like streams, email has sending and receiving contexts, but there is no notion of writing an email message without addressing it to a specific list of people.
Email is addressed, stream posts are released.
Email is private, and the distribution of messages is determined by the author at the time of writing. Individuals may decide to block my messages, but they can’t opt to see all of them. This means that the effective use of the information in the message is based on the premise that the author knows who should read it.
Streams are public (within some defined ‘public’), and the distribution of messages is determined by the actions of all the members of that public. Individuals decide who they will follow, and the collective streaming of information is the result of the affiliation of all the members of the public.
In the context of business, this means that email is selective: the author selects who should read the message. Streams are elective: the eventual recipients of messages elect to receive them. And this election is principally based on the individual, not the topic, per se, although different tools may implment that very differently.
Relative to email’s selection orientation, streaming is based on the premise that individuals might be more effective if they can elect to receive information flows that are potentially useful to them, and therefore, they should be able to make the determination for themselves as to what are the best sources of information.
Looking at this as a ‘wisdom of the crowds’ sort of issue, it is more likely that information will be best distributed within any given group if each person can decide what information sources are likely to provide good information for themself, rather than leaving it up to the sources of information to decide who should have access to it. This is the argument for openness in open societies, as well, and it has an immediate and obvious analog in the workplace.
So, whenever the discussion comes around (once again) about how we already have email, and that all this streaming malarcky is nothing new, please remember that the models are quite different, and at least in some ways are an inversion of each other. Email is inherently more centralized and top-down, while streaming is inherently more distributed and bottom-up.
When we hear arguments against streaming in the business context they are often the same arguments that are made against distribution of decision-making and the value of top-down controls. I won’t go into the counter to these arguments here — they are out of scope — except to point out that bottom-up and distributed business organization is often linked to agile and resilient businesses, ones that are more likely to thrive in challenging and fast-changing circumstances.
Last Thoughts: What We Can Learn From Corporate Email
We are at a juncture in the rise of streams which is similar to the rise of corporate email. People today don’t recall the controversy about adopting corporate email in the ’70s and ’80s, and then again, web-based email in the ’90s.
One lesson to learn is that ROI studies will be asked for prior to roll-out. However, later on, when the entire company and then the world has shifted to email, senior management will realize that there is no return to a pre-email or pre-stream world, and therefore most companies will simply opt not to calculate whether the return was realized. It will be moot. (See Lee and Sproul, Connections, for a detailed examination of this around corporate email.)
The second lesson is interoperability and standards. Corporate email led to a a Cambrian explosion of email products that were largely non-interoperable. It took years to get different systems to intercommunicate, so large companies often had three or more unintegrated email solutions, based on acquisitions, or different groups in different countries making differently local decisions.
We need to start thinking about interoperable streams, from the outset. For example, I have been advocating interoperability of the tumble blog model for some time, which is a specific subset of the more general streams model. Since we have some much innovation going on, this is likely to turn out to be like the SQL standard, which was the intersection of the leading implementations of the SQL model of databases. At any rate, businesses looking to roll out streams in their companies should definitely put pressure on the vendors to commit to interoperability in the next few years, before this gets away from us.
One of the principles of what I am starting to call social cognition — the subtle shift in our consciousness as we are exposed to social tools — is that we share time online, not space. This make it quite unlike our interactions in the offline context.
And the corollary is that our time, increasingly, is not our own. But I mean this in a positive sense.
One of the outcomes of this is that we need better, shared representation of our time together. In the business context this is tied to the coordination of our work around shared goal, and the alignment of time with mission.
I read an interesting post by Mike Monteiro of Mule (via @steverubel), that explores some ideas about the relationship of time fragments and their linkage to goals:
Mike Monteiro, The Chokehold Of Calendars
The problem with calendars is that they are additive rather than subtractive. They approach your time as something to add to rather than subtract from. Adding a meeting is innocuous. You’re acting on a calendar. A calendar isn’t a person. It isn’t even a thing. It’s an abstraction. But subtracting an hour from the life of another human being isn’t to be taken lightly. It’s almost violent. It’s certainly invasive. Shared calendars are vessels you fill by taking things away from other people.
“I’m adding a meeting” should really be “I’m subtracting an hour from your life.”
We need a goal-oriented calendar, but first we need to understand why a goal-oriented calendar is necessary.
Imagine that rather than scheduling individual points in time, such as meetings, you were instead scheduling a goal. With all its dependencies with it. A simplified model might look like this:
By handling events as something we work towards and need time to produce things for, rather than as disruptive singularities, and by respecting that work time as something associated with a goal we achieve a calendar that shows both those meetings, now less inane, and the time time necessary to do the work that will make those meetings successful.
Most of these things currently exist. Across multiple applications. And badly. Now it’s time to fix that.
I agree with Monteiro.
I also believe that calendars that will be smart about why and how we work will also be integrated with streams. For example, commentary and work products (a deck, say) that we create in support of a meeting could be annotated with appropriate metadata so they would stream to the participants and be attached appropriately to the meeting object, as well.
Streaming apps — based on the open follower model, or variants of it — will be the dominant motif of the web for the foreseeable future. And this is having an impact on everything that touches it, including our sense of time.
A great deal of research has shown that that our perception of time is quite malleable. For example, we have all experienced boredom as making the clock slow, and, an the other hand, how time seems to move more quickly during periods of happiness or excitement. Can this be exploited to make work more fun?
Robert Levin, A Geography Of Time
Psychologists and planners have sometimes used the “time flies” phenomenon to their advantage. In one project, for example, psychologist Robert Meade was able to improve workers’ morale by speeding up the psychological clock. Meade took advantage of the fact that that time is experienced as shorter when people believe that they are making progress toward a goal. The sense of progress, he found, can be enhanced through simple procedures such as establishing a definite end point to the task and providing incentives to reach those goals. Before his experiment, Meade herad comments from workers like “It sees like the day would never end” or “It seems like I’ve been here all day but it’s not even lunchtime yet.” After establishing a sense of progress there were proclamations like “The day went by so quickly — it seems like I just got started.” It is difficult to know, of course, to what extent speeding up the passage of time led to a more pleasant experience or vice versa. The direction of cause and effect, however, is less important than the net effect on workers’ well-being. Employers might be pleased to note that these increases in morale are often accompanied by accelerate production.
Management may have a hard time accepting the soft benefits of time compression and the way that tools modify our consciousness, but they will readily accept improvement in productivity and work attitudes.
One of the effects of participating in open streaming apps (like Twitter) as part of your workday, or the use streaming apps specifically designed for business use (like IBM Connections, Yammer, or the myriad other offerings) is how it shifts users’ perceptions of time, in the way that Meade research suggests.
Simply by providing a context in which users establish what they are working on, and posting notes about their progress — or asking other for help to make progress — and receiving feedback as they make progress, workers using streaming apps are likely to experience time as moving more quickly. This is either associated in our minds with other experiences that make us happy, or directly makes us happy. In either case, it seems fairly obvious that users are happier when exposed to social work contexts with these characteristics.
Management may have a hard time accepting the soft benefits of time compression and the way that tools modify our consciousness, but they will readily accept improvement in productivity and work attitudes.
Note that incentives can be amazingly minimal: just the positive regard of close contacts can be enough.
And the same holds true in our activities outside of the workplace. To be happy, it seems that we simply can share our near-term goals and our progress in reaching them with our friends and family in real time, not just stretched over weeks or months. Learning how to knit, or play the blues, or performing your next Karate kata with a groups of similarly involved others makes time pass more quickly.
There is also ample evidence to show that we learm more and make better decisions when we are engaged and happy, too. so this turns out to be a fairly virtuous cycle.
So, the next time someone suggests you are doing something childish, illegitimate or almost immoral by Twittering what you are up to, tell them about Meade’s research. And then get back to the stream.
I keep expecting that Tumblr will announce their own take on comments (ministreams? A better version of Notes?) but they haven’t as of yet.
But the Disqus comment system just doesn’t gibe well with Tumblr, or my increasingly Twitter-oriented world. And the Disqus ‘Reactions’ — an implementation of BackType’s Twitter monitoring technology — seemed to stop working this week. So I have modified this template to drop the Disqus comments, and I have included a Tweetmeme button on each post, instead.
Here you see two posts, one with no Tweets referring to it, and the other with one. In either case, clicking on ‘tweet’ will allow you to create a tweet with a URL pointing to the post.
In the case of posts with existing tweets pointing at them, clicking on the number — ‘12 tweets’ — will open a Tweetmeme window displaying those tweets.
So, I am adopting this mechanism in lieu of external comments. At least the Twitter stream is a living breathing place, while the comment threads on blogs feel like an old cobwebby library.
Update: Saturday 11 September 2010
I was tweeted by @golda from BackType who suggested that a BackType button might be simpler that the sort of noisy and ad-busy Tweetmeme result.
Another reason to switch to Backtype from Tweetmeme is that BackType will show results going back as far as the post was original created. Although there seems to be an issue in my case, perhaps due to the domain name change I went through at the start of the summer. So I will try this for a while and see.