Some interesting insights on how the Internet has enabled streams of information that describe what is happening around us. To me, streams represent a new schema of how information can be presented. Documents (or pages) and e-mail messages are different schemas and will not be out of our lives anytime soon.
Streams describe recent activity. Knowing the details of each item in a stream is not always necessary. Rather, we should be able to detect patterns that give us clues into what is happening and if our attention is needed. For example, in a physical office space an increase in the volume of chatter may compel us to get up from our desk to see what is happening.
In streams of water we can detect currents and observe waves. However, we don’t see every water molecule in a river. Unfortunately, this is what the current generation of stream monitoring tools provide us. While perhaps some of us “acknowledge that we can’t wade through all this information,” many others will simply avoid the stream altogether. Streams represent a (constantly changing) set of data that need to be visualized to get a sense of what is happening. While working with streams requires new work habits, the technology helping us consume streams is still rather primitive.
This world of flow, of streams, contains a very different possibility set to the world of pages. Among other things it changes how we perceive needs. Overload isnt a problem anymore since we have no choice but to acknowledge that we cant wade through all this information. This isnt an inbox we have to empty, or a page we have to get to the bottom of — its a flow of data that we can dip into at will but we cant attempt to gain an all encompassing view of it.
Dave Winer put it this way in a conversation over lunch about a year ago. He said “think about Twitter as a rope of information — at the outset you assume you can hold on to the rope. That you can read all the posts, handle all the replies and use Twitter as a communications tool, similar to IM — then at some point, as the number of people you follow and follow you rises — your hands begin to burn. You realize you cant hold the rope you need to just let go and observe the rope”.