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= the Web is evolving to the real-time Stream



Nova Spivack (excerpt):

“The Internet began evolving many decades before the Web emerged. And while today many people think of the Internet and the Web as one and the same, in fact they are different. The Web lives on top of the Internet’s infrastructure much like software and documents live on top of an operating system on a computer.

And just as the Web once emerged on top of the Internet, now something new is emerging on top of the Web: I call this the Stream.

The Stream is what the Web is thinking and doing, right now. It’s our collective stream of consciousness.

Perhaps the best example of the Stream is the rise of Twitter and other microblogging systems including the new Facebook. These services are visibly streamlike — they are literally streams of thinking and conversation. In reaction to microblogs we are also starting to see the birth of new tools to manage and interact with these streams, and to help understand, search, and follow the trends that are rippling across them.

To meet the challenges and opportunities of the Stream a new ecosystem of services is emerging rapidly: stream publishers, stream syndication tools, stream aggregators, stream readers, stream filters, real-time stream search engines, and stream analytics engines, stream advertising networks, and stream portals are emerging rapidly. All of these new services are the beginning of the era of the Stream.

Just as the Web is not any one particular site or service, the Stream is not any one site or service — it’s the collective movement that is taking place across them all.

The Web has always been a stream. In fact it has been a stream of streams. Each site can be viewed as a stream of pages developing over time. Each page can be viewed as a stream of words, that changes whenever it is edited. Branches of sites can also be viewed as streams of pages developing in various directions.

But with the advent of blogs, feeds, and microblogs, the streamlike nature of the Web is becoming more readily visible, because these newer services are more 1-dimensional than normal websites: they are generally quite linear series of posts, and in they change faster than typical Websites — often many times per day or hour or minute.” (


Excerpt from a much longer commentary by John Borthwick:

"Start with this constant, real time, flowing stream of data getting published, republished, annotated and co-opt’d across a myriad of sites and tools. The social component is complex — consider where its happening. The facile view is to say its Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr or FriendFeed — pick your favorite service. But its much more than that because all these sites are, to varying degrees, becoming open and distributed. Its blogs, media storage sites (ie: twitpic) comment boards or moderation tools (ie: disqus) — a whole site can emerge around an issue — become relevant for week and then resubmerge into the morass of the data stream, even publishers are jumping in, only this week the Times pushed out the Times Wire. The now web — or real time web — is still very much under construction but we are back in the dark room trying to understand the dimensions and contours of something new, or even to how to map and outline its borders. Its exciting stuff.

Think streams …

First and foremost what emerges out of this is a new metaphor — think streams vs. pages. This seems like an abstract difference but I think its very important. Metaphors help us shape and structure our perspective, they serve as a foundation for how we map and what patterns we observe in the world. In the initial design of the web reading and writing (editing) were given equal consideration - yet for fifteen years the primary metaphor of the web has been pages and reading. The metaphors we used to circumscribe this possibility set were mostly drawn from books and architecture (pages, browser, sites etc.). Most of these metaphors were static and one way. The steam metaphor is fundamentally different. Its dynamic, it doesnt live very well within a page and still very much evolving. Figuring out where the stream metaphor came from is hard — my sense is that it emerged out of RSS. RSS introduced us to the concept of the web data as a stream — RSS itself became part of the delivery infrastructure but the metaphor it introduced us to is becoming an important part of our eveyday day lives.

A stream. A real time, flowing, dynamic stream of information — that we as users and participants can dip in and out of and whether we participate in them or simply observe we are are a part of this flow. Stowe Boyd talks about this as the web as flow: “the first glimmers of a web that isnt about pages and browsers” (see this video interview, view section 6 –> 7.50 mins in). 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”. Over at Facebook Zuckerberg started by framing the flow of user data as a news feed — a direct reference to RSS — but more recently he shifted to talk about it as a stream: “… a continuous stream of information that delivers a deeper understanding for everyone participating in it. As this happens, people will no longer come to Facebook to consume a particular piece or type of content, but to consume and participate in the stream itself.

The social aspects of this real time stream are clearly a core and emerging property. Real time gives this ambient stream a degree of connectedness that other online media types haven’t. Presence, chat, IRC and instant messaging all gave us glimmers of what was to come but the “one to one” nature of IM meant that we could never truly experience its social value. It was thrilling to know someone else was on the network at the same time as you — and very useful to be able to message them but it was one to one. Similarly IRC and chats rooms were open to one to many and many to many communications but they usually weren’t public. And in instances that they were public the tools to moderate and manage the network of interactions were missing or crude. In contrast the connectedness or density of real time social interactions emerging today is astounding — as the examples in the collage above illustrate. Yet its early days. There are a host of interesting questions on the social front. One of the most interesting is, I think, how willthe different activity streams intersect and combine / recombine or will they simple compete with one another? The two dominant, semi-public, activity streams today are Facebook and Twitter. It is easy to think about them as similar and bound for head on competition — yet the structure of these two networks is fairly different. Whether its possible or desirable to combine these streams is an emerging question — I suspect the answer is that over time they will merge but its worth thinking about the differences when thinking about ways to bring them together.

The streams of data that constitute this now web are open, distributed, often appropriated, sometimes filtered, sometimes curated but often raw. The streams make up a composite view of communications and media — one that is almost collage like (see composite media and wholes vs. centers). To varying degrees the streams are open to search / navigation tools and its very often long, long tail stuff. Let me run out some data as an example. I pulled a day of data — all the links that were clicked on May 6th. The 50 most popular links generated only 4.4% (647,538) of the total number of clicks. The top 10 URL’s were responsible for half (2%) of those 647,538 clicks. 50% of the total clicks (14m) went to links that received 48 clicks or less. A full 37% of the links that day received only 1 click. This is a very very long and flat tail — its more like a pancake. I see this as a very healthy data set that is emerging.

Weeding out context out of this stream of data is vital. Today context is provided mostly via social interactions and gestures. People send out a message — with some context in the message itself and then the network picks up from there. The message is often re-tweeted, favorite’d, liked or re-blogged, its appropriated usually with attribution to creator or the source message — sometimes its categorized with a tag of some form and then curation occurs around that tag — and all this time, around it spins picking up velocity and more context as it swirls. Over time tools will emerge to provide real context to these pile up’s. Semantic extraction services like Calais, Freebase, Zemanta, Glue, kynetx and Twine will offer a windows of context into the stream — as will better trending and search tools. I believe search gets redefined in this world, as it collides with navigation.” (

More Information

  1. Web 3.0