Information Feeds And Streams: Designing For A World Of Flow


I gave a talk today at the Defrag Conference on a panel with Dick Hardt and Chris Shipley of DEMO fame.

Our topic was “flow apps” and I wanted to share some of the conversation given how much information have been on my mind with Workstreamer.

Flow Is A Type of Product Design, or Social Architecture

The idea is manifested as a Feed or stream. From Stowe Boyd:

We have inherited the Web 1.0 vision of the Web as a giant network of documents, linked to each other, where you can wander forever. Source

The seed for the change in the blogosphere was a seemingly small advance. RSS feeds are a way to receive the posts from blogs without visiting them. Source

Flow Is Also A State Of Mind:

Flow is also a state of mind; it’s a form of freedom:

Flow As a State of Mind: (From Wikipedia) Flow is the mental state of operation in which the person is fully immersed in what he or she is doing by a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity. 

Flow &  Information Processing. Flow is about information coming to me, rather than me going out and finding information:

Conversation is moving from a very static and slow form of conversation — the comments thread on blog posts — to a more dynamic and fast form of conversation: into the flow in Twitter, Friendfeed, and others. I think this directionality may be like a law of the universe: conversation moves to where is most social. Source

Flow Allows For Activity & Social Participation:

My hypothesis is that people will find it most natural to have the most active conversation where the flow feels fastest: meaning, where there are many people so that any given topic or link creates a great deal of commentary in relatively short order. Source

So is more participatory (a social architecture) that can be spontaneous and conducive to conversation, versus static content. 

We Will Move From Being Librarians to Information Day Traders

Does Flow Inevitably Lead To Information Overload?

Sometimes there’s just too much information and too little time. I’ve noticed that sometimes I don’t read everything that shows up in my RSS feed reader and even if I do, I don’t peruse the entire article or pause to think more about what the author has written (which is an excellent way to appreciate new ideas). Why? Because there’s just too much information to process and a limited amount of time/attention. Source

Is Inbox Zero Impossible?

Yesterday I gave up. I gave up trying to answer every email and read every blog and listen to every podcast. Instead of unplugging, I gave in to the flow. I let it wash over me and I did not try to drink in every drop. And amazingly enough, I felt free. I was free to dip my cup in and take a sip whenever I wanted without drowning in all of that information. Since there is so much to choose from, I can have the most delicious and tasty sips and let the rest just flow by. Source

It’s All About Winning and Managing Attention

“The focus shifts from information to attention”

As our digital lives shift from being focused on the old fashioned desktop (space-based metaphor) to the Web environment we will see a shift from organizing information spatially (directories, folders, desktops, etc.) to organizing information temporally (river of news, feeds, blogs, lifestreaming, microblogging)…

This Is A Significant Meta Level Change:

This is a leap to the meta-level. A second-order desktop. Instead of just being about the information (the first-order), it is going to be about what is happening with the information (the second-order).”

Flow Is A Shift from Explicit to Implicit:

But taken together, over time, the little snippets coalesce into a surprisingly sophisticated portrait of your friends’ and family members’ lives, like thousands of dots making a pointillist painting. Source

Yes, Flow Apps, Feeds And Streams Can Be Effectively Monetized:

In The Future, Attention and Conversation Are Monetized, Not Content. Kevin Kelly outlines 8 ways to monetize in the networked information economy where value follows the path of conversations and attention, not the path of content that increasingly is free. Source

How To Harness Flow? Channels, Context, Filters:

The Role of the Platform: At its simplest (its true power) Twitter is a phone switch for routing information flow. The software switch is an affinity-based construct that manages the signal-to-noise ratio of the information flow based on the contouring signals (gestures) of the members of the group. It goes beyond bootstrapping, harnessing the brain’s ability to add the gut instinct of survivability to the equation of what choices can be made about information triage. Source


Filters can be Social like Digg, or automated like Techmeme. Discoverability can come from search like Summize. Note: I use Summize more than I do Twitter (but that’s only possible/relevant due to network effects).

Channels And Creating Context:

Make relevant conversations Discoverable. While the question of decentralizing Twitter as a method to improve scalability and performance is important, we shouldn’t gloss over the need and value of filtering Flow into specific streams of relevant conversations and making them discoverable and social. Source

Verticalized Flow App Example: StockTwits

Can there be value in voice  or audio conversations, or only text?

Flow Creates]new value for users – and therefore new revenue growth opportunities – at the “edge of the enterprise” will require new viral application strategies and networked business models that create and monetize value from data found in networks, markets and communities of enterprise end users. Source


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