I’ve been on a lifestreaming kick for a couple months now, in fact I’ve been talking about lifestreaming in one form or another since I started using Jaiku about a year ago. The basic idea is that a lifestream is a stream of content from a variety of services in one location so your friends/followers can visit one site and see which photos you uploaded, what your Twitter updates are, your latest blog posts and more. Here are a couple examples of lifestreams, they really explain the whole idea pretty well:
First, my Plaxo Pulse lifestream
Next, my FriendFeed lifestream
There are a couple issues and questions that emerge from what seems to me to be a surge of interest in lifestreaming. The one question I find myself asking is about the value of “traditional” blogging when much of the content people might blog about are fed directly into the lifestream. What I mean here is that before my various lifestreams (I think I have 4 or 5 running concurrently in various locations) I would blog about just about anything that happened that I wanted to talk about. If I took a cute photo of my puppies, I would blog about it on my personal blog. If I found a great link or blog post and wanted to mention it, I’d blog that too.
Of course there are services like Flickr, del.icio.us and StumbleUpon to do those sorts of things too but that also meant that my followers would have to subscribe to or visit each of those services to keep up to date. That isn’t really a big deal in this age of RSS feeds but if someone has more than a couple people to keep tabs on, the process of tracking all those feeds/sites becomes a pretty time consuming one.
Social networks like Facebook can do a pretty decent job of giving people a single point of contact. If most or all of your friends are on Facebook then you only really need to visit one site to keep up to date on what everyone is doing. It is a great idea the immense popularity of these sites is a testament to that. The big thing, for me, is being able to put my stuff out there and have multiple points of contact to enable me to reach out to the most people. Not all of my friends use Facebook. Some use Jaiku, Pulse and, increasingly, FriendFeed … just to name a couple examples. Facebook is great but it doesn’t really allow me to distribute my content freely so I plug my various content streams (such as Flickr, YouTube, Twitter, blogs, interesting feed items, bookmarks, Last.fm profile and many others) into my various lifestreams and create multiple (and hopefully consistent) update streams for my friends using those services. If course friends are free to subscribe to the original content streams too. These items are convenient ways to keep up to date of pretty much everything I do online.
So, back to blogging. With all this source content zooming through lifestreams of one sort or another, does blogging become less relevant? Would you blog less if you used a lifestream as your primary content distribution channel. Although this post has the makings of “Blogging is dead” post, I think anyone thinking along those lines is likely getting caught up in some hype and/or drinking too much of the Koolaid. As this post clearly shows, there is still very much a need for longer form blog posts or even blogs that are more customisable than the lifestreaming services permit. The value of a lifestreaming service is its utility and the content stream itself. Blogs can take it a step further and some bloggers create fantastic experiences on their blogs that enhance their posts. Lifestreams really won’t kill blogs, they will, however, help spread blog content further if you plug your blog feeds into your lifestreams. Each of the services we use have their place in our information/content creation activities, the challenge is working out those roles and using them effectively/efficiently.
I think there’s an interesting tension between lifestreaming in public and richly sharing with one’s family and friends. An interesting strategic question for Plaxo as to which is more important for us in the near term.
To me this question begs other, interesting questions about the value of more personal lifestreams to a service provider. There is a lot of focus on business and on people who are tech savvy and who don’t think twice about sharing everything with everyone but what about the majority of people who just want to share their stuff with their small group of friends or their family members and not the rest of the world? I don’t think there is enough attention on this invisible majority. Six Apart focussed specifically on these people when it released Vox which Mena Trott, one of Six Apart’s founders, said was a blogging service her mother could use. A lot of these people who are using the Web use services like Facebook and it works out really well for them. My mother in law uses Facebook to see what we are all up to. Introducing lifestreams to these people is the next step although it may still take a year or two before ordinary (as opposed to us geeks) people start exploring lifestreams more consciously (people who use Facebook are lifestreaming to a degree anyway, they just don’t think about it that way).
Depending on how you present lifestreaming to this massive potential group of users and how you build a sustainable revenue model around that group, this could be a tremendously lucrative model. It sounds a bit cold to talk about it that way but money is what keeps businesses, well, in business. Once the money is taken care of there is more time to focus on making the service appealing to these non-technical users.
These are just a couple thoughts I have had and I am sure there will be more ahead. What are your thoughts? Do you use any lifestreaming services? Are you going to try them out?