October 15, 2009

Communicating in the Age of Streams: Ubiquity, Multiplicity, Visibility

The rate at which information is being produced shows no sign of slowing down, and humans are adapting to the onslaught of this so-called firehose by having shorter attention spans and filtering out information they aren't much interested in, so that it fades into the background as noise. In parallel, information is getting ever decentralized, and conversations are taking place in an infinite number of places, which makes the task of participating in every relevant conversation a practical impossibility. As this has happened, the model of dedicated Web sites, and even blogs, can look extremely outdated - aiming to act as centralized destinations in a world of streams. Edelman vice president Steve Rubel, who recently moved his blog to a lifestreaming format, based on Posterous, explained at Blog World Expo how he takes on the stream and helps his clients gain visibility in the fast-moving world.

Rubel, who created the highly popular MicroPersuasion blog back in 2004 and updated it multiple times a day before moving to the lifestream earlier this year, said "we are reaching a critical breaking point" when it comes to the information firehose, adding, "information is going to continue to scale, but human attention doesn't scale, so we have to think about how each of us manages it."

You no doubt have seen some of the more aggressive ways to tackle information overload including "In Box Zero", "Mark All as Read Day" or even "E-mail bankruptcy" - all essentially differing forms of throwing in the towel and admitting failure. Steve quoted recent studies showing that the average person in the US visits 111 different domains in a month, and approximately 2,500 Web pages a month, as people are making choices in terms of where they spend their time, and what pieces of information they choose to respond to. And one of those places that usually isn't getting a lot of their attention? Company Web sites and old-fashioned blogs.

Steve suggested that one of the major reasons that Twitter exploded was because it centralized all these diverse conversations and put them in one place, also leaning on short forms of communication, adding that on average, people only read about 20 percent of the Web page before moving on. Much of the reason for their shorter attention spans? More data, coming ever more quickly.

"Everything is moving faster now, whether you like it or not," he said. "It's like a sushi duck moving past at 100 miles an hour with 1,000 different options. How do you make sure you get selected and stand out?"

Instead of fighting against the stream and forcing people to come back to the originating hub, Steve started to think that maybe his blog "didn't matter as much any more", and appeared "archaic". Now, he is posting content, via Posterous, to his lifestream and also each of the spokes (like Flickr, Delicious, etc.) and participating where that content gainst traction - essentially creating a very customizable hub and spoke model that has his own personal brand and the flexibility to put the right content in the right place.

For companies and businesses looking to take on the streams, Steve highlighted three major imperatives to not only just broadcast, but to ensure quality engagement - including ubiquity, multiplicity and diversity of message, and finally, discovery and visibility. The new lifestream-powered Web sites would enable companies and brands to be "everywhere stakeholders are spending time", and enable the opportunity for different stories in different venues in different formats, avoiding a one size fits all approach.

The stream is real. Whether you call it the flow, as Stowe Boyd has, or the River of News, as Dave Winer has, the firehose is pushing more data our way faster than ever. IT could be that the lifestream is an answer.

For more on lifestreaming, make sure to check out Mark Krynsky's Lifestreamblog.com.