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2013: The Year 'the Stream' Crested
December 19, 2013 8:45 AM   Subscribe

"Information is increasingly being distributed and presented in real-time streams instead of dedicated Web pages. The shift is palpable, even if it is only in its early stages," Erick Schonfeld wrote. "Web companies large and small are embracing this stream. It is not just Twitter. It is Facebook and Friendfeed and AOL and Digg and Tweetdeck and Seesmic Desktop and Techmeme and Tweetmeme and Ustream and Qik and Kyte and blogs and Google Reader. The stream is winding its way throughout the Web and organizing it by nowness."
…What was exciting in 2009—this pairing of reverse-chronological content with the expectation that the web's traditional and social media would be real-time— feels like a burden in 2013.

The early indications were when people started tossing around ideas like digital sabbaths and talking about FOMO (fear of missing out). But it was easy to think this was a niche feeling only for the media class and its associated hipsters across the country.

Nowadays, I think all kinds of people see and feel the tradeoffs of the stream, when they pull their thumbs down at the top of their screens to receive a new updates from their social apps.

It is too damn hard to keep up. And most of what's out there is crap.
(SL Atlantic, via Twitter)
posted by Elementary Penguin (30 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
It is too damn hard to keep up. And most of what's out there is crap.
Problem, meet solution!
posted by b1tr0t at 8:46 AM on December 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


(I'm sure everybody will be mindful of their activity on Metafilter before making sweeping statements about the vileness of social media.)
posted by ardgedee at 8:50 AM on December 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


A college friend sent this to me after we were discussing a lecture we got in college from Herbert Simon. It was for my freshman seminar class (so 1998), and someone asked him about keeping up with the news, and he said (and I'm paraphrasing from spotty memory here) that he didn't think reading the newspaper was worthwhile because there wasn't enough time for analysis in a newspaper deadline and that you should wait for a few weeks to pass for an in-depth investigation in a magazine to really understand the world. The irony of discussing this on Twitter was not lost on us.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 8:50 AM on December 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Google Reader.

.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:55 AM on December 19, 2013 [7 favorites]


I kind of reject the idea that Metafilter is "social media."

Or rather, if Metafilter is "social media", then every discussion forum and bulletin-board site that I've used since the late 80s also counts, or at least the good ones. But that was just 'the Internet', or before that, 'BBSes'. If you broaden the definition of "social media" out to retroactively include all that, then it's not a particularly interesting or useful definition anymore.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:56 AM on December 19, 2013 [7 favorites]


This is why I don't use Twitter, and why I don't have push notifications set up for anything that isn't vital (i.e. work or SMS from family). It's too easy to try drink from the fire hose, and let your time be eaten. This is part of the reason I like MeFi; it's very pull oriented. When I want to read something on the Internet, I can go to MeFi and see if there's anything that interests me. Other approaches (RSS and Twitter in particular) feel more like they force me to engage unless I want to risk missing! something!
posted by sonic meat machine at 8:56 AM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


One man, one datapoint, but I'm making a concerted effort to remove myself from streams, just because I think seeing every single thought a human being has - or, even worse, a carefully-curated selection of thoughts designed to make the thinker look cool - has had a deleterious effect on my personal feelings about humanity (i.e. I hate everybody). I think it's way too easy to be applauded for a bad argument in social media, and I think that has a lot to do with, for instance, the ineffectiveness of the left in recent years.

Divorcing myself from Facebook was surprisingly easy, but getting rid of Twitter a bit harder.
posted by downing street memo at 9:00 AM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


activity on Metafilter

Metafilter comments are both stock and flow, in Madrigal's terms. On the one hand they have immediacy, like overhearing a conversation at a party and maybe joining in. On the other hand, the good stuff is always there, uneditable and permanent. I find I go back to Astro Zombie/Bunny Ultramod's short story about the apocalypse pepper once a year or so. Perhaps it sticks in my memory because it is such a good story about obsession. I know where to find advice on how to dispose of a dead body should the need arise. Sometimes I go back and read my own comments just to remember who I was (Vetinari's final instructions to Drumknott is the best of me on Metafilter). On a good day, Metafilter is stock (a website) that becomes flow (comments) which transforms back into stock (threads worth remembering).

Beauty has the transience of a falling leaf last autumn, seen then and now long forgotten. A thing of beauty is a joy forever. Yes.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 9:10 AM on December 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


I don't have to try to remove myself from streams, I just fail to keep up. :(

Sorry friends on twitter, tumblr, and google plus, I only really thoroughly keep up with facebook. Tumblr and twitter in particular lose me because a given "stream" will usually contain updates from people who update once a month and I really want to know about it, mixed with people who update once a half-hour and I really don't need to... It's hard to get that shit separated out properly so I just end up drifting away.
posted by edheil at 9:37 AM on December 19, 2013


I keep trying to use Twitter but just defeats me. If it was setup like a news reader so that I could read from oldest to newest and mark things at read or unread, I might like twitter better but I just glanced at my twitter tab and see "124 New Tweets" at the top. How the hell am I supposed to make any sense of all that. I've tried to use TweetDeck and organize my feeds into list but it's still an impossible mess to mentally process.
posted by octothorpe at 9:40 AM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


(SL Atlantic, via Twitter)

The irony is palpable.
posted by dendrochronologizer at 9:50 AM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


So here's what Don Knuth has to say about why he doesn't use email anymore:
I have been a happy man ever since January 1, 1990, when I no longer had an email address. I'd used email since about 1975, and it seems to me that 15 years of email is plenty for one lifetime.

Email is a wonderful thing for people whose role in life is to be on top of things. But not for me; my role is to be on the bottom of things. What I do takes long hours of studying and uninterruptible concentration. I try to learn certain areas of computer science exhaustively; then I try to digest that knowledge into a form that is accessible to people who don't have time for such study.

Our current mess of a society (I blame capitalism, not computers) privileges staying on top of things over absolutely everything else, even though the actual value of, or reason for, staying on top of things is somewhat hard to identify, and even though the effort of staying on top of things can make a person literally crazy.

When I'm in a more cynical mood, I start thinking that we've all been tricked into continually gaslighting ourselves...
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 9:58 AM on December 19, 2013 [7 favorites]


I love Twitter a lot, but I make no attempt to "keep up". I have a separate list of 6 or dear friends so I can stay up on their every post. Otherwise it just burbles away as a constant stream of information and a few times I day I look at it and read back until I get bored / have something else to do.

Data streams should be things we dip into every so often, not something that must be absorbed entirely. I realize that is easier said than done, though. :)
posted by jess at 10:02 AM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


(I'm sure everybody will be mindful of their activity on Metafilter before making sweeping statements about the vileness of social media.)

You do know that some of the biggest detractors of cigarettes are people who are themselves addicted to them, right? Does that make their criticisms any less substantial? (One could even argue that it makes them more valid.)
posted by Atom Eyes at 10:04 AM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


While this article isn't entirely wrong, it's contextualizing all this pretty incorrectly, to the point that I think its ultimate conclusion is pretty misguided.

To start, the feed didn't start in 2009. Blogs have been around since before the 21st century — hell, if you look at MetaFilter's front page, it's a reverse-chronology feed. Some forums bump newly-commented threads to the top; MetaFilter doesn't. RSS and new content pushes have been around for long enough that it feels like forever; it's at least twice as old as this guy claims it is.

What's changed is not the reverse-chronology nature of the feed; it's the ephemerality of its contents. Twitter and Facebook pushed this in two different ways at approximately the same time — Twitter, of course, with its microposts, and Facebook with its notion that actions are worth generating stories about. While Twitter gets the buzz and Facebook gets the snark (and this has been true since 2007, when I began writing about the two companies), I think the latter is just as significant a concept, if not more so. What Facebook realized before anybody else is that the Internet allows you to reflect people, and not just the things that those people consciously create.

It's why Facebook pushes things like your visiting web sites, checking horoscopes, playing games, and a ton of other things to your feed (and it's helped Facebook push Spotify as a Major Thing because of its prominent placement on their current design). The lower the barrier is to their generating a story, basically, the more stories you'll have, the more people will feel the need to stick around, and the more solidly you can lock them in to your particular feed of information.

Is that healthy? Nope! I think it's sort of vile. While I still Internet as fervently as I ever did, I take steps to keep myself away from low-barrier publications, which is why I follow a grand total of 7 people on Twitter (and even then I have to unfollow individuals within that list from time to time). There is a need for new publication models that emphasize something more than novelty. But the examples this author brings up are stupid as shit.

I mean, fucking Upworthy? That's not a site that pushes completed stories in favor of incompleted ones. It's pushing stories that are so easy to manufacture and produce that people are ensnared in them the way they get mired in Facebook. Buzzfeed's the real genius at this, in how its format enables you to write a long article without writing more than, like, fifty words yourself. They're treating publication the way Facebook treats human beings — that is, as a crop to be mass-watered and harvested in as large a quantity as possible. The notion of a "complete" story, in this case, is total bullshit, because what matters isn't how something ends, it's how it gets there.

This is kind of a major obsession of mine, because I'm a web designer/writer cross-class who's spent literally a decade thinking about this problem. I started learning web design in middle school because I was dissatisfied with the forum/blog models that existed at the time, and because I wanted to combine the things that I love about the Internet with the things that I love about reading books — the sense of spending hours making progress through something. Facebook, Twitter, Buzzfeed, Upworthy... there is no progress to be had here. There is only a perpetual and relentless now. (Truth be told, I joined MetaFilter not for the front page but for MetaTalk. The notion of a decade-long struggle over site policy and user behavior fascinated me, and the relative quality of the blue was just sorta incidental to all that.)

Medium, for all that it's considerably different from Twitter, is not the solution we need. Detaching a piece of writing from all context doesn't fix the problem of useless context. It makes Medium more like a print publication than like a blog, perhaps, but that's not a problem that really needed solving, and while some very good writers use Medium, my mode of interacting with their content is the same as my mode of interacting with any random blog's content is. It doesn't solve the issues with constant newness, because what stories on Medium get tweeted and Facebooked and posted to MetaFilter? The new ones! Same problem, and it's a problem that Medium won't fix because Medium isn't where I go to find Medium stories. (Though if it was the place, nothing would be fixed because Medium is all about "new good content" so bleh.)

How do you combine the value of interacting with people directly with the richness and depth of sustained, engaged effort? This is the problem which the modern Internet needs to solve, and it's basically the only design-related question that I find interesting nowadays. The short answer is that you develop methods by which groups of people fixate on meaningful things. What defines meaning? What makes that fixation worthwhile and not fappy? These are tricky questions, but they're not unsolvable ones.

I think that MetaFilter at its best manages to partially solve some of this: the deeper, lengthier threads, especially the ones in which groups of people begin sharing thoughts and opinions with each other, are fantastic in this regard. I'd point to our Mad Men discussion threads as the sort of epitome of this: longer, more enlightening content balances out the clever one-liners, the lighter, personal conversations, the real-time reactions that are so terrific to read in retrospect. The longform MetaTalk conversations that drew me to this site are another great example, though they're significantly grarrier: people offer opinions, are hurt by one another, fight each other, but gradually people move towards understanding ideas far better than they did before. I pretty much spent a week my sophomore year reading every discussion about boyzones before I signed up for my account, and by the end of the week my outlook on feminism and gender relations had just about done a 180. That sort of discussion is vastly more thrilling to me than even a well-written book or essay on the subject would have been. It impacts me more to bear witness to a discussion than to follow a monologue on its own.

So while I care about richness and depth on the Internet, any solution that's just "let's make a place for people to publish essays!" is going nowhere new. Ignoring the nature of the Internet doesn't fix the Internet; it just makes you another rube who's not using the medium to its full potential. Interactions are key. How do you create rich, deep interactions between people? I think this is a question that has answers, but nobody I know of is searching for the answers directly — instead, you get "how to build community engagement" and all those subjects that don't really address the trickiness of what "worthwhile interaction" really means.

Yes, the feed is a problem. But the solution isn't to ignore the feed, or to declare that "incompleteness" turns out to be a bad thing after all. That duality is entirely worthless; unfinished masterpieces are worth more than finished tripe, and ongoing conversations can be satisfying and deeply rewarding when they're about something that actually matters.

I could go on about this for way more, because I'm both writing a book about a topic very close to this and developing a forum technology that's specifically designed to solve this problem, but I've soapboxed enough I think to make the point that I wanted to make, which is: this is a more complex issue than this writer lets on, and I'm not satisfied with the conclusions he reaches. My two cents, contributed!
posted by Rory Marinich at 10:15 AM on December 19, 2013 [20 favorites]


Our current mess of a society (I blame capitalism, not computers) privileges staying on top of things over absolutely everything else, even though the actual value of, or reason for, staying on top of things is somewhat hard to identify, and even though the effort of staying on top of things can make a person literally crazy.

Totally agree with this, and am kind of amazed by it. Just in the tiny area of music, I've noticed that I'm a lot happier once I consciously stopped trying to keep up with What's New And Awesome and instead just moved around trying to find the best stuff that's stood the test of time. I think the same thing probably goes for most facets of life.
posted by COBRA! at 10:15 AM on December 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Our current mess of a society (I blame capitalism, not computers) privileges staying on top of things over absolutely everything else, even though the actual value of, or reason for, staying on top of things is somewhat hard to identify, and even though the effort of staying on top of things can make a person literally crazy.

When I'm in a more cynical mood, I start thinking that we've all been tricked into continually gaslighting ourselves...


Yeah, your cynical mood isn't entirely wrong. Knuth is fortunate in that he has a field to focus on and a driving series of challenges to push him forward; when you don't have anything so concrete, socializing and novelty and culture is a great way of sparking up new minds and new ideas.

The trick is finding that balance between greater challenges or purposes and between the lightness and fun and gratification that keeps us on our toes. I think that older writing mediums, including books and even essays, tend way more towards Important Stuff and way less towards Light Fun Social Times, and the Internet is kind of acting to fill that void. But it's way too geared towards the other end of the spectrum, which contributes to what I feel is a kind of perky, apathetic cultural nihilism. I get the feeling sometimes that my generation (I'm 23) has rejected many of the notions of meaning and order that we were offered and replaced them with... nothing. It's the appeal of writers like Tao Lin, whose books are all about that quiet, never-ending desperation. I think that as the Internet evolves, we will find new ways of creating a balance that could never have existed en masse before, but at the moment we sort of have the shit end of the stick.
posted by Rory Marinich at 10:24 AM on December 19, 2013




Data streams should be things we dip into every so often, not something that must be absorbed entirely.

This.
posted by yoga at 11:16 AM on December 19, 2013


Perky, apathetic cultural nihilism

Same
posted by Potomac Avenue at 12:12 PM on December 19, 2013


It is Facebook and Friendfeed and AOL and Digg and Tweetdeck and Seesmic Desktop and Techmeme and Tweetmeme and Ustream and Qik and Kyte and blogs and Google Reader. The stream is winding its way throughout the Web and organizing it by nowness."

~~sigh~~
posted by JHarris at 2:45 PM on December 19, 2013


The Blog Is Dead, Long Live The Blog, Jason Kottke.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 3:53 PM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't know if you mean a nihilism regarding culture or a culture of nihilism, but yeah. We do in fact seem to be adrift in an uncaring universe lacking any order or meaning, best to just get on with it. Things have been Absurd for some time now, it's not going away. It's not the open nihilism that's a problem, it's the crypto-nihilism of e.g. the Republicans and Democrats that'll get you.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 6:32 PM on December 19, 2013


I love Twitter a lot, but I make no attempt to "keep up". I have a separate list of 6 or dear friends so I can stay up on their every post.

Same here, I call it my "A list". I don't glance at the main feed much.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:41 PM on December 19, 2013


Jesus fucking christ you google reader wimperers, just use feedly and GET OVER IT. I know, I was sad when it went away too, but after about a month of pain I really don't miss it.

But RSS is 100x better than a single stream; there's just no comparison. I get to read the stuff that's important to me now, and the rest at my leisure (or just declare news bankruptcy every now and then and toss the cruft). And things that update occasionally don't get drowned out or lost in the noise.
posted by aspo at 8:49 PM on December 19, 2013


Jesus fucking christ you google reader wimperers, just use feedly and GET OVER IT.

No! I'll never get over it! Never forget! DO YOUU HEAr ME GOOGLE READeR? I KNO YOUR OUT THERE SOMEWHERE I WILL FIND U
posted by JHarris at 10:39 PM on December 19, 2013


Just in the tiny area of music, I've noticed that I'm a lot happier once I consciously stopped trying to keep up with What's New And Awesome and instead just moved around trying to find the best stuff that's stood the test of time.

That’s the part about the Internet and connectivity I like. It used to be I kept up with new stuff because old stuff was harder to find, or know anything about. But now there’s no difference between a song released last week and one from 30 or 70 years ago, it’s all out there. Why would I assume that the newest things released are going to be my favorites when I’ve got decades of music to choose from and it’s all equally accessible? The same applies to movies, books, etc.
posted by bongo_x at 10:43 PM on December 19, 2013


Hey, what’s this Google Reader everyone’s talking about? I need to check that out, is it any good?
posted by bongo_x at 10:45 PM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Just in the tiny area of music, I've noticed that I'm a lot happier once I consciously stopped trying to keep up with What's New And Awesome

I've done something similar with news. At first it felt like I was abdicating my social conscience, but the struggle to become a perfectly informed citizen is endless and impossible. I felt duty-bound to follow every proposed threat to employment rights and every step of every foreign conflict, but it was getting me nowhere. All those hours wasted reading secondhand opinions.

Now I read history books instead. I'll follow the odd critical issue in-depth, but by and large the stream has been dammed and I'm much happier and probably more knowledgeable for doing it.
posted by forgetful snow at 11:29 PM on December 19, 2013


I only read the parts of the news that everybody's getting pissy and upset about, and I try to only read it for amusement's sake. It's like being a troll only nobody else knows about it. Everybody wins!
posted by Rory Marinich at 3:00 AM on December 20, 2013


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