A Paradigm of Streams

Some people have been asking me to explain a bit more about what I mean when I say the web is now a "paradigm of streams", as noted earlier in a previous conversation I had with a colleague. Brevity and clarity are not two of my strong suits, so both are what I will attempt to achieve with the following explanation.

To begin, we know that the web has gone from a paradigm of sites, or pages, to a paradigm of applications. I would offer one step further in this abstraction-- that it is, or is becoming, a paradigm of action and interaction with these applications, thus resulting in "streams" of behavioral data. We are now in, or approaching, a paradigm of streams.

This "paradigm of streams" essentially contends that 1) "content" by definition has evolved to include both explicit and implicit user output and 2) that this new content is channel-agnostic, ever-expanding, and yes, entirely portable.

This an entirely user-centric view of the Web (so for marketers out there, take note).

We can understand our streaming web experience in perhaps two ways: Aggregated Streams and Distributed Streams, or, "in and out flows."

Aggregated Streams: It is no longer necessary to visit a site or page to access its content, nor is it necessary interact with the actual UI of an application in order to leverage it. I can access content, or aggregate streams of content, to me wherever I choose via widgets and RSS feeds (such as on a homepage mashup like Netvibes or my Goog reader). I can also aggregate my interactions, and the content I produce, with applications such as FriendFeed. In this way, my web experience is highly customized, comprised of the actions of others which produce "content."

Distributed Streams:
My distributed streams are those actions and/or interactions that create output or content in various (social) spaces. In turn, friends and online associates may choose to aggregate my distributed "streams", thus my actions become the content that makes up their online experience. Again, we can call on FriendFeed to provide an example of what all of this activity looks like. Note: I don't intend to say that FriendFeed is what the web is turning into, but rather it is an example of a very early iteration of what our network of streams may look like.

In reality, my web experience is really comprised of these micro-interactions (to borrow from Armano), the input and output of which are ever-expanding streams of activity. Scientists are apparently calling this "ambient awareness", this awareness being the result of streaming data (which streaming data = the new "content"?).

My distributed streams, and the streams I choose to cull, create a highly personalized, highly active web experience-- a paradigm of streams.


Steve Hall said...

Yes, it does make sense:-)

Antony said...

It's a nice way of putting it... We make our own streams, or at least direct them..

And while it all makes sense when its your streams, trying to make sense of a million people's streams may never be entirely possible.

alisa leonard-hansen said...

@Antony well, the "making sense" part is really the point...we are all now editors of our own web experience...i don't have to consume all of the content a site or page or content provider delivers, i only have to aggregate and consume what i want. it makes "sites" and "pages" and even the interface of apps secondary...content is now channel-agnostic, and I as the consumer can create my own, highly tailored, web experience

Taylor said...

It's also important to point out the design aspect of inter-laced data streams; which ever applications can, say, provide a personalized data stream to match decision points that lead/lag with an event and organize those streams will be major next year.

(Andrew WK should provide a customizable feed that tells me when his album comes out, when his tickets go on sale, when the tickets ARE on sale, and mixes with additional data like what the weather is like for the outdoor show, etc., and it should all work with the other incoming feeds.)

Also, the more cloud computing technology and semantic web content develop, the more streams will develop to filter through personal hubs (like feed readers/editors, as you say apps will be secondary to the feeds) and also create matrices between physical nodes and meta-data.

(I've been thinking about the new "stream paradigm", too.)

J said...

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- J (www.strands.com/jherskowitz)

Jeff Larson said...

I'm pretty sure this is a load of nonsense, basically what you're trying to say is that people will consume and create the content they want? And this is different than before b/c of rss readers and social aggregators? If we want to delve into "paradigms" then I'm pretty sure the set of rss items looks a lot like the set of blog posts which looks a lot like the set of articles in a newspaper. You've discovered the world is round and you're trying to prove the
music of the spheres, only your covering this "discovery" up with McLuhan-lite diction which gives you an heir of faux academia. Cheers.

alisa leonard-hansen said...

@Jeff Larson

Judging by the tenor of your comment and the and lack of constructive counterpoints I can only assume you are here by way of IJJ or MeFi, in which case says a lot. Also, because I see you are a 'web producer' I think you have some presumptions as to what exactly I do. No, I do not work for a dot com. I work at a digital agency within the strategy group. Marketing knows all to well the groundswell of change in consumer (user) behaviors online and the impact this is having not only on established brands and companies but on adoption rates of start-ups (which I can imagine you fall into one of those two categories, but please correct me if I am wrong).

Firstly, this "paradigm of streams" was to serve as a visual metaphor for myself and my colleagues who are grappling with the massive shifts in consumer behavior online and the decentralization of content consumption and creation. This metaphor now serves as part of our strategic planning framework.

Secondly, no, this is not about:

"basically what you're trying to say is that people will consume and create the content they want?"

Jeff, this is not at all what this metaphor is referencing. We know consumers can create and consume the content they want. This attempts to speak to the FUNCTION of consumption. Again, this content consumption/distribution is increasingly decentralized (RSS being one example of this, but certainly not the only) and will only continue to further decentralize as APIs lead to the development of third party clients and access points. Underneath it all, we are really talking about the behavior and flow of data in an open Web. And data portability will add yet another complicated, disruptive (exciting!) layer to all of this.

Now, as a web producer, I can only assume (again, correct me if i am wrong) you commandeer a site that probably has a business model that relies on advertising? Now, marketers in the past have been satisfied for pay for eyeballs and clicks. This, unfortunately for sites and siloed content publishers is no longer the case. And this conundrum of consumers consuming content and data (the content on your site that you are trying to monetize through advertising) when and where they please (ie: NOT on your site itself) poses a very difficult challenge to your kind.

It is precisely why marketing budgets going to online display ad spend are decreasing as marketers would rather pay for increased engagement and dialogue opportunities. The ROI simply isn't there most of the time to justify display advertising anymore (not in the least due to the effect of said "streaming" affect of consumer behavior).

Finally, you give far too much creedence to the scope of this post. Again, it's intent was to provide a useful metaphor for myself and my colleagues. If you have another such metaphor that would perhaps be a more apt way to describe the disruptiveness of "non traffic" and fragmented content consumption, then please share.

I would invite you to read some other posts on this subject (for example, here: http://threeminds.organic.com/2008/11/a_decentralized_distributed_so.html), as well as attend the "A Discussion on the Pervasiveness of Streams" panel at SXSW if you are so inclined. A friendly and constructive debate is always welcome.

best wishes.

Jeff Larson said...

All personal attacks aside -- it's best we not partake in them -- all "counterpoints" are not, nor should they be, constructive. Rather, the best counterpoints are destructive (see Samuel Jonson), and to pretend otherwise is to hide in the sand. I still am having problems with how this “paradigm” is any different than the realm of media as it existed before. The only difference in your comments and post that I can comprehend is that these media are more distributed and democratic. How this factor presupposes a new metaphor or obtuse language, is, in fact, beyond me (my top concern is that your use of the word paradigm seems ill informed and to put it bluntly: incorrect). May I offer a visualization or metaphor (though you use them interchangeably, they’re not) that is perhaps more apt: The Internet.

(My apologies for misusing “heir” up above.
Command is sufficient commandeer is the wrong word.)

alisa leonard-hansen said...

@Jeff Larson

Unfortunately your obstinate observations continue to miss the point-- this is about USER BEHAVIOR and ATTENTION--and not necessarily media itself (although the explicit outputs of implicit user behavior are the new 'media'-- example FriendFeed streams, er feeds as you might prefer).

To your "point":
"How this factor presupposes a new metaphor or obtuse language, is, in fact, beyond me (my top concern is that your use of the word paradigm seems ill informed and to put it bluntly: incorrect)."

Firstly, dear Jeff, you again are stating that I am referring to media itself, and this is not the case. I again, am referring to user behavior (something that as a marketer, we are obsessed with). Generally, legacy thought around building a web presence has been steeped in silo mentality or a site-based mentality. We know that users do not traverse the web in such as way that they will continually visit one particular site--indeed, we know that they access them, or their content rather, via third party clients (an abstraction for said legacy thought...clients abstract sites or applications).


One entry found.

Main Entry:
par·a·digm Listen to the pronunciation of paradigm
\ˈper-ə-ˌdīm, ˈpa-rə- also -ˌdim\
Late Latin paradigma, from Greek paradeigma, from paradeiknynai to show side by side, from para- + deiknynai to show — more at diction
15th century

1: example , pattern ; especially : an outstandingly clear or typical example or archetype2: an example of a conjugation or declension showing a word in all its inflectional forms3:
a philosophical or theoretical framework of any kind

— par·a·dig·mat·ic Listen to the pronunciation of paradigmatic \ˌper-ə-dig-ˈma-tik, ˌpa-rə-\ adjective
— par·a·dig·mat·i·cal·ly Listen to the pronunciation of paradigmatically \-ti-k(ə-)lē\ adverb

As I said, this operates as part of a strategic framework that our award-winning agency uses. If you have issue with this being a metaphor or visualization (the difference between which is duly noted)-- I'm not quite sure what you are after or are trying to prove.

This is not trying to reinvent any kind of wheel but rather function again, as a framework and your intense exception to it speaks volumes more to your own lack of understanding rather than mine dear Jeff.

alisa leonard-hansen said...


Oops, I see you have changed your title to "online director."

Perhaps this will clarify it slightly for you:

the evolution of social computing has always been one towards abstraction (read: http://www.lifewithalacrity.com/2004/10/tracing_the_evo.html)

Consider that the Web itself is experiencing similar iterations of increased abstraction. Once I could visit sites. Now, I can access a site without even visiting it via a client or a reader or some aggregation service. Abstraction. And really, this says more about (again) user behavior than the media itself. The media itself is still what it-- its simply being consumed in a different context, when and where a user chooses.

Example: I consumer CNN content via Twitter and YouTube, and not CNN.com itself. This, we would consider "streaming behavior."

Again, your severe exception to all of this is quite interesting.

Hope to see you at that SXSW panel. You can tell Brian Solis and Jackie Peters that you think all this "streams" talk is hogwash.


alisa leonard-hansen said...


No, no, it is "commandeer": "to take or make use of without authority or right"

"Command", given your responses, would not be appropriate in your case.

Andrew said...

Comment fight was awesome.

I feel like Jeff Larson was pointing out petty (and unfounded) errors in order to attempt to discount the actual value of the observation being made. Nice distraction. Actually, Jeff, all counterpoints should come in with an argument of equal or greater value than the original point, that is, if you want to be taken seriously.

Anyway, it's like what happened to commercials on television. When a new device proliferated in living rooms around the world (meaning around the U.S., harhar), the ability to skip commercials became an obstacle for advertisers to overcome in order to still get to consumers. Hello Snapple and SoyJoy!

I think Ms. Hansen was making the point that the ability to block out overt banner ads and sidestep those ridiculously annoying Flash overlays to get straight to the content... that's the DVR of the Internet. Whether that content is a tweet from a friend or an updated news corporation-run blog, it is growing increasingly difficult to bring brand exposure to consumers who simply don't welcome the intrusion and will find ways around them. (Note that most of this ad sidestepping, at least for me, is done unconsciously; I read the blogs (kottke, fimoculous) and community blogs (MeFi isn't a completely fatuous community) and news aggregators to get to the quality content quickly. The unviewed ads are the innocent bystanders.) Understanding consumer behavior. That's paramount to launching a successful marketing campaign vs. a dying and stagnant banner-ad-on-top-of-a-webpage.

Good stuff here.