After my former project, Twine.com, was sold, I began to turn my attention to the Next Big Challenge: How to make sense of the growing real-time Web, or what many call, “the Stream.”
I could see the writing on the wall, and it was less than 140 characters: Social media’s own success was going to be its biggest challenge. The Stream was going to soon become unusable.
In the early days of the Stream, it was actually possible to keep up with your community on Twitter and Facebook effectively. Not anymore. There are just too many people messaging too often. The chances of even seeing a message before it scrolls into history are getting lower every day.
Today, the Stream is growing exponentially. Twitter famously grew by 3x in the last year and sends out more than 250 million Tweets per day. Facebook sends billions of public and private messages per day. And this is just the tip of the iceberg — or the deluge, as it were.
There are so many new and growing sources of messages in the Stream: Google+, LinkedIn, Foursquare, Youtube, RSS feeds, and more are coming. And that’s just the consumer side of the Stream – there’s a whole other side to the Stream: Chatter, Yammer, Socialcast, Jive, and many other enterprise streams are also growing rapidly.
And on top of this there is a whole new deluge of machine and app-generated data that is just starting to join the stream, and may eventually dwarf human-generated data.
At the same time as all these new networks are popping up to enable messaging in the Stream, the barrier to creating and sharing messages has also never been lower. I call this The Sharepocalypse.
It’s never been easier to share — People are sharing more kinds of information, more often, with more people, than ever before. And it’s requiring less thought too — because the messages themselves are so short. This is resulting in a collective overshare of unimagined proportions.
With email, the messages were usually long and required some effort, so people sent relatively few emails per day. And at least with email there were some basic social rules about what you could send to everyone without being a spammer.
Not anymore. In the age of the Stream it’s quite normal to post out what you had for lunch, or some cool product you are looking at in a store window, with a photo, to the entire world. That would have been unthinkable in the email era. In the age of the Stream, it’s not even an afterthought. The Sharepocalypse is here, in spades.
The result of all this adoption and growth of the Stream is a new kind of information overload, stream overload.
Stream Overload is worse than email overload, because it includes email overload.
Email, in my opinion was “Stream 1.0.” Social media (RSS, Twitter, Facebook, etc.) were “Stream 2.0.” And now we’re entering “Stream 3.0″ – when everything – all information, all applications, everyone, even things – become part of the Stream.
(Yes I know, version numbers are so Web 3.0, but it’s helpful to use them as handles for the discussion. Stream 3.0 is indeed a different era from the early days of the Stream.)
We’re already seeing the signs of stream overload — but this is just a preview of what’s to come as Stream 3.0 comes to maturity. The growth of the Stream is still only just beginning. Most of the planet isn’t using it yet. And most people don’t realize how integral it’s going to be in their lives in coming years.
If the Web is the planet’s brain, the Stream is its mind – it’s the living, breathing, thinking, learning, aware, acting part. And we’re all going to be part of it 24/7, whether we like it or not. So it better be good, it better be smart, it better be useable, or we’re all going to be gridlocked and buried in messages we don’t want.
And this is the Next Big Problem: The Stream is going to become both more important, and more noisy at the same time. This is a classic crisis. Either something must be done to reduce the noise, or it’s not going to be useable. And this will lead to problems, because it’s important that it actually is usable.
What happens if the Stream really breaks down under its own weight?
If the signal-to-noise problem isn’t solved, and people can’t keep up with the Stream, they’re going to give up. They’re going to stop paying attention. They’re going to stop trying to keep up. They will never be able to scroll down enough. They won’t even login to sites like Twitter and Facebook if they are too overloaded.
And if nobody is there listening, then there won’t be much point in posting news and updates to the Stream either. People will stop posting too.
And without the people there, marketers won’t post either – so the advertising money will go away. And even in the social enterprise, if streams for teams get too noisy, they will also stop being used and people will move to some new solution.
And without the people there, the Stream will become an automaton. All that will be left is machines posting to machines.
Unless something is done to solve it, of course.
Make sure to follow us on Twitter:
- @bottlenoseapp – the official Bottlenose Twitter account
- @novaspivack — yours truly
- @dominiek — Dominiek ter Heide, Bottlenose CTO
And come check out Bottlenose! The app is still in invite beta so you either have to have a high enough Klout score or an invite code to get in.
The first 500 readers of my blog who want to try it out, can get into Bottlenose using the invite code: novafriends
Check out the what the press is saying about Bottlenose:
Bottlenose Launch – A Smarter Way to Skim the Stream – SiliconAngle
Managing the Sharepocalypse — AdWeek
Social Overload? Bottlenose Promises Intelligent Filtering — Information Week