Lifestreaming, an idea stemming from the walls of Yale University, is getting more and more attention from the geeks and techies of this world. What’s all the hype about, we wonder. What is lifestreaming compared to news feeds, dashboards and concoctions of random social media widgets? Is the idea still the same: share yourself, kill time, find long-forgotten friends and stay abreast of people’s status updates? Is it about tweeting, blogging, flickring, youtube-ing and digging it – all in one interface?
Lifestreams originate from Yale University, where the idea was conceptualized and developed by Yale student Eric Freeman under the direction of Professor David Gelernter.Originally, it was conceived as a network-centric replacement for the desktop metaphor and inspired by the desire to organize one’s electronic life. Freeman also wrote his dissertation in 1997 on the lifestreams software architecture, while completing his degree from Yale’s Department of Computer Science. Later, the lifestreaming notion evolved and transformed into a social media reality, combining various social web activities under the umbrella of a single platform. Furthermore, there are even plugins created for lifestreaming from WordPress and Drupal. Check out this blog for more scripts, bits of code and plugins.
The Lifestream Universe
With the head-spinning variety of different social media applications out there, it is easy to get lost while trying to find an app that’s right for you. Chances are, you have already subscribed to a handful of them, but ended up using one or two for the sake of ridding the redundancy. Some of you may find it daunting going to all of your virtual homes to separately update each one of them. This is when lifestreams come in handy, if you want to share your life from all sources automatically, making lifestreaming a possible answer to a bundled version of your web existence.Facebook uses a lifestreaming approach in its new version, displaying all kinds of relevant activity going on in your circle: from who’s the hottest to what Nuno is doing right now -- coupled with posted notes, videos, events, comments and wall posts. On a tad more serious side, let’s look at LinkedIn. Same lifestreaming idea is here as well, with a touch of professional hue -- who is connected to whom, who is hiring, who posted an expert answer, etc. Even such information as to who was poking around your profile and what job openings are available in your domain are also part of LinkedIn’s lifestreaming reality.
We will not even attempt to give you a full picture of the lifestreaming applications that are sprouting on the web every minute. But we will tell you about some strong players and hopefuls.
FriendFeed, a hot lifestreaming start-up, offers an application that enables users to be on top of all their sharing activities. Start with adding the FriendFeed app to your Facebook, and you can connect the two with all your other outlets of social web presence. Drop it onto your iGoogle homepage or read from a feed reader – FriendFeed is quite versatile. Keep on adding all those disparate accounts in the universe of social networking services and FriendFeed will put them all together.The application also allows users to embed the feeds into their web sites and blogs. Frankly, nothing stands out in this typical feeder from the herd of similar services with the exact same agenda. But it seems to be popular at the moment.
Still in development, Sweetcron is one of the newest applications on the lifestreaming market. It is a self-hosted solution that provides automatic updates of all your activities published to your blog(s): be it Flickr, Digg, or del.icio.us. Yongfook, the application’s developer, must be feeling the pressure from the overly curious lifestreamers, who are eager to see the product in all its glory. As he puts it, “Don’t bug me about Sweetcron! I’ll launch it soon. Promise.”Compared to FriendFeed, Sweetcron should offer more customization capabilities. It is also free and open source.
In the past, we referred to Tumblr as a microblogging platform.With their motto of “Post anything. Customize everything,” Tumblr offers a tumblelog solution designed for sharing everything you “find, love, hate, or create - even if you're not wordy.” Tumblr’s features include full support for custom domains, custom CSS and HTML themes, markdown, audio uploads, video uploads, automatic scaling of embedded videos and instant message posting – just to name a few.
Another pusher of feeds and streams, Plaxo is aggregating news and updates from your network from many of the same sites: Twitter, YouTube, Reddit, del.icio.us, etc.With a clean interface and easy-to-use features, Plaxo Pulse, while a nice addition to the lifestreaming family, is still in the same realm of similar services. It is still growing -- exponentially -- and the recent acquisition of it by Comcast is sure a good sign of future promise.
Lifestreaming in the Enterprise 2.0
Organizations are not foreign to the idea of streaming data. But the “suits” call it dashboards. For some reason, many organizations are using dashboards every time there’s a need to display large amounts of data from various sources. Why would one think that stuffing enormous amounts of data into a bunch of widgets is what the users want?
Dashboards Are Not Ideal
As noted by Jevon MacDonald in his blog, dashboards can be very challenging. In the enterprise situation, there is just too much data to be organized into widgets and dashboards.As both are throbbing with data, the whole idea of being able to take a quick glance and find what you need goes immediately awry. Will replacing the dashboard with lifestreams be a viable solution, or should we be looking at a mix of both? Given the fact that some data remains static, while other types of information constantly change, there is definitely a need for both types of data to be represented in the most user-friendly way. Otherwise, the users may find it a bit hard to track changes taking place in the organization.
Lifestreams Come to Rescue?
Some examples come to mind in regards to possible lifestreaming applications in the corporate world. Take industry news, for example. Lifestreaming does seem like a good display option for the ever-changing news, while sets of standard data that are better displayed in graphs and charts would be better suited with dashboards -- think any form of internal metrics (page visits, sales figures, lead submissions, etc.). Social interactions among employees would also be hard to box up in a dashboard widget. Come on, we’ve got to stay on top of who is giving away kittens and who has a dishwasher for sale -- in real time and with time stamps.As some of the greatest minds of Enterprise 2.0 ponder on the topic of where this whole movement is going, we wonder if lifestreaming applications are (or will be) part of the global Enterprise 2.0 strategy. What do you think?