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Lifestreaming, the next social act

I currently know more about the lives and interests of many of my professional contacts than I do about some family members.  This isn’t really on purpose, but it is a direct result of the choice many people I know have made, to keep people constantly abreast of what they’re doing via web services such as Twitter, Facebook and FriendFeed (which I’ll discuss shortly).  Most of my family is not engaged in the social Web, and as a result I’m not as engaged in their lives. Face it; if I’m getting daily/hourly updates from one person and a once-a-week or once-a-month phone call from another, which person do I likely know more about?

Now, this is not an issue with my family1, but it does demonstrate that the Web has some serious power to keep us not only connected, but constantly connected.  For many, this constant connectedness is a good thing that allows them to easily keep up with their friends and industries.  For others, it’s like a firehose of information they can’t shut off or filter.  “TMI!” (Too Much Information) they cry.  Obviously, the truth really lies somewhere in between.

The idea of lifestreaming is really the application of some logic to all of this information we’re putting out there about ourselves on the Web.  Essentially, it allows social network users to collate web data about particular people in one place.  Think of it this way….

Let’s say that you rate businesses on Yelp, upload or favorite videos on YouTube, post photos on Flickr, tweet on Twitter, update your statuses on Facebook, blog at WordPress.com, and maybe even have a professional profile on LinkedIn.  That’s a lot of stuff you’ve got (actually, ok, not that much for some), and your friends sure aren’t going to go to each individual site to see what you’ve been up to.  Enter services like FriendFeed, which aggregate all of this kind of activity for your (participating) contacts and spew it back out for you all in one place or even through a handy RSS feed.  So, now your friends can know every time you do anything on any of the many, many web services that Friendfeed supports.  Voila!  Your friends know every time you review another restaurant in Cleveland on Yelp, or favorite another Obama Girl video, etc etc etc.  One source for lots of social data.

Now, remember the firehose analogy?  Once you subscribe to enough people on FriendFeed (or just enough very prolific ones), you can easily become deluged by the constant activity.  This is the main gripe people have about FriendFeed; there is not truly a good way to filter out what you might consider “noise” and everything is treated equally.  If you want to know every time Friend #1 and Friend #2 upload a video but not #3, and also every time only #4 updates her blog, you’re out of luck.  Thus, the firehose you can’t turn off.

Does this make FriendFeed useless? No, but it means that you have to understand why you’re using it. I use it primarily as a way to keep up with people I know and what they are doing professionally.  However, some argument has been made that lifestreaming could be replacing blogging and that blogging is dead.  I don’t really buy that, myself.  But it is true that many people are totally replacing their personal blogs with lifestreams, because the purpose of their blogs is to keep people abreast of what they’re up to.  That does makes some sense, I think.  And many others agree.  Thus the rising popularity of lifestreaming, and of new lifestreaming services such as Ping.fm, Profilactic, Socialthing, and many more. This type of service/application is collectively called social aggregators.

What does this mean to me, Laura?

  1. If your library is involved in more than one or two web services, you really ought to get a FriendFeed account.  Make getting your social data easier for your patrons. (And I recommend FriendFeed for a library, simply because it is the most popular right now and the most well-known.  Not because it’s necessarily the best!)
  2. FriendFeed also provides a way to have conversations about posted items with other FriendFeed users.  That’s another reason for libraries to get over there; another way to interact directly with patrons.  (Possibly.  Just because you build it….you know.)
  3. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by what comes out of this kind of aggregator.  Recognize that you will not likely ready EVERYTHING.  It’s ok, really.
  4. If you’re really bored, you can subscribe to my FriendFeed.  Yes, you need a FriendFeed account.  Yes, another #@$! account.  Yeah, I know.


1All of my immediate family is geeky.  I’ve just binged on the Web 2.0 Kool-Aid a little more than the rest.  And yes, they’re weird, too.