The Future of Streams: Twitter Looms As Biggest Obstacle

One of the five reasons why Web publishing is changing is the emergence of streams of information. In other words, a constant flow of information ordered chronologically and (ideally) topically too. In the near future, the theory goes, it won't matter where you enter content - a blog platform, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, etcetera - because all of it will be accessible to other people as a stream. Yet this rosy future may not happen, if Twitter and Facebook have their way.

The key about streams is that they are much more than a static web page. In the near future, your stream may be delivered in any number of ways: as an RSS feed to your Reader of choice, a Reader app built using App.net, or even through a good old web page.

The Present: Simple Streams, Twitter Features

Much of the vision about streams is currently either experimental or hasn't been built yet (like the App.net example I mentioned). But as it happens, there is a good early example of streams from a mainstream publisher: The Wall Street Journal.

On a blog post by streams evangelist Anil Dash, provocatively entitled Stop Publishing Web Pages, Laura Holder from The Wall Street Journal left this comment:

"Although of course still publishing traditional articles, at The Wall Street Journal we've started opening streams around event-based news topics, such as Apple Keynotes, Olympics, Campaign 2012 and a 24/7 Markets Stream, compiling a dynamic river of topical articles, tweets, live blogs, photos, videos. They work on mobile, engagement is high, filtering will come, and I suspect advertising integration will evolve."

The election stream is mostly made up of WSJ news articles and tweets from WSJ staff. There is the odd video too, plus sharing options to Facebook and Twitter.

Probably the best feature is that it's easily digested via mobile.

This is early days for streams and The Wall Street Journal's effort is fairly basic, although very nicely implemented using Wordpress.

The Future: Twitter & Facebook Don't Want You To Control Your Stream

So what can we expect of streams in the future? It's difficult to say, because there is no guarantee that popular publishing services will even support streams in the future. We're looking at you, Twitter.

There is a battle going on in this era of the Web for control over user content. The most popular social services, Facebook and Twitter, are both trying to keep a hold over their Walled Gardens. Neither company wants its users to have control over their own content. That makes it difficult for third party developers to build stream apps (in other words, interfaces to view streams), because they won't necessarily be able to access all of your content created in Facebook and Twitter.

This is where App.net is potentially an important development. If it can become the de facto stream for microblogging, then App.net combined with RSS - the syndication format supported by almost all publishers nowadays - may become the standard for streams.

But not if Facebook and Twitter have anything to do with it. So it will be interesting to see how streams evolve over the next couple of years. Let me know in the comments how you think this will pan out.