Beyond The Bubble – Real-World Uses For LifeStreams?

StreamI spent some time recently reflecting on all these new online services, and their real-world uses. Not just services that I’ve written about like FriendFeed and SocialThing! but a whole bunch of the tools that I use.

Here’s my dilemma: to a large extent, I’m inside this thing we call ‘the bubble.’ This makes it difficult to stay objective sometimes.

I try hard to step back and look at both the pros and cons of these new tools, and I’m not shy with pointing out flaws. Hopefully I’m on the right side of the "kool aid" line most of the time.

This weekend I found myself thinking a lot about the new so-called "lifestreams" like FriendFeed, Spokeo, SocialThing! and Profilactic. I wondered:

Outside the bubble, what’s the use for these services?

From my perspective, aggregators are useful for people like me for two reasons:

  1. I have a fairly extensive profile online – I use a lot of services. Managing them all is tough. Most people don’t have such a large online presence
  2. My presence online is still limited enough that aggregating it is feasible.

I’m not sure of the value that the ‘average’ person or business can get from tools like these.

I threw the above question out to my friends on Twitter (another service that is still firmly within the bubble, for now at least).

A few themes that emerged:

  • Networking – brand managers could use these services to stay in touch with their "audience"
  • Promoting – Extending your brand’s profile
  • Feedback – Gathering information on your company, products or competitors

I’m a little cynical about these.

Networking:

I think there are much better tools for networking. Plus, most of these services are still one-way, so you’d still have to go out to each of the original sites to truly connect with people.

Promoting:

If you mean that they provide another channel for brands to pimp themselves in then, sure, every new service is a promotional opportunity. I don’t buy for a second that they’re valuable channels to use for promotion, though. All they really offer is another RSS feed to subscribe to. For one thing, RSS is still emerging at the moment. For another, there’s no extra value in the content of that feed. Yuck.

Feedback:

This is the one potential use that I buy. However, I still see a big flaw – the sheer volume of information.

I’ve already started ignoring my FriendFeed RSS feed. After just a day or so, I have over 400 unread items there. There’s too much information to keep up with, and I’m only connected to 28 people on there so far! I can’t imagine what it would be like with hundreds, let alone thousands, of people.

B2C companies, in particular, target thousands of customers. There’s no way you can track that much information without an additional tool to filter the stream.

I do think there’s some potential for tracking competitors and their products. However, most of these services have barriers to this kind of use – for example, some require those competitors to have a presence on the same service. I just don’t see the scale-ability of this approach across all of a firm’s competitors.

Conclusion

These services are great. They’re interesting, they’re useful, and they’re often fun to boot. I’ve already written that I can see them becoming useful for me as they develop.

However, by their nature, require people to be heavily into social media. They don’t just require you to sign up; they also require you to use a bunch of other services to get any value out of what they offer.

FriendFeed, Profilactic and SocialThing! target people with a heavy online presence. For now, that means people inside ‘the bubble.’

Am I missing something here? What do you think?

(Photo credit: mbollino)

Dave Fleet
EVP Digital at Edelman. Husband and dad of two. Cycling nut; bookworm; videogamer; Britnadian. Opinions are mine, not my employer's.