Why are we all screaming for lifestreaming?

Can someone please explain “lifestreaming” to me? Because I don’t quite get it. Yes, I read Steve Rubel’s post. I’ve had a Posterous account for a while but never really got into it. I’ve seen all of the recent sexy statistics about how Tumblr has taken off. It’s certainly a trendy topic of late, but it still doesn’t quite make sense to me.

LifestreamingI can understand how it may work for people who don’t want to fully commit to blogging or want a place to quickly and  publicly throw up pictures or blurbs. My sister-in-law has actually done this for the past year with a Tumblr page since my nephew was born (warning: cuteness abounds). It was much easier for her to create a Tumblr page than a full-on blog. She’s able to post photos, brief video clips and the occassional paragraph or two.

I can also see where folks with common names might use Tumblr or Posterous as their primary site if their preferred domain name was taken. Mike Germano does this (and doesn’t always seem to happy about it; I think if he had his druthers he’d love to wrestle mikegermano.com away from his jazz musician name-twin). However, I’ve also seen people, like Kris Colvin, use Tumblr as the platform to run their self-hosted Web domain, like you would with WordPress or TypePad. My friend Jeff Bean at Bike Crave touts Tumblr’s “cleanest, most spare design ever” as its biggest benefit.

But if someone already has a blog with a domain name, what benefit does lifestreaming add? I’m not trying to be combative here; I’m genuinely curious.

Sure, there are pieces of the Web I find now and then that I want to share. Maybe it’s something worth sharing but isn’t appropriate for my blog or doesn’t inspire me to write an entire post about. In that case I’ll tweet the link if I want to share it publicly. If  I want to add my own commentary and I can’t keep it under 140 characters, I’ll probably post it to Facebook for those behind my walled garden to see. I suppose in those cases I could be sharing and sending those links to a Posterous or Tumblr page. But can we really count on those who follow us to check out our blog AND our Twitter stream AND our Facebook wall AND our lifestream? (Yes, I know that’s what Friendfeed and other aggregators are for, but Lord knows I haven’t figured out that one yet either.)

Stuart Foster argued a few weeks ago that he’d rather read fleshed out, comprehensive blog posts than snippets of thought here and there on a lifestream, especially from “thought-leader” bloggers like Rubel. I tend to agree, though I’m willing to give this idea of lifestreaming a fair shot and try to understand how and when it can be useful.

So for those of you who have figured it out, help me to get it. What are the benefits of lifestreaming? How are people using Tumblr and Posterous in ways that are different or better or more innovative than simply having a blog and sharing items via Twitter or Facebook?

What am I missing?

Image via Flickr user leadenhall

38 thoughts on “Why are we all screaming for lifestreaming?

  1. I don’t get it, either, beyond a fascination with the new shiny, and someone like Rubel needing to feel like he’s on the cutting edge. The micro-blogging+ platforms like Tumblr really seem to be ideal for the casual blogger, but as you noted, I tend to share those kinds of links and brief comments on Twitter or Facebook. I’m testing out Storytlr right now as a personal blog platform, but even that seems unnecessarily self-indulgent, not to mention inconvenient as it’s not well-developed yet.

    • Inconvenience is another factor. Unless you automate posting of everything across multiple sites, it can be a hassle to try and manage so many different outposts.

  2. Hey Amy! I’ve been using Posterous since April or so — I don’t use it to “lifestream,” but I do find it useful for other things. Mostly, I post content that doesn’t warrent a whole blog post, yet is longer than 140 characters. Additionally, I find it useful if there’s a snippet of something I’m reading that I want to highlight. I have a widget for my Posterous page (www.posterous.com/heatherwhaling) on the side of my blog, so if people reading my regular site want to read it, they can. If not, no biggie. I tend to not believe in auto-posting content everywhere, so I’m very careful about how I use the Posterous capabilities to share info on Twitter and Facebook. But, I do enjoy having this alternative outlet to post content. The traffic numbers are actually pretty decent, but whether or not people actually read it — I still enjoy having this “alternative” outlet to post tidbits of interest.

    Heather (@prtini)

    • Thanks for sharing how you use Posterous, Heather. I haven’t seen the widget used too much yet but that makes sense in that people who are reading your blog could catch a glimpse of what you’re posting and click over to read more if it interests them.

      I’m with you in that I don’t like the idea of auto-posting to all sites at once because I think it either overwhelms people who follow you across all of those platforms or else doesn’t make sense to certain audiences (a lot of my family members are friends with me on Facebook, but don’t follow my blog. I tend not to post too much social media/PR stuff to Facebook for that reason).

      Have you noticed anyone (other than big guys like Rubel mentioned above) who are using Posterous/Tumblr exclusively and no longer (or never did) have a full-on blog?

  3. Amy, THANK YOU for expressing what’s been on my mind since I first heard the term. I’ve been wanting to dip my toe in the “stream” for a while (heh) but I can’t imagine abandoning my poor little blog before it’s had a chance to really flourish. I like Heather’s approach and might tackle it that way (pull Posterous into main blog). What gets my goat about this is the grand proclamation –all due respect to Steve Rubel, blogs are not dead. Is it that the blogging format will continue to be more aggregation-focused, moving from old-school journal entry (for want of a better word) to *hub* — which pulls in all the content the blogger is producing/interacting with to complement the longer-form blog posts?

    • I agree – I’m sick of the “X is dead (and/or sucks)” proclamations!I’m not sure if blogging will move completely away from journaling to hub like you said, merely because I think a lot of people still want to express themselves and need an outlet for that. But you may be right in that blogs, instead of being “the” centerpiece of an online presence, will move to more of a complementary piece in the bigger picture of content? It will be interesting to see.

  4. You do realize that you’re doing some mini life streaming on Twitter, don’t you? I’ve come to realize what a biking fanatic you seem to be. :-)

    I exclusively use Facebook for life-streaming with friends and family since that seems to be what it’s really designed for. It’s such a marvelous way to share tidbits about your life so folks you don’t see regularly keep up-to-date with you. It really eliminates the need for the long “here’s what happened this year” Christmas time letter.

    My opinion: people who life-stream EVERYTHING are narcissistic in a big-way. And, in some cases, are focused on building a personal brand. Imagine how Martha Stewart might behave if she was just starting out today.

    • Yeah, you caught me. I do have quite a thing for the bike. ;-)

      I do agree that Twitter is certainly lifestreaming to some extent, and I guess my argument was more that if we already have Twitter, Facebook, and a blog, what additional benefit to other services like Posterous and Tumblr add?

      Like you said, Facebook is great for sharing your life and allowing people to passively keep up with each other. And Twitter provides a way to publicly share links and content along with updates about what I’m up to (like riding my bike!). My blog is for longer-form posts where I try to show my thoughts on a narrower range of topics (for me that’s social media, PR, marketing, etc.). So I guess I don’t see what the benefit would be of then ALSO having a micro-blog or lifestream site. Heather alluded to the fact that it’s a nice alternative to post/share things that don’t “fit” into other online presences, so maybe that’s it?

      I can only imagine what a Martha Stewart lifestream would have looked like. Oy.

  5. I avidly use Tumblr as well as have a blog hosted on WordPress. My blog on wordpress has a focus and I think it has a professional presentation. My tumblr is more for pictures/videos/quotes I like, as well as talking about my interests in fashion and entertainment that may not fit into my blog. They don’t have the same audiences, but then again I don’t really advertise my tumblr. I don’t think of it as a lifestream, its more like an album where I can stick stuff that I like.

  6. Lots of good comments here. To me, lifestreaming tools such as Posterous and Tumblr occupy the space between Twitter and blogging. As you described, Amy, sometimes I’ll come across a story I’d like to share along with more than just 140 characters of commentary, but an entire blog post just seems excessive. Maybe these are the instances where lifestreaming fills a niche. Only time will tell.

    By the way, your nephew is adorable.

    • I agree with Mike. Posterous and Tumblr are perfect for the in-betweens of Twitter and a more formal blog. As to the apps themselves, there’s no law that says they have to be associated with lifestreaming, but rather are just another form of blogging. For me, Friendfeed serves the lifestream function. Posterous is becoming my “everything else” blog. I try to keep my main blog very topically-centric. Everything else goes to Posterous.

  7. If you figure out an answer, Amy, can you let us know? : )

    I’ve tried out Tumblr a bit, but so far it just hasn’t seemed to fill a necessary hole in my online life. Twitter, blogging and LinkedIn fill the spaces to connect with people professionally (and I use Delicious quite a bit to share information & resources with students), while I use Facebook for the more personal stuff. And – wait for it – I keep some things simply private, and don’t share them online at all. Lifestreaming seems to fill a need for some people, but my feeling is that it’s a small minority of people online (for now, and probably for the foreseeable future). I’m with you – if you can’t see the benefit, why do it?

    And if lifestreaming feels like a bit too much to those of us with fairly active lives online, imagine how it feels to people just learning about these things? Whenever I talk to grad students about FriendFeed or lifestreaming as a concept, no one has yet to seem drawn to it. If I were to summarize, I’d say they perceive it as too much information, incredibly time-consuming, borderline creepy, or some combination of the three.

    • Laurel – I think you’ve hit on why I seem to be having such a hard time understanding the lifestreaming concept – it just doesn’t seem like it fills a hole for me. Maybe some people do have that hole, but I have found that most things I want to share I can do so via Facebook or Twitter or write a blog post about. Stuart’s concept of using Posterous as a community site intrigues me, though, and I will be interested to see how that develops.

      I think the concept of information overload and convenience is a biggie for me, too — both in terms of creating and consuming content. Following someone’s lifestream can be overwhelming, as is having yet another site of my own to post content to or manage.

      And I agree that it’s certainly nice to not share some things every now and then, and keep a little mystery alive in our lives. :-)

  8. This is probably not an original thought – when you watch anybody’s complete lifestream for a while, you realize how routine and boring the majority of life is. (And I’m not saying that in a negative sense)

    If we were all tied into each other’s lifestreams all day long, it would probably become the virtual equivalent of this experiment:

    http://slate.com/id/2192282/

  9. Maybe I’m too old school for a 22-year-old, but I don’t feel like there’s a need to put my entire life on display. I’m down for social media and I grew up on the web, but like others have stated here: I can’t find a reason for Tumblr or Posterous. Either I’m seeing through it or not understanding it, but Steve Rendel’s new lifestream just seems like another blog to me. I don’t think there’s a necessity for this kind of segmentation.

    The gap between a blog post and a tweet is obvious, which speaks to its necessity, but Posterous seems like blogging with a marketing ploy.

  10. Amy, you pose a good question and one that can be difficult to answer. Also, the conversation generated by all the commenters has been a good one. I think placing it squarely in the middle of a blog and Microblog is pretty valid. There really aren’t any strict guidelines as to what content should make up a Lifestream or how it should be used. So with that it’s not fair to generalize when discussing them. It’s really just a concept that is flexible to be anything someone wants to make it.

    I find that Lifestreaming (or more importantly following others streams) provides me with a real-time pulse of what’s happening on a daily basis. By building a hand picked group of Lifestreams to follow, you can create a highly tailored, human curated feed of interesting information. Not to mention that you get interaction and engagement surrounding the content that makes up everyone’s streams. This is really what I have been able to get on FriendFeed and its unfortunate that you weren’t able to find a similar experience there.

    • Mark, thanks for stopping by and sharing your perspective on lifestreaming. What I’ve really gotten out of this conversation so far is that some people are finding it useful for sharing “more than Twitter, less than a blog post” type content. The real-time aspect also differentiates it from a typical blog. And like you said,it’s flexible. People like Stuart are adapting the concept in a way that fits how they want to consume and share content online with their communities.

      It’s also interesting that you talk about only following a select group of lifestreams – maybe that’s an easier way to handle and digest the information versus watching the comprehensive feeds of everyone you know (if everyone indeed starts lifestreaming). I think that’s why I’ve had such a hard time with Friendfeed – I get into ADD mode pretty quickly when trying to follow along on that site.

      However, during yesterday’s Facebook/Twitter outage I spent a good amount of time on Friendfeed and I did see some benefit. Unlike Twitter, it was nice to see what people were sharing (on Delicious, Flickr, their blogs, Google Reader) all in one spot. And I could still comment on the content they were sharing and share my own. So maybe it’s just a matter of me forcing myself to expand the tools I’m comfortable with and give lifestreaming a fairer shot.

  11. I think we’re all trying to figure out what the right mix of platforms is… what role does twitter/FB/LinkedIn, Posterous, Tumblr etc have in your life/career. Tend to agree, I had to unfollow Rubel because there were just too many posts. Nobody is that interesting. And I share Stuart’s preference for smart, well thought out posts that help me learn vs short snippets.

    But at the same time, platforms like posterous have their role — but maybe that role is more of a support platform (like YouTube). For instance, Brogan has done a nice job of using Posterous’ email in your audio post feature.

    Overall, still think you need to have a home base that is “your” place on the net… everything else basically serves as a pointer device back to your home.
    @TomMartin

  12. Curiously enough, I have played with FriendFeed, Tumblr, Posterous and multiple blogs.

    After reflection, I have come full circle and am reverting to my blog for my long form outputs and identi.ca for my inance stream of drivel.

    I continue to aggregate everything (Google Reader) through FriendFeed.

    After playing with Posterous for the Nth time, while I agree it’s still a mere blog, it’s the ‘blog by email’ aspect that appeals. For example, my Father would never have a blog or even know what a blog meant but he is certainly capable of sending an email with photos attached.

  13. Thanks for this post Amy, as I’ve been asking the same questions…

    I think I’m going to create a Posterous to try it out (or should I try tumblr? idfk)

    The way I see it is a glorified, public delicious page. Anything I really like, would find useful in the future, looks interest, or I just want to share for whatever reason will go on there. Cool pictures I come across, good blog posts/articles…whatever.

    Or am I still missing the point?

    @DavidSpinks

    • David, you make an interesting point comparing lifestream sites to Delicious, especially since that site just revamped a bit. I often wish it were easier or more visual to save photo and video to Delicious. I tend to use it as a static repository and using Posterous or Tumblr instead to save links may be a little more dynamic and also lets people comment/interact with the content you save.

  14. Good question, I agree- two points I’d like to add:

    1.) “Lifestreaming” when coming from an influencer online can be compelling. But it’s only to compelling to people who want to see what he/she is looking at and doing online. Meaning, you might see someone bookmarks this, then comments on this- then writes a blog post very shortly there after. Seeing that activity and the “way a person thinks” and behaves online is compelling to some people.

    To some people- it’s a lot of time and effort to even engage on that level of activity. Again, mostly influencers are the only interesting people to follow a lifestream (in my opinion).

    2.) I think the term “lifestreaming” is a bit off. I was one of the 8 beta testers broadcasting my life live on the internet for 3 months on http://www.justin.tv and the term “lifestreaming” is what we used to call our broadcasts. Not that it matters, but I don’t think it’s the write term to use for just an area that consolidates the feeds of a persons activity online. However, I also don’t have a better term I’d suggest to use in place of it :)

    FYI, I visited this blog via @zenaweist, thanks!

    • Ramsey – I like your first points about seeing the activity leading up to a blog post and being able to capture someone’s thought process – but I just don’t know how likely I would be to track that. I read many, many blogs and follow a lot of people – even for my core group of 15-20 online pals that I really keep track of closely, I think it would eat up a lot of time for me to follow that level of activity. Like you said, it may only be worth it for a couple of the influencers who are interesting enough to warrant that level of scrutiny.

      In regards to the discrepancy in terminology, I think Mark offered a great response – I have seen the traditional, video lifestreaming being referred to more as lifecasting recently and lifestreaming seems to connote an aggregation of all the content one is interacting or sharing across the Web, in real-time.

      Thanks for stopping in and sharing your thoughts.

  15. Ramsey, I have seen quite a bit of confusion regarding people equating Lifestreaming with the outputting of live video. But I’ve seen most in that area now starting to use the term Lifecasting. Take a look at the Wikipedia page that even highlights Justin.tv here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lifecasting_(video_stream) There is also a Wikipedia page for Lifestreaming (which needs quite a bit of work) here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lifestreaming . It may not be the best term (I also like Activity Stream) but it’s one that has pretty much proliferated with the concept.

  16. Awesome question, Amy. I have to admit, I just signed up for a Tumblr account over the weekend, but I’m in Heather’s camp — I don’t use it (or plan on using it) for lifestreaming. My blog isn’t completely focused yet but I know there are tons of video clips, photos, quotes, stories, etc., that I come upon during my time on the ‘net that I’d like to save but don’t want to include on my blog.

    Oddly, and maybe selfishly, I don’t really see my Tumblr account as something I really even care about sharing — I’ve got it to keep track of things that inspire me and if people find it and like what they see, cool.

    As far as actual “lifestreaming” goes, I don’t get the hype either.

    • Curious – do you use Delicious at all? It sounds like you’re using Tumblr more for storage of interesting items that you want to reference back to later, and not so much as a way to share/broadcast to people (as in, you don’t much care if people read your Tumblr page, it’s more just for you). I’m curious because I use Delicious for that, but I can see where something like Tumblr or Posterous, which it can be a little easier to save/send things to, may start to overtake Delicious as the preferred way to bookmark content. David Spinks mentioned this in his post above. What do you think?

  17. What a great post and comments. I completely agree with your premise and with today’s FB/FF purchase am wondering if we’re going to see some consolidation in the market that may make things easier. I feel as though almost every week there’s a “new toy” out there to check out when I’ve barely had a chance to look at last week’s toy…let alone master it. Seeing how things fall together or fall out is going to be interesting and I enjoy how Twitter lets me watch that, professionally, while Facebook is my chance to connect personally with people. Those are my two main streams and they overlap fairly infrequently but I’m always looking for a new mousetrap too. This discussion has been great and I hope will continue for some time.

    • I’m mostly focused on Twitter, Facebook, and my blog at this point, too. I’m definitely open to new toys and tools and I’ve also really appreciated this discussion as it’s been helping me see how others are using lifestreaming sites as a complement to their other online presences. You mentioned consolidation and we’ve definitely seen that this week with Friendfeed/Facebook and I’d bet we will see more of it as people gravitate toward the services that best meet their needs in terms of mixing the sharing, saving, following and interacting of content on the web across their networks. Thanks for the comment, Mary!

  18. I’ve heard it said that lifestreaming is about providing context, and I’m beginning to feel that this is true. But it’s not a benefit you see straight away.

    Blogging, emails, even telephone calls, are all very rich ways of communicating. But they are also isolated. The things that happen to people in between these communications can be important to getting a full understanding.

    When we work in an office with other people, we’re picking up all sorts of contextual information from our colleagues. And when we communicate with them, we draw on this context to understand them better and therefore communicate better. So lifestreaming is giving us background information on those around us – much of it redundant on its own, but increasingly important when taken as a whole.

    • Context, hmm… I can definitely see that. Lifestreaming sites taken on their own may not make much sense or be useful in and of themselves, but I can certainly get how they would provide added context, meaning or “background info” as you state. I see what you mean about blogging being more isolated – lifestreaming seems like it can fill in some of the context gaps between posts and make things a little more dynamic.

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