Tag Clouds for Our Lifestreams

We are marching down the lifestreaming road. There are a proliferation of lifestream apps, such as FriendFeed, SocialThing, Strands, Swurl and others. Lifestreaming is getting hotter, and there’s some thought that lifestreaming will be the new blogging:

Sites and social tools like these and many others encourage more participation on the social web than ever before. Although the social participants on these sites are often more active in socializing than they are in blogging, there’s still that need to stake out your own piece of real estate on the web. But we wonder: does that really need to be a blog anymore? Perhaps not.

It’s a great concept, one that Mark Krynsky has been chronicling for a while at the Lifestream Blog.

An area I think that is ripe for inn ovation here is the ability to find the meta data from one’s lifestream. On FriendFeed, people will have multiple services that fill up their lifestreams. A couple issues that crop up on FriendFeed are:

  • Figuring out whether to subscribe to someone
  • Catching up on what particular individuals have been streaming

Because there is one thing that has been noticed with all this lifestreaming – there’s a lot of information generated (or “noise” as some might say).

So here’s my idea:

Create tag clouds for our lifestreams

What do I mean? Read on.

FriendFeed Lifestream

I’ll use the lifestream service with which I’m most familiar, FriendFeed. Here are the tag clouds I’d like to see for each user’s lifestream:

  • Blog
  • Music
  • Google Reader shares
  • Bookmarks
  • Twitter
  • YouTube
  • Flickr
  • Digg
  • etc…

And I’d like to see tag clouds for what users Like and Comment on. Because on FriendFeed, Likes and Comments have the same effect as a direct feed of someone’s lifestream: they put the content into the feed of all their followers.

So via the tag cloud, I’m can quickly come up to speed on what someone is interested in.

Let’s Make Tagging Easy

I don’t propose that users suddenly tag their own streams. Rather, let’s leverage the work of others.

It’s de rigueur for Web 2.0 apps to include tagging. Bloggers tag. Social bookmarkers tag. Music lovers tag. Why not pull the tags applied to the source content into the lifestream?

Here’s what I mean. My blog has plenty of tags. These tags are included in the RSS feed of my blog. So any feed that includes my blog should include these tags. Let’s leverage:

  1. The tags that people apply to their own Web 2.0 content
  2. RSS/Atom feeds that include tags

For some background on this, click here for a page on Technorati that talks about tags in feeds.

By leveraging the tagging work already resident in user-generated content, one can quickly build up a tag cloud for lifestreams.

An Example: Google Reader Shares

Google Reader is a good example. People ‘share’ blog posts they read via their Google Readers. Sharing lets others see the articles that someone finds interesting and useful. And of course, those blog posts that someone is sharing have tags.

Here’s what the tag cloud of my recent Google Reader shares looks like. I’ve simulated the tag cloud by using Wordle for the tags.

You can see my interests lately: Enterprise 2.0, FriendFeed, social media. If someone wanted to get a quick sense of the things they’ll see by subscribing to me, this tag cloud answers that. And if someone is curious about the specific posts I’ve been sharing that relate to a subject, they could click on one of the tags and get a list of my Google Reader shares.

Curious, I ran the same analysis on the Google Reader shares of four people I follow on FriendFeed: Robert Scoble, Louis Gray, Sarah Perez, Mike Fruchter. Here are the topics they’ve been sharing lately:

Robert Scoble clearly is following the iPhone and Google. Louis Gray was following the happenings at Gnomedex. Sarah Perez is pretty even in her interests, with FireFox, social bookmarking, FriendFeed, Twitter, search and photos among her favorite topics. Mike Fruchter has been reading up on Twitter and social media.

Just like that, I’ve gotten a sense for their interests right now. And if those were true tag clouds, I could click the tag and see the Google Reader shares. Robert Scoble is really good at tracking useful relevant things. Clicking the ‘iPhone’ tag and reading his shares would be a quick way to understand what’s goin.

Tags + Wordles

As I said, most user generated content comes with tags these days. So pulling these into the feeds and representing them in a tag cloud would be a fantastic move forward in creating lifestream tag clouds.

But what about Twitter? There are no tags on tweets. Not a problem. FriendFeed and other lifestream services could do a Wordle-like tag cloud. Tally the most common words in someone’s tweets, represent it as a tag cloud. And make the tag cloud clickable, which would essentially run a Summize Twitter search of the user’s tweets for a given tag.

Use Existing Metadata to Solve Two Problems

The key here is to not make it onerous on the end user. Tag once, re-use everywhere. If desired, users could be given the option to add tags to their own lifestreams. But the core idea is to eliminate double tagging work for users.

If this could be done, you’ve got a visual representation of people’s lifestreams. And an easy way to find the specific entries in a lifestream that relate to a topic.

Lifestreamers – would you want something like this

I’m @bhc3 on Twitter.

Social Media: Lighter Beats Heavier Every Time

www.waystupid.com

Interesting tweet from Stanislav Shalunov regarding SocialThing:

Asking for my passwords makes SocialThing sound like a phisher. Won’t use for now. http://tinyurl.com/4dquxn

His tweet expressed something that I’ve been noticing for some time. I am gravitating more and more to the “lighter” interaction social media apps.

What is “lighter”? It’s the flick of a wrist. Enter text + submit. One-click subscriptions. Here are three comparisons, including the controversial one of aggregator comments versus direct blog comments.

Twitter vs Facebook

Facebook is heavy. To build out your network, you have to:

  • Invite others
  • Request a connection and wait for the response

These processes make a lot of sense for what Facebook is about – true relationships. When your friend invite shows up in the other person’s inbox, what’s their reaction? That’s the key to maintaining the integrity of true relationships there. I have turned down friend requests there from complete strangers. It’s why I’m comfortable blogging about my kids there but less so elsewhere.

And it inhibits using Facebook for me.

Twitter’s model makes social network set-up a breeze. Find someone you’re interested in, click “follow”. Done. But Twitter does support Facebook-like controls:

  • You can block specific individuals
  • You can set your updates to be private, only available to those you approve

Most people just leave their subscriptions wide open on Twitter. Which is great for the user experience. I have made connections on Twitter that I would never have made on Facebook.

The other thing that’s easier – communications. I’m a voyeur a Twitter, jumping in when I want. I just use the @sign to respond to someone, or the occasional direct message . Facebook’s status updates post to the newsfeed and a few are shown on your home page. But those aren’t really conversations. To talk with someone, you use the Facebook message system. Again, that’s really cool – you don’t need to remember email addresses. But it also is heavier.

No surprise Twitter’s been growing like a weed.

FriendFeed vs SocialThing

FriendFeed and SocialThing have a lot in common in that they show the activity streams of friends across different services. But there are key differences, which are well summarized by Mark Krynsky at the Lifestream Blog.

Creating your network: FriendFeed has the lightweight Twitter model. Find someone, subscribe. Done. SocialThing imports the friends you’ve made on each of the services. This is also light. But you can’t add new users directly inside SocialThing. You’ve got to go to the individual service, add the friend and then SocialThing is updated. This is heavier than FriendFeed.

Importing your services: FriendFeed asks for your login ID for a service (Twitter ID, Flickr ID, del.icio.us ID, etc.). enter it. Done. Your updates start flowing. SocialThing wants your ID and password. This enables SocialThing to send updates back down to each service. But as Stanislav expressed above, getting passwords is heavy.

Interaction on the originating services: SocialThing lets you respond to a friend directly back on the originating service, like Twitter. FriendFeed is adding this capability for Twitter, and perhaps others. But if you want to comment directly on the originating service, for the most part you have to leave FriendFeed and go to that service. Socialthing’s support for direct comments is the lighter experience.

It’s still early. But FriendFeed has the edge in the “lightness wins” battle right now.

Friendfeed Comments vs Blog Comments

Man, do I really want to write this? Well, here goes. Comments on FriendFeed are a lot lighter than those on blogs. Which means it’s an easier experience.

Blog comments have these qualities:

  • You want to be pithy in your comment. The blog post addressed a weighty topic, and you want to comment in keeping with that.
  • You enter your name, email and website each time
  • You might encounter a captcha
  • The blogger may hold comments in reserve until they’re reviewed
  • If you mess up, you can’t change your comment

Meanwhile, on FriendFeed, comments have these qualities:

  • You can comment pithily
  • You can write more of a meta-comment about the post
  • You can talk with others via comments
  • You can click ‘Like’ to provide a quick, simple comment about the blog post
  • Comments are easy. Click Comment. Enter text. Click Post. Done.
  • You can edit or delete your comments

This doesn’t mean commenting on blogs isn’t worthwhile or valuable. Reaching out to the writer is an important part of the participatory ethos of blogging. Your comment also breaks the ice on a post, making it easier for others to join in.

But there’s no denying the lightness of comments on FriendFeed. Expect their volume to increase.

I’ll predict that FriendFeed comments are those that bloggers never would have gotten on their blogs in the first place.

So the lightness of FriendFeed comments won’t steal from bloggers’ on-site comments. They’ll add to them. And that’s a good thing for the conversation.

What do you think?

*****

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