Is “stream” as a design paradigm over?

32 thoughts on “Is “stream” as a design paradigm over?”

  1. Hello. I’m a new reader from Argentina (I discovered your site two or three months ago). My primary access to your new content is via RSS. So, “stream” or “no stream” isn’t a trouble factor for me, really.
    The content delivered via RSS is absolutely complete, direct, practical and convenient for me. I’m reluctant to newsletters.

    1. First of all, thank you for being part of the community. What a delight to have you here. I appreciate feedback you provided. So in a sense it doesn’t matter how information is published or laid out: for you as RSS consumer it is complete and finite. In a way newsletters do the same too: they are discrete and finite.

      1. Delight is mine. And you’re in the correct: as a RSS consumer, the organization of the information is irrelevant in my case. But as a news consumer, the story is different. For example, when I’m trying to read an event that is developing in real time, the organization of the text with timestamps at the interior of the story is developed in reverse chronological order. That’s a kick in the eggs at the moment of read, sincerely. XD

  2. Greetings Om! I come here with two-in-one comments (well, technically a comment and a question).

    Re Streams: I think reverse chronological feeds are still a viable option for personal blogs. However, over time I noticed that “combined” streams (I think it should have a better name, this is just me throwing an idea) are better. Dave Winer’s blog, for example, groups content by year, month and day, but when you read the day, it’s not in reverse. The first “post” of the day is at top and the last one is at the end. From a reader’s PoV this makes total sense. I wonder if there’s a way to do that in WordPress.

    This approach is good for people who write multiple times a day. Personally I only do this when I’m “live” blogging an event (server setup, conference, etc).

    On the other hand, people seem to know how streams work. I noticed it’s always better to have multi-column websites, where one column is a stream and the rest is data such as web presence or link to other blogs, etc.

    It does become problematic (and I wonder if Ben has noticed this) since most people are on their phone, where they won’t notice the multi-column, but rather a stream and the rest of the website underneath 🙁 No idea how to “fix” that yet.

    (Off-topic) Is English your native language? I’m trying to find content of non-English-native bloggers who blog in English. I love your “Write like a human” piece, but I feel it’s hard to blog in English when ones native language is not. (If English was not your native language growing up) how did you become a good English blogger? Obviously “Practice makes perfect”, but other than that, any advice? 🙂 (P.S. wanted to email you the question, but didn’t find a public email, so asking here instead 😀 )

    1. Hi, and thank you for your comments and questions. Let me tackle the last one first because rest of them need me to think before writing.

      My native language is Hindi, but I went to an English medium school in India and my entire education was in english. I learned to “experience” in a pre-television and pre-internet era: through books. I read a lot of books and magazine and that helped me become a competent writer. However, after moving to US, I really had to relearn a lot of “english” and become competent again in American English.

      Since then, I have been writing pretty much every day, though admittedly that habit has fallen off a little in later years. I write between 600-2000 words a day. And most of the time, when you write to think, you write like you think. And I don’t think in big complicated words, or in jargon. In other words, I think like a person whose second language is English.

      It allows me to keep things simple. Hope that helps!

  3. Came from RSS too, so option to “Stream” or not is not really relevant for us RSS consumer.

    But i do have same problem with you for my personal website, i found that some old posts on my “blog” deserved more views, but I also want when people come to my “blog” they knew what i am doing recently.

    So yeah come here to see discussion from others readers 😉

    1. I have the same feeling about the design of my wife’s quilting website. Most of the information, explanations, how-to’s, etc are written and formatted in blog posts, which results in important/useful articles being buried by announcements, news, and new instructional posts. So, how to have blog articles in something other than reverse chronological order while still having new posts accessible, especially time-sensitive posts? Also, the challenge in presenting information to visitors on desktop versus phone is not inconsequential, as Antranig mentions – even the older demographic of quilters have shifted to mobile devices.
      As an aside, after buying a laptop for myself, instead of borrowing my wife’s, I find I’m enjoying the larger format of well-designed websites over the mobile experience! Something I didn’t expect.

      1. Michael,

        This is quite a quandary for all of us who have been writing for a long time, and what is essentially more than a blog. As how-tos, explainers and longer pieces come into the mix, things become complicated. So the question then becomes — discoverability. A smarter AI-driven recommendation block under a blog post could be an answer. It could help, especially since most of the consumption happens on mobile, and it could be an ideal way to get the right information. It doesn’t answer the question about the stream’s relevance.

        1. AI is a big question mark that will have a huge influence on how we produce and consume content with services like chatGPT synthesizing existing content and output direct content with zero reference back to sources. Another massive topic in itself.
          The relevance of the stream – I think it’s still relevant in context, especially if you are tracking time sensitive material / sites. Some sites seem to be eschewing the stream by hiding the publishing date but I find this to be a disservice and a huge hindrance most often when it comes to discerning the relevancy of the information – nothing like spending a hour trying to apply information only to work out that it’s 10 years out of date and inapplicable to the current situation. OTH, recency bias is itself an issue and part of why the publish dates get hidden “I’m not ready this piece if it’s 5 years old, it couldn’t possibly be relevant”.
          Back to the stream though, it often feels like a firehose – I can only get so wet – there’s so much information streaming at me that it’s impossible to keep up.
          I’m not sure I’m addressing the question.
          🙂

          1. I try and put a dateline at the end of the piece so people are clear as to when and where it was published. It is an old habit 🙂

            For me, I think Kottke.org is the best example of straddling the two worlds without as much as messing up the look and feel of the website and the stream.

  4. Hi Om.

    I have eschewed the stream for my blog for a good few years now, opting instead for a daily format in which all of the posts for that day (a mix of longer and micro posts) are in chronological order (it was inspired by Dave Winer’s approach as mentioned above). That way, you read down the page as you would a book, and the day unfolds as you go. This means that I can write as I think and the reader can follow in the order they are supposed to. It fits the way I blog better than a reverse chronological stream.

    To complement this, I have a daily digest RSS feed (which presents the whole day in chron-order) as well as the more typical live feed.

    I have more recently added a ‘Start Here’ page which presents posts according to their labels (categories) as a jumping off point. Each time the page loads it will present the labels in a random order and show three random posts from that label just to mix things up a bit. The joys of creating your own CMS 🙂

    I have traditionally consumed posts via RSS but have just started an experiment. I built my own feed reader so made a page where it just tells me what sites have updates so I have to physically visit them in order to read what’s new. Robin Sloan says that presentation is a form of content and the issue with feed readers is that they homogenise content according to their design and display preferences so I am going back to reading posts in situ like we used to in the good old days. That way, if someone is doing something unusual or different with their site I will get to see it rather than have the content divorced from the display.

    1. Colin

      First of all, thank you for your thoughtful and detailed reply. I think your solution definitely offers an answer to the quandary. I will visit your blog and spend time on it.

      As to your points, I am not sure I have the requisite skills / desire to work on my own CMS system, and I find comfort in the familiarity with WordPress.

      I suspect that is the challenge / most of the systems are designed to serve a certain specific set of conditions. I don’t think blogs/web-content are really thinking about a post stream world.

      You have given me a lot of food for thought!

      1. There is a lot to be said for that familiarity. I know of a number of bloggers who have tried different things but always return to WordPress despite it often being unwieldy for a simple blog.

        1. Yes indeed. I was commenting elsewhere about the idea of stream and text. I wonder how the next generation will deal with it. I suspect video and visual web will replace the web as we know it.

    2. “presentation is a form of content and the issue with feed readers is that they homogenize content according to their design and display preferences”

      Oh interesting it is one of the reasons that I like RSS – because it normalizes how the information is presented – and I don’t need to recalibrate for each blog! Kind of why I like Apps better than the web – not QUITE the same – BUT a related idea – you can do ANYTHING on a web site – which is great and lovely for creative ideas – but harder for the causal passer by to grok what is going on and understand.

      1. “BUT a related idea – you can do ANYTHING on a web site – which is great and lovely for creative ideas – but harder for the causal passer by to grok what is going on and understand.”

        Perhaps that is why one needs a way to give them a quick overview of what the website is all about!

  5. I always thought of the stream as another delivery method, molded and shaped by broader social context but also the understanding and needs of people who developed the first pieces of software and how they viewed the world. I am thinking of terminals and b2 and WordPress after it and micro-blogging.

    With the explosion in tech, both in software and hardware, the need to move more information changed everything. We got PiP on displays, multitasking, algorithmic defined timelines, branched out streams and new combination of attention grabbing UIs.

    I think an important question is if the stream allows for a good understanding and digestion of a certain niche or another delivery method is more appropriate as society and our brains change and adopt. Gigaom was what it was (awesome) because of the stream and the time and the place it was born. In 2023 the stream is just another thing in a multimodal world, but not the thing.

    1. I definitely agree on the idea of “multi-modal” world. It is not going to remain static. I suspect the “blogs as we know it” are of limited value to new internet users who are likely going to go all video in the future. It is basically the natural evolution of the internet to a visual web.

  6. Om, I’ve followed your writing since the early 2000s (and I still miss your long-form interviews at pi.co more than I do gigaom itself).

    Is reverse chronological “stream” still a valid design principle? or should we think differently?

    I’ve written on rahulgaitonde.org since 2002-03, and it’s been for a clutch of people who’ve wanted to follow me the person, as opposed to the professional.

    Those people subscribe via RSS, email and most visit the site occasionally. That’s why reverse chronology has worked for me.

    At some point, though, after a thousand posts, I decided it made sense to present a static home page to new visitors and have it link to the blog.

    I also created a searchable archives page at https://www.rahulgaitonde.org/blogarchive/ – has search, monthwise listings and a couple dozen of the latest posts.

    Finally, I think the archive pages at Jason Kottke’s (https://kottke.org/everfresh) and Fred Wilson’s (https://avc.com/archive/) blogs are well designed, though they rely on a history of tagging well.

    1. Rahul

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment. I am going through what you said in my head. Also, appreciate you being part of my online journey. I think like Fred and Jason, my post count is above ten thousand. I need to figure out how to do this right. I think they have done something right on their archives pages.

  7. I like the stream concept as a reader. I view it as a coffee shop, I go , sit down at a table with a conversation in progress and here what’s happening. If, over some time frame, the conversation isn’t interesting I might not sit at that table as frequently, or for as long. A catch-all or diverse stream is way more interesting. Blogs that are all one thing become boring over time, been there heard that.
    Rob

    1. Robert,

      Thanks for that analogy. I like that approach. I definitely feel we are not one thing, but multitudes.

  8. Hey Om, I’ve had views on streams and reverse chronological feed. It’s good to follow people whom I know or blogs I’ve subscribed for a long time like yours.

    As a reader on internet whenever I discover a new blog or sub-reddit or person, first thing I want to read is what is best/popular or what they recommend. Reddit does it nicely with a lot of content is to let users sort thru top: day, month, year and all.

    Another thing I look for is to know what they like reading, listening, watching or shopping (omakase 👌🏽). I have enjoyed them in your digest, they can be brought out as a section as well.

    I quite like when blogs/people have Start here on their About page.

    1. Vikalp,

      First of all, thanks for the kind comment. Really appreciate the thoughtful feedback. From what I see, you are suggesting that there needs to be a block on the homepage that showcases: /thebestof and /whatIlike. And then there an ability to learn about the person,, their persona and their picks before becoming a longer term follower/reader? Correct me if I have got this wrong.

      1. Yes, exactly, though there could be sections on the homepage as well.

        Can’t resist bringing my professional self (designer) here, think in terms of the stages of reader.
        1. New reader: someone who doesn’t know you at all, bump into your blog through a link. Or is referred to your blog by a friend.
        Start here, /thebestof works to pull them in.

        Irregular: someone who has read popular blogpost or your writing from somewhere else but hasn’t subscribed.
        /WhatIlike, /thebestof could build on and let them know your more.

        Thinking out loud another way to approach will be what you as a reader what will you like to read first. Something that interests you, holds context, is recent or timeless to connect faster.

        In the end, I wouldn’t want to over complicate and keep it simple. Honestly, quite exciting to discuss all this with you

        1. Vikalp,

          Thanks for the feedback. The question is how to incorporate all that into the design of the current blog, which I like as it works well for the mobile consumption and also I like its minimalism. Love to get your suggestions.

          1. Om, true. I agree with you, the blog shouldn’t loose the simplicity of the current design. Here’s my suggestion,

            Home page:
            1. Start with 3/4 line, 1 paragraph introduction to the blog (can be taken from /About)
            2. Follow-up with 2/3 coloumn which suggests 1 article each for /Starthere, /Bestof, /whatIlike. Showing only the section title, essay title.
            3. Ends with your latest essay as current design

            Let me know what you think.

  9. I started to write a comment and it got too long … sorry.

    https://john.philpin.com/2023/01/29/is-the-stream.html

    That said, in that entire piece I didn’t think about RSS … which is where most of what I read from disparate sources flows.

    That won’t go away, but I do hope a wider audience gets, understands and uses it … when I spend time showing, the other person is generally gob smacked by the power and simplicity ..but somehow non tech people don’t do this themselves.

    The reason I didn’t think RSS is that essentially it is an aggregated stream and I think what you were looking for is what a single blog might do … which is where my short piece fits in.

    1. That was a great post. Thanks so much for sharing John. To be clear, I am not saying “stream must go.” Stream as a design-organizing principle, can’t continue the way it has been.

      We don’t live in a world where people go to a person’s blog as much. That was the use case for most of the blogging experience for two+ decades, but it is changing.

      We don’t have people who blog every day as much as they did in the past. Today, it is a more limited writing — its not blogging. There is a reason why newsletters are working: they push the latest/relevant to you, which makes it a good compliment to email.

      A new generation of readers is emerging having come to the reading and consumption experience with algorithms.

  10. Thankyou … honored that you spent a few minutes clicking in and reading it.

    I think we are in violent agreement. My refinement would separate the stream from the algorithm. There are ‘micro’ alternatives springing up that allow you to curate your personal stream from people that you want to follow … no algo in the loop. My own blog is part of such a stream over at micro.blog … mastodon is famously ‘algo free’ … and others are around … though not obvious.

    And of course RSS … which needs to be easier to engage with and ideally consistently applied … including by the tech giants who keep trying to change the rules. Dave Winer is doing a lot of work in this space around Feedland … early days, really interesting with a focus on ‘interopability’ which might include webmentions, activitysub, activitypub, etc etc … which are all exciting .. but NONE of it is ready for mainstream prime time and remains firmly in pre chasm land … to borrow from Geoff Moore.

    You mentioned newsletters, I use Stoop to manage my non substack ‘newsletter stream” and the substack app to manage my substack ‘newsletter stream’.

    Would be interested to learn more about your distinction between blogs and ‘limited writing’ … I have a ‘what is a blog’ post in process .. drawing parallels to the ‘what is a podcast’ question that I keep reading about.

  11. As with most folks commenting here, I have been a follower of your writings for a long time. And also been a blogger since updating one’s blog, and visiting others to look for inspiration was a multiple-times-a-day activity. It still matters for all of us who have consumed the stream of blog posts. Or at least we understand it.

    I generally follow blogs through RSS, where a stream is meaningless. But I would still follow a linked post to a new blogger that I don’t know about. I then browse through the list of posts to see if the blogger’s topic and writing interest me. If it does, I subscribe to his RSS. So the stream is important for me for discoverability.

    But the people who haven’t ever consumed such a stream of blog posts may not find it helpful. The algorithm has spoilt us with the “recommendations” — the links to the other stuff on the platform.

    So we as bloggers should serve the same. Recommend stuff to the reader on our platform, our blogs. On our home pages. And around our posts. But instead of letting AI decide, let’s curate these recommendations manually. We have all the tools that we need. Tags/Categories. Let’s add a few layers if required. I have already started doing that with my blog. Still a work in progress, though.

    Another tangential thought. We have stripped our blogs of all the fun in our quest to get minimal. Do you remember the tag/word clouds? Posts by date? By category? Or most commented? Let’s bring them all back. We had more than one way of presenting our blogs to the readers. Why did we stop that?

    Apologies for the long response. But your question made the blogger in me think.

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