I’ve been messing around with social networks for a long while now, so I was quick to see the need for a lifestream before most of my friends. In fact, most of my friends still don’t see why they would want one. Because of this, I thought I’d delve into some thoughts on why having a lifestream is useful and then explain which ones I use and why.
The comprehensive picture
The main reason I can see people wanting a lifestream is to be able to supply any interested person with a comprehensive picture of you via your activities online. Sure, it’s never going to be quite like meeting you in person, but it’s far more accurate then them viewing just your Twitter or Delicious links alone. And when you stretch out and find networks with the perfect niche for each of your interests, you find yourself drawn into interesting discussions or collecting unique data which you might then want to display to all the people who are generally interested in you. Rather than repeating yourself (or expecting them to visit your niche network), it’s far easier to use RSS feeds to collect that information and display it in the one place.
Loic Le Meur posted a fantastic post about why he needed a lifestream (with diagrams and video) when he suddenly realised that he had reason for one. Lea Woodward explains in her post that lifestreams are invaluable when maintaining relationships internationally and building relationships with clients online.
Image Credit: Christhomson
Why not just use Facebook?
The main reason most of my friends don’t compile their own lifestream is largely because they use only a few social networks and their only intended audience is their close friends. For these purposes, Facebook is usually enough for them. Facebook is a sort of lifestream – there are lots of ways to get information into the system and it does then give an overview of who you are. But, it’s very limited – only one RSS feed can be imported into the notes (if you have multiple blogs you can pre-mix them together using Yahoo Pipes – but you have to be the sort of person to think of that). Applications can be used to import more things, but most people are then limited by the applications available (not many people really want to write their own app just so something will work on Facebook). And then Facebook controls the layout and you’ll probably find no-one will see what you want them to see anyway.
But that’s not even the most important part – it’s about having something public. Due to privacy issues, people are locking down their Facebook profiles and generally sticking to friending people they actually know. That means your professional contacts aren’t able to quickly look at a page which gives a nice overview of you and links to relevant networks where they might find common interests and interact with you further. You need to create that yourself and do it somewhere public.
So, what can I use to lifestream?
There are lots of lifestreaming services out there. Yes, you can go to the effort of creating your own lifestream, but most people won’t bother or don’t have the skills. It’s far easier to use a ready-made lifestreaming service.
There are two different sorts of lifestreams available: Pull or Push. Both have their merits, and technically I use both. Pull lifestreams are where you can collect all the RSS feeds of stuff you do online and display them in a pretty page for people to see, like Friendfeed, Plurk or Soup. These are great for people who are active on lots of social networks and blogs.
Push lifestreams are a one-stop shop. You post directly to the site and it will sort your content and send it on to the various networks for you. These are great for people who want to have a presence in a lot of places, but don’t have the time (or don’t want to navigate the tools) to visit or use each network individually. They’re also great for people who are mostly offline and want to be able to update the various services they use via email (even if those services don’t directly support that) – they’re similar to services like Ping.fm. I’ll talk more about surviving offline in another post. A good push lifestream example is Posterous.
Steve Rubel has a great post on the difference between push and pull lifestreams and he’s got some easy-to-understand diagrams which tell the story very clearly. You can easily use a combination of both types of lifestream. In fact, most lifestreaming services are their own social network, lending even more confusion to the whole thing. In the end, all you have to do is decide where to send people when they want the full picture. Which service has the best picture for you? Do you want customisation? Do you want people to connect with you? Do you want to host it yourself?
Posterous is very customisable and can be hosted anywhere. Also, the content goes back out to the networks, so if you’re cunning you can pull that back in to a ‘pull’ lifestream as well. There’s absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t.
Friendfeed is gaining in popularity and is a great way to connect with other people. Customisation is fairly limited, but exposure is high. It’s like a fleshed-out Twitter. People can follow you without you needing to follow back and people dip in and out of following as it suits them. Members can filter who they follow into lists, which means people can be selective about their viewing. There are also Friendfeed groups, which you can add RSS feeds to if you’re an admin, but member content needs to be re-posted to the group (which I personally find to be annoying).
To fill this niche is one of my favourites, Soup. This little gem is relatively unheard of, which is a great shame if you ask me. Soup allows you to customise your lifestream entirely. The available themes, however, are generally good enough for most people as they look great. Soup’s groups work in a slightly different way to Friendfeed’s groups. Feeds can be set up by admins and content can be pushed by members (same as Friendfeed). But the joy comes from the ‘member’ tab, which supplies a comprehensive mix of everything each member imports into their own lifestream. This is GREAT for clubs and small groups of people (like families). Each member can set up their own lifestream as they wish and the group display can show what everyone is up to. If you want an example of Soup group ‘member’ tabs in action, see my soup, my family soup and the LabF soup.
So, uh, what?
Okay, so I may have just confused the issue further by giving you too much choice in the way of lifestreams. The point is that they’re all different – They achieve different things. But no-one said you had to use just one service. Join Friendfeed for exposure (if that’s what you want) and so your friends can find you. Then pick (or make) at least one lifestream service that looks and behaves the way you want it to and call that your landing page from now on.
Image Credit: Christhomson