Two Feeds, Two Scarcities

I’ve put my tweets on a rolling auto-delete, which probably means I’ll be doing ocassional shorter pieces in this space in addition to longer pieces. For posterity, or something.

Anyway, a thought for the day. As we think about the firehose of the Stream — that never-ending reverse-chronological scroll of events that has become the primary metaphor of the web, via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and who-knows-what-else — it’s worth noting that the Stream was originally a solution for scarcity, not abundance. That is, the reason that Facebook made the News Feed was that people got tired checking out all of their friend’s Facebook walls only to find there were no updates. So Facebook borrowed a lesson from RSS, that had solved this problem years earlier: serialize contributions from different places into a single reverse chronological feed. This made sure that when ever you logged into Facebook you were guaranteed there was some activity with which to engage.

To repeat, the Stream here was a solution for too little activity. By pooling activity and time-ordering it, a sense of abundance was created.

We’ve talked about this before on this blog (I should find the link, but I’m being lazy at the moment).

What I don’t think I recognized before now was that this motivation was behind the first web stream as well — that granddaddy of all feeds, the NCSA “What’s New” page:


The What’s New page was there for a bunch of reasons — making things findable being the big one, and creating a sense of WWW momentum being another. But the biggest reason why it was there was scarcity: Without it, people would log in and find nothing new to do. I mean look at it — you have an average of one or two servers — one or two servers — coming online each day. We’re not talking information overload here.

I don’t really have a point here. I just find it interesting that the feeds that we now portray as a solution to organizing abundance grew out of needs to deal with scarcity.


2 thoughts on “Two Feeds, Two Scarcities

  1. You build a ditch to channel the water, then you build it higher until it becomes an embankment to keep it from running wild!

    This triggers my recent thoughts of information overload, the myriad of ways I try to save things for later, and the resulting myriad of lists I wind up with. I actually created a mindmap the other day called “Lists of Lists” to try and regain some sense of the scope of what I’ve gotten myself into.

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