Is lifestreaming the answer or are we asking the wrong question?
Back in January I asked if we were heading for a social media meltdown: are we becoming so swamped with social services that their usefulness is becoming diminished? There are so many "social sites" that we are spreading ourselves too thin and not devoting the attention to each that they deserve.
The question should therefore become: which services should we use? Which services would provide the most utility and stability?
In any market you reach saturation point where the demand will only support so many products so where is this limit for web services? Scoble asked "How many services do we need?" and suggested that, once the novelty has worn off and the market stabilised, that
"only five are going to survive long term. So, that means deadpools, buyouts, mergers, etc. ahead"
Now with lifestreaming, however, you would think that a lot of the issues surrounding the use of the different systems would be negated. Lifestreaming, if you are unaware, is the process of aggregating all of your actions from around the web in to one "stream" so that you or your friends/followers need only visit one location to see what you're up to. But, is it the right answer, or are we asking the wrong question?
How much value does lifestreaming really provide? Do we use different services for different purposes? Do our friends on those services follow us for specific reasons and therefore not benefit from viewing irrelevant conversations from another service? Do we really benefit from having everything in one place or do we lose track of what we ourselves are doing once those items have been taken out of the context of the service they were created in?
Sarah Perez wrote over at ReadWriteWeb that, whilst lifestreaming centralises activity in one place, that place may not be the most appropriate - take comments for example. A blog post gets aggregated in your lifestream but rather than readers commenting in situ they instead do so in places such as FriendFeed forcing you to leave the original source location in order to follow the conversation - not ideal. Services such as fav.or.it are attempting to reverse this trend by enabling comments to be passed back to the blog itself via an API but this requires the blog platform to support it and for the blog owner to go to the trouble of integrating that support.
Loic Le Meur echoes these sentiments when he says that his "social map is totally decentralized" and wants it back on his blog. Our blog is our base and the one aspect we (essentially) have control over - especially if it is self-hosted. It is the root of our personal brand and the wider our social map spreads the harder it is to maintain that brand. We are creating the conversation and we would like to have a degree of control or ownership over it rather than having it spread beyond out sphere of influence.
Re-centralising the conversation brings its own challenges though and I can't see re-centralisation actually working unless we do shrink down to a finite, manageable set of services. With so many disparate systems offering essentially the same functionality they each need something to separate them from the competition but, if the aim is for these services to be able to stream conversations back to their source then we are looking for every system to be compatible with everything else. What then will be the point? We might as well just have one rather than dozens of clones spreading the conversation too thin.
Can we maintain the current rate of growth in social services or will a key set of systems gain enough inertia that the rest die off and the market implodes? Will providers get along or be stubborn ring-fencing their data? Is data portability really possible with so many looking after their own interests?
UPDATE: it looks like some of the most pressing questions are being answered as Nick Halstead has posted on the fav.or.it blog that the next incarnation of the service is "Giving the conversation back to the blog" - well worth checking out. Of course, this next step still relies on using a compatible blogging system.