The Future of the Internet Is Flow

About a week ago, I came across this very interesting article in The Wall Street Journal about the Internet, and where the Web is going. The authors stated that The Web was a brilliant first shot at making the Internet usable, but it backed the wrong horse. It chose space over time. The conventional website is “space-organized,” like a patterned beach towel—pineapples upper left, mermaids lower right. Websites are divided the same among the web (hence it’s a web). Instead it might have been “time-organized,” like a parade—first this band, three minutes later this float, 40 seconds later that band, like a river flowing by.

So let’s skip the theory and see how this goes into practice. The authors argue that your future home page—the screen you go to first on your phone, laptop or TV— will be a bouquet of your favorite streams from all over. News streams are blended with shopping streams, blogs, your friends’ streams, each running at its own speed. This home stream includes your personal stream as part of the blend—emails, documents and so on. Your home stream is just one tiny part of the world stream. You can see your home stream in 3-D on your laptop or desktop, in constant motion on your phone or as a crawl on your big TV.

By watching one stream, you watch the whole world—all the public and private events you care about. To keep from being overwhelmed, you adjust each stream’s flow rate when you add it to your collection. The system slows a stream down by replacing many entries with one that lists short summaries—10, 100 or more.

An all-inclusive home stream creates new possibilities. You could build a smartwatch to display the stream as it flows past. It could tap you on the wrist when there’s something really important on-stream. You can set something aside or rewind if necessary. Just speak up to respond to messages or add comments. True in-car computing becomes easy. Because your home stream gathers everything into one line, your car can read it to you as you drive.

Does this sound familiar? Well it should a bit. The current Facebook wall/timeline, or Twitter is a great example of this theory put into practice. So let’s imagine this but fully integrated into our lives. No more checking e-mails, its right in that stream, no more browsing for news, but the news is delivered right to you. What are the implications for current information strategies?

My idea of this:
I think the near future will hold platforms such as Facebook or Google+ for the “stream”. People already more and more only use these pages to access the articles and updates they want. Fancy Follow it on Facebook and you’ll receive updates sending you to their website. Those are the suppliers: Websites for news, shopping and much more. The University MyEUR integrated into your stream, no need to get into the hassle of logging in on MyEUR but they will just post important things on your stream.

So there we are, with a platform, suppliers and users. What if we stop forwarding from Facebook to a certain website but display that News-item right onto your stream? Who makes the revenue? Probably, Facebook will provide the needed adverts onto the stream, giving a share of the profit to the suppliers of the stream. Another possibility is the Freemium model, want to pay for the stream? Pay 10 euros a month and no advertising. Just like Spotify, a similar pay-per-stream model might be suitable. With smart-watches and phones the need for more efficient display of information increases.

Do you guys have any thoughts on this? Where are we heading?

Author: Hidde van Heijst
#: 436800

“The Future of the Internet Is Flow”, the Wall Street Journal, 2nd of October 2015. David Galernter & Eric Freeman.


About Hidde - 436800


4 responses to “The Future of the Internet Is Flow”

  1. 421142sw says :

    Interesting post!

    The market effect will provide the answer over time, that is one thing we’ll know for sure.

    My prediction: I hope it gets so far; summaries of my favorite books, before I know what my favorites are myself, recommendations regarding which movies to go, which music to listen (all based on my mood that day). It all sounds great; intelligent algorithms, mass customization, real-time processing, and information flows all tailored to our pre-specified conditions.

    But as the last word already suggests; computing systems are not smart by itself, they have to be programmed to operate under certain conditions. And right there you already have two negative sides; Do you know exactly what your conditions are that separates desired from undesired information flows? And do programmers know and supply exactly what you desire without merging their own interests?

    For me, information overkill is undesired, while I do have a wide variety of interests (e.g. what share of all Facebook post on your timeline are matching you interests?) as well as biased information (e.g. MediaMarkt presents numerous amounts of products, while the employees receive incentives on selling the products with the largest profit margins).

    I am really curious what your ideas (and solutions) are regarding these “setbacks” from my point of view!

  2. gustavswritesforinformationstrategyorsomething says :

    Nice idea – seems like a nice article to read.
    I recently read a similar one, talking slightly more about the way how the internet media changes. And there the most interesting thing that I saw was that, around 10 years ago it used to be communities and people really went to “webpages” to get information, and to get everything they need. It was like a location that people were loyal to. Now, because of your mentioned flow, everything is just bits of information. You rarely care about the source. It, of course, as well increases clickbaiting in the titles.

    Moreover, it is interesting to see how it all is influenced by sharing on social media. It is more important for current media to tap into one of the areas of why people share the content (, rather than create a meaningful and useful content.

    Lastly, this is only slightly related, but it is overall interesting to see how the internet has already changed our lives, starting from news and ending with education. (Just this is incredibly good article that I wanted to share somewhere):

    • Hidde - 436800 says :

      Exactly! I think what we call social media is our ‘Flow’-to-be. If you compare Facebook to what is was 5 years ago it changed tremendously, with updates as time-line, increase of popularity but most importantly, the way people use Facebook (instead of sharing stuff like ‘love it when my cat jumps on my lap’, now people like pages they are interested in to make their own feed more interesting).
      Nice that you mention education. I find it interesting that both Bill Gates and Steve Jobs envisioned that their technology innovations would change the education disruptively (especially the iPad). Well it didn’t. Schools are using technology as complementary devices (electronic whiteboards), but they still mostly rely on the sit-and-listen principle. There are some schools that try to follow the vision of Steve Jobs (the so called ‘Steve Jobs-schools), but that is only a small piece of the pie. I wonder what will be the game-changer for education in the coming years 🙂
      — If you are interested, there is this TED-talk of Nicholas Negroponte predicting digestive learning to develop in the next 30-years or so:
      But the video is nice to watch in general as well. (20 years ago: TOUCHscreen? The screen will get all dirty! and how can you see the screen with your finger in front of it!! yes, that’s what they said)

      • gustavswritesforinformationstrategyorsomething says :

        Ha. I’ve seen that video already. It’s a good one though.

        The main problem with the education is that it follows all the conservative values, and rarely someone is interested to change it. I doubt that there are going to major changes in education in the upcoming several years.
        Maybe MOOCs will be used more as a complimentary thing for the
        university, hence, improving the quality of higher education. But I’m quite certain that there will be no major improvements in high-school level.

        On that: this video is nice:

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