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The Inside Word: On the Web, ‘Streams’ Are Replacing ‘Pages’ — Why We Should Care

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imageThe Inside Word is a weekly feature that looks at unusual industry debates and discussions unfolding on the blogs of employees at digital-media companies.

Poster: John Borthwick

Blog name: THINK / Musings

Company: Betaworks

Backstory: Borthwick leads New York City-based tech investor Betaworks, whose network includes buzzy startups like Twitter,, stocktwits and Tumblr. Borthwick blogs only occasionally but says he was moved to post this month when he noticed that companies in Betaworks portfolio were getting an increasing amount of traffic “via social distribution” networks.

Blog Entry: Perhaps it’s not surprising that Borthwick, given the heavy social-media component in the Betaworks portfolio, is an advocate of the “stream,” epitomized by the Facebook newsfeed and by Twitter. But in his blog post, he goes so far as to say that the stream has replaced the “page” as the metaphor for the web: “For 15 years, the primary metaphor of the web has been pages and reading,” Borthwick writes. “The metaphors we used to circumscribe this possibility set were mostly drawn from books and architecture (pages, browser, sites, etc.). Most of these metaphors were static and one way. The stream metaphor is fundamentally different. [It’s] dynamic, it [doesn’t] live very well within a page and [is] still very much evolving.”

One implication: Since people are finding information via sites like Twitter or Facebook, website traffic will no longer always be steady, Borthwick argues. In a given month, there will be days when traffic will be way above average and sites should try to take advantage of this: “So what to do when a burst takes place? I have no real idea [what’s] going to emerge here, but cursory thoughts include making sure the author is present to manage comments etc., and build in a dynamic mechanism to alert the crowd to other related items.”

Post-script: In a followup exchange, we asked Borthwick what this might mean for advertisers, who are used to buying against a relatively consistent level of traffic. He said tools would emerge so that advertisers could put offers in front of crowds when they suddenly show up on a site. “It’s early days, but if the traffic flow changes, the way ad (dollars) work will shift as well,” he said.

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Photo credit: Mary Hodder