In my article — Blogging the Bodily Fluids Stream — I argued action streams like Twitter had no place on a blog because content, not diary mapping, should be the business and purpose of the human condition.  I mentioned a few Six Apart employees — the makers of Movable Type — as examples of the decay of blogging for content.  Anil Dash, one of those I mentioned, wrote a fine response on his blog to my article — Actions are the Body Language — where he argues what you do on the web is important and should rightly be published for public consumption. 

Before I get into a more detailed response to Anil, I want to mention I have never met the man behind the meme.  We have never exchanged email or chatted on the phone.  I only know him through the writing on his fine blog and it was Anil’s blog — the active, human, content of persuasion I read on his blog — that convinced me to move this Urban Semiotic blog from WordPress to Movable Type.

I believe a blog should be about creating content that influences thinking and requires the examination of the human condition.  I do not find Action Streams — lists of done deeds in a sidebar — persuasive or memeingful as methods of influence. 

I understand Action Streams are popular because they give people a feeling of significance and importance — and the illusion of creating original blog content — because bloggers believe the events of their day reverberate beyond them in highly significant ways. 

I have learned that to even slightly criticize someone’s Action Stream will always result in a vicious defense that their day is important and must be shared in the public square. 

It appears Anil believes that passive collection of data is content, and that what you click on, and save, while interacting throughout your day is so worthwhile, that it deserves to be republished on your blog:

It’s just as significant from a technical perspective, though, that the
most useful types of metadata are those which are captured passively.
If you let people tag and share things themselves, you have to deal
with spam and inaccurate data and any matter of other social
complexity. But look at the data that’s automatically captured, like
when Microsoft Word tracks the number of times you’ve saved a document,
or when Facebook lets people know who you’ve added as friends. That
data is captured on the fly, and thus tends to be accurate and useful
while requiring very little effort on your part to share.

If you believe you should only speak when you have something important to share, or if you think you should only blog when a new insight ignites you, then you will be a little confused by Anil’s argument that just because the technology allows you to be tracked, you should take that tracking and prominently advertise your actions on your blog.

I am of a different mind than Anil because public actions without context are dead and dull.  If Anil were actually writing about his day, instead of just passively publishing what he clicks and saves, I would be much more interested in the minutiae of his day because Anil is a great writer when he takes information and forms it with the substance of his intelligence and comprehension. 

Willy-nilly Action Streams have no definition or argument and are lacking the frame of human emotion and understanding.  Action Streams are inactive, dry, riverbeds yearning for the blood of human touch, not the cold computer click.

Anil continues… 

I think that’s a promising new area of sharing data online, and I think
it’s key that this kind of data is shared using open standards. But
ultimately, I think the highest goal is that we enable more nuanced,
complex communications online, where we don’t just have our spoken
words, but also the body language and gestures and facial expressions
that inform those.

Here is the new page Anil had dedicated to the recording of his actions:

When Anil Tweeted — “Please Do Not Throw Sausage Pizza Away” — is he speaking to one person?  A group?  Was he warning us against an impending hunger dilemma? 

We have no idea, because the real Anil we know and love — because we read his blog — is missing.  His message is there, but without his essence and his context and his grammar and his definition, his passive “body language” has no action.  The deed is done for him, but the deed is dead to us.

Anil’s Tweet about eating pig stomach is repulsive, but curious, and we want to know more.  Anil pokes us with a flash of an idea, but he doesn’t follow through because he doesn’t have to:  Twitter “published” the action even though the story is missing.  So we’re left with a barren, Twitted, Action Stream of the “What” that teases, but provides no human release for the “Why?” into the state of Anil’s human condition.

Action Streams on a blog leave one big hole in the want for human understanding because they are unable to answer the “Why?” behind the “What.”  The greatest authors throughout time have wrestled with “Why?” and its effects on the human mind, body, and spirit.  The worldly “Why?” is the prime question I try to wrestle with every single day in everything I write.

“This happened.” — is never as interesting as — “Why this happened.” 

“What” is action without meaning.

Publishing Action Streams on a blog never provides the why context behind the action, and so we, as readers, are left to invent our own empty reasons for the why and that leads to dissonance — a disconnect between idea and progression — and a total and complete disintegration of the written integrity of a blog.

Action Streams — by their very nature — are irrevocably dry.  How can we add the “Wet Why?” to the “Dry What?” 

I am pleased to see Byrne Reese, another Six Aparter I mentioned in my original article, has removed his Action Stream from the center of his blog and pushed it off to the sidebar for the appropriate ignoring so we can more fully read the genius of his writing:

Unfortunately, the final Six Aparter I mentioned, David Recordon, is still and publishing Action-Streams-As-Blog, and leaving us to forever wonder “Why?” as he only provides the “What:”

I understand Six Apart has a vested interest in promoting the publication of passive data collection — Anil admits that in his blog post — I am just still unconvinced that making contextless, chalky, and dead information public serves the greater good of the glistening human condition; and if we aren’t always trying to answer the evergreen “Why?” of us, then why are we blogging at all?


  1. Why aren’t these streams content, David? What does the human condition have to do with anything?

  2. The streams are not content, Anne, because they are not actively created with the intention to expand thought and create understanding. They’re ticket punchers. They’re breadcrumbs. They are uninteresting in the core except to the person biding the stream and those that may know the person. That sort of diary of dead events is fine, but why publish it in public on the web? Why not just have a private blog and invite your friends?
    The human condition is the everything and the always. It is what makes us and what destroys us and it is our moral duty to each other to investigate that condition every single day and the most effective writing tries to answer the hard “Why?” questions surrounding us.

  3. But what if people don’t want to write about that? What if they just want to have fun. Not all writing has to be about that.

  4. You’re right, Anne, not all writing has to confer with the human condition — and most of what we read does not even try to approach that dagger.
    I think there are certain people that can write effectively about the human condition — and that includes technology, politics, computer code, religion, etc. — but when they actively choose not to provide context and meaning in their blogs and settle instead for passively created “action” content, we all suffer for the loss of them in their work.

  5. I think if they have to be done they need to be an aside rather than the main content.
    I can see his argument that it is “useful” to know what others are looking at on the web from the perspective of data collection – but I would prefer to use stumbleupon for sharing my web finds because I can add and share context and it is a dedicated website that works in that manner.
    I very rarely use my blog to push list other wesites or bookmarks. I have on occasions picked up something here and run with it and tracked back.
    I still do not really “get” the twitter” !

  6. That’s a fine point, Nicola — if one wants to use their blog to mark their day with passive information that others might then take up and act upon — that’s fine, but I don’t think that moves society, or the human condition, forward in any meaningful manner.
    I understand some people just want to hunt and click and follow what others have done — but I’ve always been an outlier and I try to do things with a purpose that suggested a beginning, a middle and an end and that takes active participation and not a passive logging of clicked events.

  7. I think it encourages sheep like mentality I wonder what Digg and other sites like that would feel about being thought of as shepherds?
    I must admit that when I go hunting I have an objective in mind – a destination – rather than just following in someone elses footsteps.

  8. David,
    I don’t see the point of these “action” streams either. It’s a bit like watching the helmet-cam feed of a surfer. surfing vicariously!

  9. Hi David,
    As far as my preference goes, the “why” is way more interesting that the mere “what” – no question asked.
    People have different taste and purpose, so some might find it interesting or worth mentioning.It goes right over my head though.

  10. There must be money to be made in creating these nascent “social networking” portals, Nicola, but I find the whole idea of being openly tracked sort of creepy.
    Why do I care what other people are listening to or reading or where they are in the world?
    I have my own ideas and I create my own influences.
    I suppose if you’re frightened, or scared of being unique, or tired of being accused of not being in the mainstream, then “following the crowd” gives one a sense of comfort and a feeling of fitting in…

  11. You might be on to something, Dananjay, in that people can live vicariously through the surfing of others in these sorts of Action Streams.
    I think the whole idea is incredibly repressive and Big Brotherish as the Panopticon tightens its daily gaze and focuses on us even more closely than before.
    Why are we willingly inviting this invasion of privacy and then publicizing this sort of minutiae? It only benefits those that want to virtually stalk you or record your every thought.
    Action Streams are a warning against technology and should be rejected and not welcomed. Not all ideas are great, and not all technology deserves the greater good of blind acceptance just to create the cool kid on the block… who happens to have an ever-growing database falsely forming who and what they are.

  12. I think we’re in the “Why?” minority, Katha, because “Why?” takes work on our part and on the author’s part while “What” is what it is and needs to investigation.

  13. You’re right about that, David. On this site that i frequent, there is a “recent activity” thingy that logs every little thing that i do. turning it off is not an option!

  14. Got it fixed, David!
    I decided to check back just to be sure, and found a new option under settings that lets me do exactly that! Yay!

  15. Sometimes I skip over action streams. Sometimes I skim to see if I get a mention – an @gordond as it were. 🙂

  16. “There must be money to be made in creating these nascent “social networking” portals, Nicola, but I find the whole idea of being openly tracked sort of creepy.
    Why do I care what other people are listening to or reading or where they are in the world?
    I have my own ideas and I create my own influences.
    I suppose if you’re frightened, or scared of being unique, or tired of being accused of not being in the mainstream, then “following the crowd” gives one a sense of comfort and a feeling of fitting in…”
    I am sure they sell the data – sell the trends, follow the buzz ….. also the advertising.
    The idea of being tracked is creepy – having said that every time you pass a CCTV camera or use your credit card – you are tracked.
    I think if you can share what you are reading, why it is engaging you and any insights you may or may have not gained it is a far more positive process.
    I need to know the whys and wherefores as opposed to the list.

  17. It’s too bad, Nicola, that we’re quickly becoming a world society of tracked consumption. We don’t track ideas or the propagation of life-changing memes. We track clicks and uploads.
    We are now a panopticonic world and it saddens me that the overseeing eye is creeping ever closer with these “diggable” and “recordable” bits of us that we willingly give up to the paranoid, public, mind for parsing.
    There is something to be said for humility against hubris — but it seems we only recognize the loud and the offensive and we value them by giving them the front of our minds instead of ignoring them to the gutter.

  18. If you wait a bit, the truth surfaces.
    Here’s the real Why behind Anil Dash’s gung-ho-go-go for publishing ridiculous social streams on blogs:

    Outside of the tech geek bubble, regular people wonder if they should choose Facebook or MySpace to promote their companies, or if they should use Flickr or SmugMug to share their photos. The way people talk about these services, average users think they have to choose between different services when they want to connect with other people on the web. We think that’s broken, like choosing between NBC and ABC and CBS. Why not pick and choose the best of each different network?
    He’s heavily invested in the whole social media movement with this “Motion” invention and to that I give a big “Ugh!”

Comments are closed.