When I first visited the iStalkr home page and saw that under the list of featured users appeared “Jeremy Keith – Creator of LifeStream, the basis of iStalkr” , I knew I had stumbled on something that could be very special. The inspiration for my fascination with Lifestreaming and this blog originated from my initial visit to Jeremy’s post on the subject. I’d like to point out that there are quite a few people such as Jeff Croft, Emily Chang and others that had also voiced their opinions along the same lines as what Jeremy was proposing, but his term and post seemed to cause a viral effect in the blogosphere where countless others got excited and began to discuss it. His post also inspired two separate WordPress plug-ins. Neither of which provided a simple solution, but a patient and eager group of people went through the trouble of implementation to host a Lifestream on their own sites. iStalkr now promises to take away the pain by making it easy to set one up as well introduce some social aspects.
Creating an account is very simple and they offer OpenID support as well. Once created you are stepped through a process of adding your personal feeds to the system. They offer a set of standard services from the get-go including coComment, del.icio.us, digg, jaiku, last.fm, ma.gnolia, & tumblr. Each of these simply require your user name. So fetching your feed isn’t required. Without knowing what’s under the hood, they hopfully are utilizing API’s when available which can provide a better experience to sync with accounts where changes are made post feed retrieval. After adding the pre-configured sites you can then add personal feeds. They allow you to provide both a name and description for the feed which is a welcome feature which was missing on other services I have tried. Each feed can also be flagged by stream type which they currently use for sorting, but they mention that they plan on using it for matching features in the future. Somehow i’d like to see categories and or tagging to be used to provide some features in the future as well. This excites me as it is definitely the next progression in leveraging the Lifestreaming concept for some very interesting purposes. Next choose whether you want the feed to be public or private to determine whether it can only be viewed by you or anyone. You can also provide your own icons for feeds by uploading them to the system. This is another nice touch that is consistent with the original concept to help identify and personalize the content in your timeline. And with that you are done with your setup. You can always go back to manage your feeds where you can edit any value or delete feeds. With my Lifestream defined it was now time to view it.
From the user homepage there is a link called “My Activities” which pulls up your Lifestream. The output is clean with the default set to sort each item chronologically. You can however re-sort the results by source and item as well. They provide an rss feed of the complete stream. This is a good start and gets the basics down but I would like to see a much richer experience here. A legend in the header identifying all of the sources by icon with links to the individual feed, profile page, or home page could provide quick overviews of a user. There is another sub-nav tab labeled “profile” but it doesn’t offer a clear correlation from sources to items in the stream and requires you to navigate away from the stream. I’d also like to see a calendar component integration to allow for diving into a specific date or date range. Other sub-tabs include “Stalkrs” which displays other users who are following your stream and “targets” which are people whose streams you are following. I think a cleaner solution would be to provide small ribbons of user avatars with a more link on the stream page as well. I think a fluid design can be achieved to remove the need for all of these sub-nav elements. Perhaps some collapsable Ajax magic to eliminate the header from becoming too bloated.
There is a dashboard which provides a list of all of the people you are stalking with the single latest activity from their stream. You can then move on to “friends activities” which provides an activity page with all of your friends (targets) displayed on one page. I’d like to be able to filter out my personal activity here not to mention that my seeing my mug repeatedly preceding my items is a bit scary. From here they have added a new “star” element which allows you to flag an item which is then bookmarked to another page where you can collect all of your favorite stream items. This is interesting and one of many possible elements that could be used to create social aspects. Treating these items as “diggs” which can then appear on a public favorites timeline could be one usage. Tracking clicks on items could also offer the ability to provide social interest and popularity on stream items.
Before creating my account I was able to view a public timeline which mashes up everybody’s streams where you can explore users in real-time. I really like this feature as it allows you to discover interesting information on other users and offers the ability to find new people to target. The only problem is that after creating the account I can’t seem to find this and can only view it again by logging out and viewing the home page. I’m sure this is just an oversight. This “discovery” functionality definitely needs to be made prominent to existing users.
Lastly they provide the ability to embed your stream onto your own blog or site via several methods. They offer an API generator, as well as some basic widgets to display your stream as a bulleted list of items. I think this is an area ripe for creating more compelling content to encourage users to embed the widgets on their site to help create more awareness for Lifestreams. At a minimum I’d like to see them add the source icons and timeline to these widgets.
Given that this is a new site and beta release, overall it is a good start and welcome addition to the growing number of sites now available to host Lifestreams. There are definitely different reasons to use each site and it will be interesting to watch how iStalkr and others evolve.