Streams is in closed beta

Over the past year, Shelkie and I have tinkered with something called Streams. Today, we’re opening it up for the first wave of public testing. Following is a sort of progress report, along with notes on what Streams is, where it’s at, and what’s to come.

Officehours began with a simple notion: introducing two people for a one-on-one talk. Sometimes this doesn’t work. One party misses the call, or there’s a technical glitch. Most times, though, these discussions are positive. As we experienced this for ourselves, we noticed that on a micro scale, Officehours does something unique: it enables wholly new relationships. This doesn’t happen with most digital networks, which tend to mirror your real world relationships.

This observation led us to ask what comes after that introduction. We continually returned to the notion of expanding our vision and building a more involved professional network. (I’ve already written about this, here and here.) How could we help members create new relationships, and then grow them, so they could find ways to work together?

Ultimately, we want to create a way to extend the discussion. We see this happening through categorized content that’s useful instead of self-serving. We also envision a platform that enables members to share and access opportunities (i.e., learning, collaboration, advancement). As I’m sure you can imagine, this both excites and intimates us—just due to the scale of such a build.

Doesn’t this already exist?

In some respects, what we’re building with Streams isn’t particularly novel. There are many social networks and professional communities. That said, we feel that many fall short. Most prioritize capturing attention and encouraging addictive behaviours (I’ve come to see Facebook as an irksome scab I can’t stop picking). Self-promotion and bragging are rife. Meanwhile, the benefits of these networks, to their members, are sometimes negligible.

So, the underlying structure of Officehours Streams isn’t entirely new. In many ways, it mirrors what’s found in other networks’ newsfeeds and commenting systems. However, there are some notable philosophical differences. We see Officehours more like a village than a personal marketing platform. We also believe that a community standard—or set of ground rules—can mitigate the ugliness (e.g., YouTube’s comments section) that can happen online.

This thinking finds its way into how we’re structuring the Officehours UX. We discourage anonymity, so members are more inclined to act as they would in real life. We offer guidelines on what is/isn’t OK for to add or comment. We require content to be categorized so we can deliver it to suitable audiences. Additionally, we deliberately omitted down-voting capabilities, to help side-step punitive behaviour.

What’s taking so long?

We hoped to release Streams earlier. However, even in a rudimentary state, it’s a pretty complex addition. Initially, we retooled overall navigation and some structural approaches to make this work. Then, we needed to add notifications, hearts, moderation, and other core elements—none-to-mention the actual posting/commenting functionality.

Today’s release is half-complete—or quarter-complete if we’re honest. In its current state, Streams is missing a number of elements (e.g., the ability to edit what you posted). Additionally, in spite of exhaustive internal testing and refinement, it’s buggy. Nevertheless, we figure it’s a good time to roll Streams out, and continue to improve it “in the wild.”

To start with, we’re opening up two post types: Articles and Product Launches. The former is concentrated on more substantial pieces that community members find useful and informative. The latter is aimed more at showing members what you’ve built. This can help them discover new books, courses, tools, et cetera. It also allows you to get feedback on your product. In the weeks ahead, we’ll also add provisions for Questions, Jobs, Gigs, Links, and Videos.

How can I use it?

Given the nature of Streams, we’re restricting access, and rolling it out slowly. As such, only select members can post articles and product launches. (To request early access, contact me, noting why you want in.) We’re asking those approved to use Streams to help us set the standard for Officehours, by posting quality content that’s useful to fellow members.

Meanwhile, all members are welcome to comment on Streams content, so long as they abide the commenting guidelines (we intend to ruthlessly remove those who don’t):

  • Be excellent to your fellow community members
  • Keep the discussion thoughtful, informative, and productive
  • Back your thinking up with facts and specifics
  • Challenge flawed ideas, but avoid trolling and name-calling
  • No hateful, discriminatory, abusive, derogatory, or obscene content
  • Keep spam in sandwiches

What’s next?

Feel like we’re missing something important with Streams, or getting this all wrong? We welcome your feedback. In fact, we just launched Streams in the Streams’ Product Launch area, so you can post your feedback there. You’re also welcome to make note of bugs and issues in that comment section. We’ll then follow up on updates/corrections as we make them.

In closing, I’d like to ask a favour of you. As you might already know, Officehours is entirely self-funded. We’ve deliberately avoided pursuing venture capital, as we believe it harmful for communities like this, and their members. So, if you believe in our vision, I urge you to sponsor Officehours by subscribing to a Pro membership. Your support helps us dedicate more time to making this the positive, and mutually beneficial community we believe it can be!