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Stock and flow / Snarkmarket


Stashed in: Awesome, Brilliant Insight, Content is king., History, @alexismadrigal, Media

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Adam, you agree?

But one of the biggest takeaways was the concept of stock and flow.

Do you know about this? Couldn’t be simpler, and really, it’s not even that much of an a-ha. There are two kinds of quantities in the world. Stock is a static value: money in the bank, or trees in the forest. Flow is a rate of change: fifteen dollars an hour, or three thousand toothpicks a day. Easy. Too easy.

But I actually think stock and flow is the master metaphor for media today. Here’s what I mean:

  • Flow is the feed. It’s the posts and the tweets. It’s the stream of daily and sub-daily updates that remind people that you exist.
  • Stock is the durable stuff. It’s the content you produce that’s as interesting in two months (or two years) as it is today. It’s what people discover via search. It’s what spreads slowly but surely, building fans over time.

Yes, I agree, and I like the phrase "stock is protein":

I feel like flow is ascendant these days, for obvious reasons—but we neglect stock at our own peril. I mean that both in terms of the health of an audience and, like, the health of a soul. Flow is a treadmill, and you can’t spend all of your time running on the treadmill. Well, you can. But then one day you’ll get off and look around and go: Oh man. I’ve got nothing here.

But I’m not saying you should ignore flow! No: this is no time to hole up and work in isolation, emerging after long months or years with your perfectly-polished opus. Everybody will go: huh? Who are you? And even if they don’t—even if your exquisitely-carved marble statue of Boba Fett is the talk of the tumblrs for two whole days—if you don’t have flow to plug your new fans into, you’re suffering a huge (here it is!) opportunity cost. You’ll have to find them all again next time you emerge from your cave.

Here’s a case study: my pal Alexis Madrigal here in SF has got the stock/flow balance down. On one end of the spectrum, he’s a Twitter natural and a Tumblr adept. Madrigal’s got mad flow; you plug in, and you get a steady stream of interesting stuff every day. But on the other end of the spectrum—and man, this is just so important—he’s working on a deep, nuanced history of green tech in America. He’s working on a book intended to stand the test of time.

You can tell that I want you to stop and think about stock here. I feel like we all got really good at flow, really fast. But flow is ephemeral. Stock sticks around. Stock is capital. Stock is protein.

Alexis Madrigal's point is worth considering:

Now that you mention it, here’s how I think about stock and flow. Flow is how I see the world. Stock is what happens when I apply my worldview to something that matters for long enough that I fundamentally transform how I see the world. Recording that process is what creates the thing of lasting value. (I hope.)

And now, here’s a thought that is related but sort of tangentially. I’ve become obsessed with Tumblr as a medium for historical investigation recently. It’s just so good at defamiliarization in that Bakhtin sense… One minute you’re looking at pony made out of vegan donuts, the next you’re staring at a little-known stunt from 1955. People who would not read David McCullough in a million years suddenly find history fascinating. The strangeness and pastness of the past come to dominate the backcasted ideas that we have about what those times were like.

But… Tumblr records only the flow of our histories without ever taking stock of why and how we ended up where we are. There is no record of decisions made or the world’s forces brought to bear. Tumblr’s version of history has no explanatory power. It does not synthesize what the images from the past with where we are in the present or with the other things we know of the past. So, to me, the meaning that the flow of photos has is fundamentally limited, even if it’s beautiful and fascinating.

Not only does Tumblr not have explanatory power, but Tumblr lacks search. On purpose.

Tumblr is the equivalent of all flow, very little stock.

Then again, so is Twitter.

is the stash PW's stock?