Stock and flow

I’ve been thinking a lot about a concept from economics called stock and flow recently. Robin Sloan wrote a piece about it a few years ago:

  • Flow is the feed. It’s the posts and the tweets. It’s the stream of daily and sub-daily updates that reminds people 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.
  • Flow is ascendant these days, for obvious reasons—but I think we neglect stock at our 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.

(I came across this when Merlin Mann got on the topic of why (and whether) kids these days obsess over small things (like backpacks, or pens) much more than people of his (and my) generation do, in episode 78 of Reconcilable Differences. He carried the discussion over into the next episode of the Do By Friday podcast where he talked about it with his much younger co-hosts Alex Cox and Max Temkin.)

The stock and flow concept pops up in all kinds of contexts. The one that struck me recently was personal reputation: to what extent it’s bankable, and how it evaporates over time.