Activity Streams: creating and consuming

StreamingActivity streams are the notices that flow out of a wide variety of applications. In social software, these notices are an indication that I have done something: blogged, commented, filed a document, checked into a location, etc. Or the stream might be something like Twitter / Yammer / Facebook status that I write directly into the stream. From my perspective, I want to be able to provide all these streams to my friends and colleagues - either in a unified single stream, or individually. I am the one creating the streams, after all. On the other side of this is reading and viewing other people's streams (consuming): I want to have the option to see everything or filter those based on some criteria. But it should not be my job to go find each stream for an individual - they should be part of that uniform feed for the person.

These thoughts are inspired by a David F Carr article in InformationWeek talking about the proliferation of activity streams from enterprise social media products. He's concerned about situation where every social media app wants to be The One Stream for people. Everyone Wants to Own Your Activity Stream

[T]he question that's more on my mind is how many activity streams we really need in our work lives. ... For enterprise collaboration, it strikes me that the right answer is probably just one, but it's easy to end up with several. As with most technologies, there is the danger of different departments adopting different standards. But as tools for everything from business intelligence to customer relationship management add social features, many of them are adding their own activity streams that don't necessarily link to any others.

When I read this article, I thought: Don't we already have something that helps us with the problem? RSS is already the standard mechanism for social services to provide a consumable stream of data that other social services to pick up, links included. It would be great if all your enterprise tool provided such a stream that you could then flow together into one thing that would be "my activity stream." There is still the question of potential overload from trying to consume everyone else's activity streams, but I believe the consumption is a separate act from creating & aggregating the streams. As a stream consumer, I should not have to do the work of pulling a dozen feeds together from another individual.

Of course, as I wrote this up, I discovered that there is not am agreed-upon standard mechanism for provisioning activity streams. So there is the Activity Streams project, trying to create the standard for syndicating social activities and overcome David Carr's concerns. Learn something new every day.

Side note: I had tried to add my comments to the InformationWeek website for this article, but the website rejected my multiple attempts, with a claim that the URL the comment system was providing was wrong. So, I am commenting here both to alert the InformationWeek folks as well as in a semi-ironic commentary on Carr's article: if the tools we have don't even allow me the basic functionality of social (comments), then we had better provide people with multiple channels rather than locking them into one mechanism for being social. Another argument for separating the provision of activity streams from the consumption of them.

[Photo: "Streaming" by Drew Brayshaw]

3 Comment(s)

Good post, Jack! Your thoughts relate to mine. I agree that RSS helps us collect feeds from all different kinds of sources. Usually the collector tool, like Google Reader, doesn't really help you consume the feed, filter it, etc. Friendfeed does do this (but I'm not using it anymore). I'm not quite sure what you mean by 'provisioning'. Do you mean: reply to the content or putting content into a stream? If so, I agree there's a big problem there. Why can't we just do that from one place? Not only collect things in Reader, but also reply to it. The feedreader fav.or.it was a step in this direction. And I know Dave Winer is working on this and thinking about it. When this is possible it would also help us from thinking: where should I share this piece of content? On my blog, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc? What we do now is just push it to all at once (and I don't think this is a good thing...).

Jack Vinson Author Profile Page said:

Thanks, Samuel. I think the question of activity streams needs to be divided between the A) streams I create from my activities and B) streams I want to read.

A) I should be in control of my outgoing streams - including how I combine streams together to provide to anyone who might be interested.

B) I also want to be in control of the reading experience, including the ability to filter topics or services that don't interest me.

"Provisioning" I meant getting content into a stream. But I think there are some conceptual issues with replies specifically. Google Reader allows you to comment on blogs, but it isn't at all clear where that comment resides. I'd love a mechanism that would let me EASILY "follow comments" on a specific entry. I use CoComment, but I don't always think to use it unless I am writing a comment anyway.

Jeff Nadler Author Profile Page said:

Good post. From a consumption perspective, RSS/news consumption and consuming the activity of our connections are similar activities - similar enough that the best solution is to aggregate them together, taking advantage of an opportunity to reduce work interruptions.

Your thoughts on controlling the outgoing stream are interesting, too few of the commercial products let you do this, for example with Twitter I'd need to have several accounts if I wanted to target business vs. personal updates separately.

Activity Streams is a great standard, although I remain concerned that too few of the enterprise social vendors are supporting it. If I use Jive or SocialText or Lotus Connections at work, I should be able to get that activity stream as an activitystrea.ms stream or at least as RSS so that I can consume it in an environment that includes filtering and other tools. I think a lot of the enterprise social vendors are reluctant to do this because they want to keep users 'inside' their garden instead of allowing the content to flow out to other systems. Hopefully this will change!

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