Sameer Patel, currently SVP and in charge of SAP’s Enterprise Social and Collaborative Software Products and Go to Market recently penned a blog post, "Who Spiked the Enterprise Activity Stream?" I don't want to overgeneralize and am open to corrections if I do, but the post seems to be a critique on the fact that the design of the stream, in this case a seemingly Wild West of constantly flowing and updating information sent into the Wild with little of no direction, is not a design that focuses on a drive to "closure" and that "short bursts of closure on the way to the big finale" are how work gets done. So I have a couple of thoughts.
To begin with the ironic - I follow Sameer on Twitter and value that information but yes, I could live without his tweets :-) I could also live without knowing when each and every one of colleagues has a birthday but there is value there though in terms of providing context about the people you work with. I'll try to focus on the stream though.
I don't think the manner in which the information coming to you is actually very new. My Inbox can be a stream - at times its been a river, or a firehose. Either way, its an undifferentiated flow of information, a lot of which I did not ask for, coming at me and typically I've had very little ability to filter that flow in a way that allows me to shape it so that it makes more sense to me. I don't think I need to poll my users even to find out that they think there must be a better way to communicate than an endless river of emails. As far as driving closure....the two easiest ways to find closure in email are the FWD (an action passed is an action completed) or the delete button. The point is, it's still a flow and as such, I can still miss the occasional important email from my boss or client in that flow. So why do I like the activity stream better?
First, most implementations of activity streams that I've seen allow for some way to highlight to a particular user, an important post. Much like Twitter, most streams allow for the specific naming of an individual and that triggers a notification to that user, sometimes ironically in email or sometimes just using in-browser notifications. That's all mechanics though.
The second, and I think most important differentiator for the stream is that it is (for the most part) public and visible (within the enterprise). This dynamic adds a whole new layer that isn't there in email. The very visibility of posts, within the context of that "ambient learning", decreases the chances that I'll miss something important by building on an awareness of what everyone is working on and what the important posts should be.
Driving closure though - that's the heart right? Remember the Herding Cats video? I think that video was created to tell the story about trying to drive closure through email :) I think open, transparent discussions can allow closure to be driven much more efficiently than emails hidden in Inboxes and bloated PST files. The key though is that they won't do it by themselves. Behavior has to change in order to maximize the effective use of streams. Remember when people used to print out emails? Yeah, not so effective but we learned to behave differently - why assume the same isn't true with streams?
So I don't think the stream is spiked, I think it's just a new taste. :)