Activity 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]