Activity Streams: Information Overload or Gold Dust?

Over the weekend I was watching a video of my two favorite analysts, Dion Hinchcliffe of Dachis Group and Alan Lepofsky of Constellation Research, presenting at the recent Salesforce Dreamforce conference where they spoke about “The Future of Social Inside the Enterprise“. As always it was a cracking presentation and I couldn’t fault them on anything they said. So what I wanted to talk about in this blog post is what they didn’t say :-)

Today everyone is talking about social business and while there are varying levels of skepticism and adoption, I doubt that anyone really questions that the genie is well and truly out of the bottle and she ain’t going back in for anyone. Social business is here to stay and we either cultivate it or wilt on the vine. Social business is also evolving, with increasing focus on business integration and blending “systems of records” (transactions) with “systems of engagement” (actions & interactions). As Dion and Alan pointed out its now increasingly about bringing social to the business, enabling new types of social business processes and applications, resulting in both business and cultural transformation.

My question is “can these transformations be realized without analytics, and specifically social analytics?” and my answer is No! In fact I believe that Analytics is the Lynchpin of Social Business. It doesn’t matter how transparent, social or collaborative your organization is; if the business can’t effectively derive value or insights from the deluge of data that social will generate, then its completely useless. Of course on the other hand, with the right analytics this social data is gold dust allowing us to optimize the business in ways limited only by our imagination.

On this “information overload” point I return to Dion and Alan’s presentation, specifically calling out the point Alan made that “unless the vendor you choose is doing a lot of really significant work on how to slice and dice that activity stream… the activity stream becomes worse than our Inbox… it becomes everybody’s Inbox where any information that anybody is posting gets in there”. I’d like to go one step further and make the information deluge worse before I make it better :-)

Its not just all the information a person posts that gets potentially pushed into your social inbox, but all the information that EVERY socially enabled application posts.

  • Social System publishes “Jane tagged DocumentX with TopicY”
  • CRM System publishes “Jane met with CustomerX on OpportunityY”
  • Marketing System publishes “LoveYa Corp. acquired LifeIsGood GmBH.”
  • Product Mgmt System publishes “ProductY launches at EventW”
  • Defect Tracking System publishes “ProblemXYZ fixed”
  • CRM System publishes “Customer reports ProblemXYZ”
  • And so on…

Every person and application in the business vying for your attention… Scared? Don’t worry help is at hand :-)

Firstly, I predict that in the future few of us will ever drink directly from the firehose. We will be ingesting the stream through our own personal Social Lens which uses analytics to not only filter, but more importantly synthesize the information. For example; I don’t want to see every time documents are favorited, even if they might be interesting. However, I might want to see every time a document hits a trending threshold, specifically if its related to my current activity or broader interests. Which brings me to my second point…

Secondly, I predict that the in the future the primary consumer-of and contributor-to the activity stream with be other applications, not people. For example; an analytics application monitors the stream for all document interactions, indexes, ranks and posts the synthesized information (“hot documents” or “hot topics”) back onto the stream to be ingested by the business.

So to finish up on a word of advise… when you are evaluating social software vendors make sure that they have a credible analytics story and not just something that they have bolted onto the side with a wing and a prayer. And make sure to see what their story is regarding:

  • Social Search & Indexing: Make sure they have proper social ranking based on analysis of the social network.
  • Streams Filtering: This is the biggest fudge with most companies where they tell you that you can filter, but when you read the smallprint what they really mean is “tell us explicitly what files or people you want in your stream and we will put them there”. This is inadequate as you can’t always know upfront exactly what items you want to be alerted about.
  • People Recommendations (experts, influencers, similar people): this needs to factor in both the social network (interactions) and organizational information (such as organization hierarchy).
  • Content Recommendations: As with social search, make sure this is including as many social features as possible in the ranking algorithm.
  • Community Analytics; This is important for ensuring that the right information and people come together to solve the right problems. Community recommendations is one example of this.

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5 Responses to “Activity Streams: Information Overload or Gold Dust?”

  1. Great post – no wonder I enjoy chatting with you. :) I have spoken to a number of companies lately that have enabled social platforms inside their organizations. Early on it was great to see how easily people could create content but shortly there after a problem comes up. No one understands where all this great information is going or how the business can leverage it. This will be a growing problem that analytics will be a key need. As usual – great post.

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