Is Streams the new Content?

Or at least the new content delivery mechanism…

The notion of streaming content is not a new concept, although it has evolved significantly over the last decade, from news feeds to activity streams. Today’s social media tools, while far from perfect, have popularized streams as a mechanism for interacting with social content and are gradually expanding to include more traditional content sources.

In terms of content access, search has been the defacto mechanism of connecting people with content for the last decade, however recently there have been increasingly successful attempts to move towards more proactive mechanisms of getting “the right information to the right person at the right time through the right application context”. This approach is all about proactively identifying what information you need, before you know you need it and within the context of what you are doing. This is in contrast to letting you figure out what you need and then let you spend half the day searching for it.

To quote IBM’s Founder Thomas J. Watson Snr., “The ability to ask the right question is more than half the battle of finding the answer”. Therefore taking a search-centric approach places the majority of the burden on the person trying to figure out the question (the search query). This could lead us to the conclusion that push (ala content or people recommenders) is a more efficient delivery vehicle for both content and insights than pull (ala search). And this preamble brings us nicely to the key question at hand which is…

Will we see streams becoming the primary push mechanism for content? I am gradually becoming more and more convinced that the answer is a resounding Yes!

Now I am not thinking of streams as we see them today, where applications such as Twitter generate an unstoppable, unsearchable, unfiltered, unstructured, unorganized, unactionable, … (you get the ghist) deluge. Clearly today’s Streams serve little purpose other than to make people want to jump off the nearest bridge. However there are characteristics of streaming content which gives us a glimmer of hope for the future.

One of the characteristics of streams that I find most interesting, and which could realize greatest benefit to the business, is the fact that they encode a greater variety of information about the content and the associated people & processes, pinpointed to an exact point in time and application context:

  • Joe “created” DocX
  • Jane “commented on” DocX
  • John “modified” DocY
  • AppA “generated” FactA from DocY
  • AppB “shared” FactA with John
  • Frank “tagged” DocY with TopicA
  • And so on…

Which allows you to more intelligently integrate this self-describing content into the organization, and also apply much more sophisticated analysis in terms of understanding the content, its relevence to the organization, the target audience, the interrelations between people interacting with the content, etc. It also provides the nervana of data for building content & people recommenders, social networks, and applying organizational analytics.

So to wrap up … Streams are a mixed blessing!

While they have the potential to allow us to really “put content to work” through integrating it directly into our business processes, they also exacerbate information overload. And this is a situation which will likely to get worse before it gets better as companies start to deploy activity streams across their organizations. However, I genuinely believe the deluge challenge is a solvable problem if we apply the right combination of content and social analytics, social profiles, and business process integration leveraging BigData infrastructures. The potential benefit of streams far outweighs the challenges.

We can “tame the beast” :-)

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