Activity Streams: Information Highway of the Future?

Last week I attended the w3c Social Business Jam where lots of interesting ideas were discussed. One specific post from Dion Hincliffe (@dhinchcliffe) caught my attention as it really resonated with me. In this post Dion suggested “Activity streams as an umbrella for all workflow, not just social … acts as a social aggregator … uniform approach for integrating people, systems, and processes … to “wrap” activity in other, non-social systems”. Now what was it about this post that so interested me? Gosh, where do I start… :) How about we discuss the notion of using streams to provide realtime integration of people, systems, and processes.

In my opinion, one of the greatest challenges to understanding content is context. I don’t mean local context (the parts of something written or spoken that immediately precede and follow a word or passage and clarify its meaning), but broader business context (the circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement, or idea, and in terms of which it can be fully understood) — Oxford English Dictionary.

When I read a document my understanding of the text is informed by the sum of my past experience. I have a mental model in my head that describes the concepts and relationships that make up my world. I use this model (socio-semantic graph) to disambiguate and infer meaning from the text. For example; if I read a document that refers to Trinity, 1641, and LanguageWare, I know that this document is referring to Trinity College Dublin, the The 1641 Depositions Project, and likely is related to Marie Wallace who works for IBM. I know this because I have a model in my head that connects these various concepts to each other through various types of relationships, and I can use that model to help me derive facts from the content. This model not only helps me understand the content, but also helps me decide what to do with the information. Do I just file away any new facts to my socio-semantic graph for later retrieval? Does it fill a gap in my mental model, hence provoking me to make a decision, ask a question, kick off a business process, send an e-mail, write a blog post?

Now the big problem here is that this mental model of the business is encoded in my head and not in a way that can be effectively used by anyone other than me. In addition, there are lots of gaps in my model, which could likely be filled by other people and/or business applications. Now just imagine we had a mechanism to share facts & insights in real-time, and by we I mean both man and machine. For example; if I discover that Acme Corp. in acquiring Blah Inc, I can immediately share that fact with the business. Any person (product manager) or application (eg. sales system) can then choose to ingest that fact into their mental model and/or make a decision based on that new fact. The sales system could similarly share a fact that I might in turn want to ingest. Alternatively, the sales system might share some facts that are not ideal for human digestion, but which would be candy for the business intelligence system which in turn share its results back into the corporate stream of consciousness.

Now I know you are thinking INFORMATION OVERLOAD but remember I am not saying that everything is directly ingested by a person. The majority of the information will be consumed by other applications or contribute to the domain model which in turn is consumed by the social analytics system. The social analytics system in turn helps crystalize ingested information into consolidated & validated insights (Social Analytics is more than just Social Media). And when it come to analytics BIG IS NOT BAD!

So… what we now have is an information highway that allows us to share vast quantities of information, but more importantly codifies the information in a way that allows it to be persisted, analyzed, and leveraged for broader business value. It allows both man and machine contribute to this business model and leverage it in order to derive new insights and understanding. It is also not limited to just social applications, but can encode any variety of socio-semantics. It is also extremely flexible and extensible, since you can incrementally enable applications to share certain facts with the infrastructure and you get incremental value from day one. The more diversity of facts that get posted the increasing value and insight you derive, but even with limited facts there is still value. Domain modelling completely transforms th3 value that you realize from content analytics.

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8 Responses to “Activity Streams: Information Highway of the Future?”

  1. The best way to leverage activity streams is through the use of Process Mining techniques. See my write up at: http://social-biz.org/2010/10/15/mining-activity-streams/

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    • Thanks for sharing your blog post Keith :-) It’s great to see that there is a growing collective looking at how to leverage streams from a variety of perspectives, be they event streams for BPM or fact streams for analytics.

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  2. There is a need for an analyser of activity streams would need to identify how things relate to your past and your future interest. To build such an analyser, it would need knowledge about that user. To get this knowledge to the analyser, the user would have to import a lot of data and start with manual tagging.

    Marie, how would our mutual past (the NEPOMUK Social Semantic Desktop project) fit into this picture? It was the vision we developed that knowledge workers would use a personal-assistant system to filter information and classify it according to semantic structures.

    btw, we are building exactly this “activity stream” and also an algorithm to filter the signal from the noise within that stream, based on the NEPOMUK results: http://www.getrefinder.com

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    • Hi Leo,

      You are correct that there is most definitely a personal aspect to this analysis, and in fact the foundations for much of my thinking in this space come from our NEPOMUK EU project. It represented some fantastic early thinking in this space.

      The personal perspective does indeed present a real challenge which I don’t claim to have a clue how we will end up solving. There are so many different approaches; from massively distributed where every person on the planet has their own “personal model” which can be queried by analytics applications (that have access privaleges), to something a bit more aggregated like we have today with systems such as Facebook, Klout, LinkedIn, Google, etc.

      Social media has changed the game somewhat since our NEPOMUK days, particularly when combined with the vast processing power realizable through the various bigdata platforms out there. So its not clear how much of this information will continue to reside on the desktop and how much will migrate to repositories in the clouds :-)

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  3. Wow! At last I got a webpage from where
    I can in fact obtain useful data regarding my study
    and knowledge.

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  4. This is a fantastic perspective, and one that I agree with 100%. The contextual use of information, not just human social activities but the activities that are part of all business processes, I think brings a huge advantage to collaboration when it’s made visible and digestible to both humans and machines. I believe this so much that I built a whole business around enabling people to put these streams into any software that they desire.

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