Who Spiked the Enterprise Activity Stream?
As someone who leads products and even before I did, I’ve never understood the obsession with feeds and activity streams in the context of enterprise social software applications or for that matter, enterprise software applications. The bedrock of the fabled “Facebook for the Enterprise” meme was the feed and enterprise software applications rushed to re-produce an experience that was predicated on the feed and activity stream.
But herein lies the rub: I value those I follow and friend on Twitter and Facebook a lot. But to be honest – if I miss one of your updates, my life will go on or if it’s important enough, your update will likely find me on some other channel. In the enterprise setting though, that won’t cut it. You can hardly tell your boss that you missed an important update from him cause you didn’t happen to be watching the stream. And more striking, there isn’t a single reliable piece of market research that suggests that enterprise users have been clamoring for a feed to gate every application they use. Go ahead and poll your users and ask them if they visit applications only to sit in front of a stream of data that may or may not be applicable to them. Yet, many enterprise software pundits and insiders are enamored with feeds that show endless amounts of business data being pumped into it. And those who I converse with regularly know where I’ve always stood on this topic.
Finally, the Atlantic has now declared 2013 to be the year when “the stream has crested”. I love this explanation of why we gravitated to the feed:
“There are great reasons for why The Stream triumphed. In a world of infinite variety, it’s difficult to categorize or even find, especially before a thing has been linked. So time, newness, began to stand in for many other things. And now the Internet’s media landscape is like a never-ending store, where everything is free. No matter how hard you sprint for the horizon, it keeps receding. There is always something more. “
And an astute analogy:
“I am not joking when I say: it is easier to read Ulysses than it is to read the Internet. Because at least Ulysses has an end, an edge. Ulysses can be finished. The Internet is never finished. “
So in other words, to make up for our technical inability to tame the information tsunami otherwise known as the social web, we placed a reverse chronological fire hose in front of users in the hope that she might just capture the few droplets that matter? Exactly.
Francine Hardaway, in a conversation with Steve Rubel, nailed it:
@steverubel I don’t even think it’s a very good piece. The very idea of a stream is that you don’t HAVE to finish it. You dip into it.
The feed was never designed to drive closure. I can live with this in my personal social networking working world but sorry Jose, no way that’s OK when it comes to my world of work.
There is a place for a feed in enterprise as part of a larger tapestry of interaction models. It’s an excellent way to ambiently learn and get wind of many things that I can contribute to. But the primary design metaphor for enterprise products cannot be serendipity-driven in the hopes that the right information from a colleague or a software application that I care about will show up. The world of work demands a significantly more decisive design– to facilitate closure of the repeatable tasks that both my manager and I know I have to take care of, yet with a facility that that helps me manage exceptions that will undoubtedly show up, unannounced. And like Ulysses, the world of work is predicated on a rapid fire of short bursts of closure, on our way to the big finale.
It amazes me how the geek inside all of us building enterprise applications got so inebriated by activity streams that we forgot the basic tenets of how work gets done. Business applications that will ultimately resonate won’t be about transactions or about social feeds but understanding the interplay between data, people, applications and content to get stuff done.
Alexis Madrigal’s conclusion is spot on:
“I think people will want structure and endings again, eventually. Edges and balance are valuable.”
Being drunk on the feed was a ton of fun. Time to sober up.
SVP, Enterprise Social and Collaborative Software, SAP