A little while ago I talked about not so much groupware, but a middle space, moreso activityware, where you create an object and invite people to add to it. I was looking for something where a conversation could revolve around a task object. You can do this on a wiki (with comments) or Google Docs (with comments), but the more robust tools I came across were Traction, Basecamp, and Activities on Lotus Connections.
The latter is a little different as it’s an on-the-fly tool to perform and coordinate tasks/conversations similar to email, but with less annoyance…sometimes called Activity-Centric Collaboration. From the screencast I find IBM’s Activities in tune with human behaviour. I have a task to do, I create a space, and interactions with people who help me, take place in a open task thread. But the beauty is they can add to the thread with a multitude of objects, they can answer a screenshot with an email, answer an email with a doc, answer a doc with an IM…it’s a thread made up of different objects.
Finally a task/conversation lives at a URL…but it’s not a blog, wiki, forum, online doc, but instead a task/conversation thread that can be made up of elements from different object types.
In email you have to reply with an email, you have to reply to an IM with an IM, you have to reply to a blog post with a comment, etc… Things are changing, now we can have a generic thread where the conversation elements can be made up of various formats.
This is important as we are not tied to one technology when contributing to the space. Currently if I’m in an email thread, but need immediacy for the next reply I will IM…and there you have it, I have just broken the conversation into scattered pieces. And the conversation doesn’t live at an open URL anyway.
I’m finding tools like IBM’s Activites and Google Wave as the new email/IM/attachments space…where conversations take place using a multitude of tools, are threaded in an open place, and don’t have to take place in an existing group space, but instead can be created on-the-fly when the activity arises. This is totally in tune with how we behave as it has very low barriers to start something, and to contribute, in fact it has the ease of email, but is less frustrating in coordinating…which means these spaces may just be the next killer app to solve our annoyance with current tools like email when trying to do tasks/collaborate.
As you can see, you don’t have to prior belong to a team or group, it’s on-the-fly creation of a collaboration space, which is increasingly important in the more role based networked organisation that we are moving towards. It’s more about interactions revolving around an activity, rather than general sharing or that activity having to take place in a best fit prescribed place eg. an existing CoP or team space (which is dire when the people you want to collaborate with aren’t on your team or CoP).
We need more process centric methods in enterprise social computing to make way for the acceptance of more opportunistic tools such as social networks. And for ease of use, we want to contribute via lots of tools eg. a bookmarklet, and as Jon Mell says (in reference to sending an IM via email), don’t make me think…and we want updates delivered any which way.
Basically what is happening is the technology, and what and how we want to achieve our aims, has become a tool designed for human behaviour. I have a task or start a conversation, I can do this from any app I’m in, others can reply from any app they are in, we are updated from the app of our choosing, the thread lives at a central open place…again “we don’t have to think, we just act”.
As Dave Snowden says:
“Technology is a tool and like all tools it should fit your hand when you pick it up, you shouldn’t have to bio-re-engineer your hand to fit the tool”
We find we need an activityware tool at work, as our online communities are not so much for specific tasks, you need to be a member of the community, and you can’t really create them at your disposable for a small task. What we do use is email, or a forum, or a wiki, but an activity space brings the thread together, accepts various object types in the thread, and membership is not based on requirements outside of the task.
I haven’t seen the Google Wave videos, but from reading blog posts and screenshots I get the idea, here are some posts.
Wave is the future of the Enterprise
Could Google Wave Redefine Email and Web Communication?
Google Wave: A Complete Guide
The Top 6 Game-Changing Features of Google Wave
Google Wave: Google Tries to Reinvent Email
Twave: Google Wave + Twitter
Sergey Brin: Google Wave Will Set A New Benchmark For Interactivity
Live With The Google Wave Creators
Exclusive: Video Interview With The Google Wave Founders
Google Wave: The Full Video From Google IO
Google Wave Drips With Ambition. A New Communication Platform For A New Web.
Lotus Connections Activities
NOTE: this is part of a blog post I drafted 2 years ago but never got round to posting.
The paper Activity management as a Web service is focused on integration of various clients and using various clients to action things, and having it all managed in the Wax collaborative activity web service. The beauty of it is that when starting an activity you can go look for content where ever it lies and bring it into the system, like an activity gateway or portal page…this again reminds me of widgets of information from elsewhere, and the widget is dynamically updated at the same time as the original. Read the rest about the task flow features.
The above paper is related to another article, Beyond predictable workflows: Enhancing productivity in artful business processes, which also explains the two ends of the specturum, using email for collaborative activities is clunky and not contextual, and using a centralised workflow system is to rigid and is not flexible to encompass the intricate flavours of all situations, there is calling to allow room for “artful processes” and a requirement is the “democratization of process”. Moving from here are more people focused, community or group based systems that have a more flexible bottom up approach (this also has the bonus of allowing innovation to sprout).
The most relevant paper would be, Activity Explorer: Activity-centric collaboration from research to product. The Activity-centric collaboration style:
|“…is not to provide yet another collaboration tool. It is to provide a technology that can organize collaboration so that it reflects the work being done, rather than the tools that support the work.”|
It delves into the Activity Explorer client based on activity being a thread of objects.
An activity thread can start with any object (file, chat, screenshot, etc…), someone may be notified by their prefered alert mechanism (also a current area of study about attention delivery, alert, urgency, etc…), this person will reply to the thread with any object, automatically notifying the original person and so on.
The power is that you can collaborate in real-time or asynchronously within the activity, it becomes a shared thread that harnesses different object types, all without needing a meeting or entering a dedicated group share tool.
Their example, just shows how simple it can be to initiate and action an activity (task) in one simple thread with multiple people without even having to be f2f, and by using a combination of external tools integrated into the one simple display screen.
Here’s the brief on the scenario:
NOTE: to create a new object in the thread, you just right click on the previous object
1. Celine starts a new activity by dragging a file into Susan’s name
2. Celine adds a 2nd object (via a right-click on the 1st object); this 2nd object is a message note asking for Susan’s comments
3. Susan is alerted via her systems tray, clicking it takes her to the thread
4. Celine sees Susan is reading the message via an online presence indicator on that object
5. Celine clicks on the message object and initiates a 3rd object being a chat (popping up a box on Susan’s screen)
“Celine wants to clarify about an image detail in the file”
6. Celine creates a a 4th object being a shared snapshot (popping up a snapshot on Susan’s screen)
7. They annotate the image in real-time (like a whiteboard)
8. They invite their boss, Ming, into the chat (popping up a box on Ming’s screen)
- Ming has only got access to the chat object and the shared snapshot object
and so on…
As you can see this diverts or the lessens cognitive stress of deciding which tool to use to start and action a task. A discussion may start on chat, and then be moved to email, and then to some kind of groupware…and it’s not always easy to move information from system to system. Another benefit is information pertaining to the activity is already organised into one thread or view as a result of the process.
From the paper:
“…a single collaborative activity is often managed with multiple collaboration tools and technologies at different levels of formality. These can include e-mail, chat, wikis […] This diversity means that people must monitor and participate in multiple shared venues, spreading their attention and their effort across multiple media. Even if they succeed at this context management task, they still face the difficulty of having to determine the scale of any new collaborative activity in order to select the best medium.”
“The technical goal of activity-centric collaboration is to bridge these gaps of rigidity and tool boundaries by horizontally integrating different collaboration tools and technologies through the concept of a work activity.”
The Activity Explorer is further referred to in the paper, Business activity patterns: A new model for collaborative business applications.
Another great paper about creating more flexible processes is, Ethnographic study of collaborative knowledge work.
As you can see IBM are right into communication and collaboration processes based around people and tool flexibility and bringing all this together in one interface full of connected components, instead of a centralised top down system.
The Clipper Group has a review on the whole Lotus Connections Suite.
Lotus Connections Activities Demo Video
Activity-based Computing Moves Forward at Lotus Connections
Comprehensive Tour of Lotus Connections
Activities in Connections 2.0
When disaster strikes, create an Activity!
Using Activities to plan your Lotusphere Session
Complements social networks
What I like about all this, is that it complements social networks. I use the network to find profiles (beehive) and read up on people (their microblog, blog, bookmarks, CoPs, etc.), or maybe they are already a contact, then I invite them into my activity. I wonder what move Google will take towards networks, maybe Google Profiles, I do have my Gmail contacts, but I need to go to their space and see what their all about, at the moment this is ruled by Friendfeed, Facebook, LinkedIn.
I guess why I call this middlespace/ware is that you have groupware like Communities of Practice, then you have social networks, and I find ad-hoc activity spaces somewhere in the middle. So I guess this is related to my post, How relevant are communities of practice in a network age?.
As I mentioned earlier this middlespace or activity collaboration is paralleling with the move to a role based organisation where we are connected in social networks and assemble together for activities and disband.
Where does workstreamr come into all this.
NOTE: to clear something up with another way the term “activity” is being used of late. The Facebook newsfeed has been dubbed an “activity feed” as it feeds you the latest on what people you are following have published on their profiles and elsewhere, and what other actions they have been doing in the network, what their friends have been commenting on their profiles, as well as stuff done to you (notifications).