“Many of the things we hated about email will be MULTIPLIED, not solved by stream-overload. People say email is not the problem, it’s how people mis-use it. Guess what, people misuse activity streams. The funniest part is “2.0 vendors” will be adding features like prioritization and followup to streams and claiming how revolutionary it is.” - Alan Lepofsky
This post is a design recommendation for enterprise activity streams to be more in tune with human behaviour experienced by knowledge workers in organisations, by taking cues from email clients.
Why do we like email – because we can easily send and receive, and manage our stuff…the only thing is that it’s messy, it’s private, and we are overloaded (probably something we can’t fix other than lowering occupational spam eg. from being pushed the latest gym newsletter to choosing to “follow” it instead).
The idea is to make a more coherent experience, take it online so information is findable (no longer dies), connect people (better way to sense-make and become engaged), unfollow threads (no more being a victim of reply all), and to have ambient awareness (a more adaptable and agile organisation).
But while we offer this solution, the idea-as alluded to above-is to not take away the usability and the essence of the inbox…the x-factor that makes it so in tune with human behaviour (we receive, send, and manage everything from this one spot).
And coupled with this; is “activity stream overload” going to be the new “inbox overload”…um, yes, but only worse…bring on the filters!!
Some think activity streams and microblogs replace most of email…not so fast…sometimes it is about the technology
Manage the stream
One theme here is for an Activity stream to have the management, organisational, and productivity features that we see in email clients. A facebook type of activity stream does not have enough functionality to suit the enterprise. In the enterprise we need to be able to manage our stream, we cannot let things stream past that we have been asked or expected to action. We need to come back after a week’s leave and be able to catch up with what’s essential (@mentions are the only way at the moment to catch essential stuff-stuff you need to respond to-in a bucket). We need to be able to tag items (just like Gmail tags or folders in MS Outlook), forward them (re-share or send), flag them (for follow-up), filter/sort them (person, date, object type), organise stuff we follow (people, groups, objects, tags) into lists…
And as alluded to before, because this is a “pull” model ie. we choose to “follow”; we can unfollow noisy threads, or even unfollow or block noisy people.
Now compare this to a personal context like Facebook; it doesn’t really matter if you miss out on stuff, after a couple of days absence there’s no crucial need to back read the whole stream…it’s a very different experience and level of importance…leisure compared to business.
All context Posting (no need to shift context, just post from the one spot)
What’s good to see in most Activity streams is that you can post to different object types from the same window…and then with most vendors you can filter the stream by object type.
You can post a status update, or you can instead post it as a question, photo, event, idea, task, etc…
- it would be similar to; when clicking “new” in Outlook or “compose” in Gmail, the menu would list a selection of possible actions eg. A simple text or link update, or is it a photo, question/poll, event, idea, task, etc…all right there in the flow.
Now what if you don’t want to post in your default network stream, but want to post something to a group. No need to shift context ie. You don’t need to go find that group space, instead at time of posting you simply choose from a down-menu if you want the post to go to a group (or @mention the group)…all this is done from your main activity stream.
The idea is to match the convenience that we all experience in our email clients…now we can flick a status update, photo, question/poll, task, event, idea…just like we flick an email…social software should be easy.
NOTE: there are exceptions. We may need to visit the group space to post to a blog, wiki, forum
Sometimes I can’t use status updates even if I wanted to and instead resort to email. Here are some reasons: I need unlimited space, I need to copy and paste screenshots, I need to use minimal formatting (bold, bullet points, italics, indent). Enterprise activity feeds need to take some cues from Google+ (except maybe the copy and paste screenshots…that’s hard one without referencing a URL…or maybe it’s not, check out how it’s done in this Confluence video).
If we really want activity streams to be the new dashboard then we need no excuse to use email other than; private (but then again most activity streams have a private message function), or communication with people outside the company (until a standard protocol becomes available, but this is only warranted if activity streams prove themselves as everyday tools)
Consolidated, not scattered content
People like that their email client is their personal information management tool which delivers, houses and organises (folders) all their sent/received content…sort, browse, search for the content. The issue with current enterprise social suites is that your content is scattered all over the place. People don’t like that; they want ownership in the one spot…they don’t want to have to visit a group space or their own profile to find something they commented on, or a post they made…people simply want it all housed in the one spot, similar to their email client. We are used to email clients where we access our left sidebar for all our needs, rather than having to visit other pages…our email clients are the one dashboard skin where just the body in the middle changes…at any time we have access to all our controls
People like to own their content and know it’s all accessible via the one spot…they feel secure…and it’s a less scattered experience.
Notifications inbox as the default stream
What content matters to you most: stuff you follow, or stuff that’s directed at you…it’s the latter right. This is why I think the notification stream or the interactions stream that we are familiar with when using Facebook and Twitter; when in the enterprise context actually needs to be the default home stream.
In other words there’s no such thing as “notifications”, it’s simply your inbox ie. When you launch the web page or the desktop app the home activity stream is your “notifications” stream, which is called your “inbox”…and it has a mark read/unread feature.
If you want to see content you have “sent” then click the “sent” stream in your left hand pane (just like we see in email clients)…you can filter this by authored/participated (comments you have made), by object type, by person, date, etc…
Then if you want to go back to your “notifications” stream you simply click the “inbox” stream in your left hand pane (just like we see in email clients)
Now here’s something new…if you want to see content by people/groups/objects/tags you “follow”; then you click the “follow” stream in your left hand pane (which is something you don’t see in email clients)…you can filter this by object type, by person, date, etc…or even group them into lists
So here’s what you see in inbox 2.0:
- private messages
- comments on my posts
- comments on posts I’ve commented on
- likes on my posts/comments
- who followed /unfollowed you
- who favourited your content
- content people have sent you via the share/send link we see on the footer of stream items
- tasks assigned (and comments) (and progress reminders)
- event invites (and reminders)
- perhaps even who added you to a list
Here’s what others are thinking:
Taking Notes Episode 150: 2012.02.09 - Activity Streams of the Future, with Alan Lepofsky
Predictions For 2012 From An Employee Perspective
Don’t Cross The Streams
Making Activity Streams More Manageable
Enterprise 2.0’s New Debate: Dam the Streams?
Monday’s Musings: Why Next Gen Apps Must Improve Existing Activity Streams
Email Is Crushing Us, Can Activity Streams Free Us?
In my next post I’ll share a comprehensive list of features and functionality I’d like to see in enterprise activity streams.
My main point is it’s not about just following stuff; the follow stream is what’s new, OK got that…and that it’s open conversation by default, rather than email’s private by default concept, OK got that…and that we have moved from personal computing to social computing, OK got that…and all the new emergence, adaptability, x-ray awareness, sense-making, engagement, etc that comes from all that, OK got it. But it’s also about what it’s always been about, managing your inbox; stuff people want you to do. That’s why when it comes to designing for 80% of how you need to use the tool; I contend the notifications inbox, along with filters and organizing content is key…this is missing in current designs, and shouldn’t be as it’s not accommodating to what we are doing 80% of our time. Email is about doing work; and in order to compete or be more useful, activity feeds also need to be about executing/managing actual work…and they can be, we just need the design to facilitate this.
You could say that activity feeds/microblogging aren’t trying to replace email, they are just something new. But the thing is a lot of people just don’t have time…I was in our cities financial district the other day watching exec’s get in an out of lifts with their heads in their blackberry…these guys are super busy, and just won’t have the time to visit an enterprise technology where they can follow stuff…but if we can instead design activity feeds to be an online inbox with the email client feel, then things may change.
One other thing - let’s not dwell too much on industry statistics on enterprise social computing. Why? Because the market is still immature in the design of the tools. We need to address the points I have made in this post, and we need to address process-based social computing (which Podio is leading). Another reason why statistics could be better is “are you educated in social business” (do you know social business theory) or is it new to you and you are just implementing it just like any other IT project
24/04/12 NEW POST - Microblogging or Macroblogging…or simply messages
29/12/12 G+ - Facebook Activity log filters