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Enterprise Social Networking & Collaboration – Evolution of Activity Streams into Context Streams

02.12.2013
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One of the goals of Enterprise Social Networking and Collaboration technologies is providing simple content creation tools for everyone in the enterprise to instantly share information, to get the point across, to inquire, to update, to give and get feedback, to alert and to advise others. More importantly these solutions give the ability to connect with the people or experts that are behind this content.

The common theme across various software solutions offering Enterprise Social Networking solutions is the use of an “Activity Stream” defined as a single view that serves as a real time aggregator of events, content and activities happening across the enterprise. The Activity Stream in addition to showing real time content being created and shared by others can also show activities from other applications and systems to provide one place to go to for real time updates. Many enterprise social networking and collaboration solutions provide connectors to social web, cloud based SaaS enterprise software as well as popular ERP systems for this purpose.

In many ways, Activity Streams are a great alternative to email. Email tends to be time consuming due to information overload, lack of good organization and categorization capabilities, lack of people identity and history, lack of deeper collaboration around content attached in emails and lack of good subscription based consumption.

The question that we asked at Fuzed is “Will Activity Streams suffer with the same information overload problems that email has over time?” and even more broadly “Do single facts of information floating by in the Activity Stream by themselves provide all context required to complete an idea, a task or a thought or a question or even a response?” While Activity Streams allow better content categorization, provide aggregated statistics on responses to created content and better people identity and history with ability to connect with those people in a meaningful manner, will the sheer amount of real time information in the stream tilt the Activity Stream towards the information overload problem? The answer is no if people and information are presented with context.

What do we mean by context? There are a variety of different ways a system can be built to provide context. Software can recognize a person’s job, their location, their role in the enterprise, their expertise, topics of interests and other criteria to auto manage or auto focus the Activity Stream to filter items of interest. Fuzed has adopted the notion that people work and share based on relationships in the physical world and therefore offers an equivalent rich portfolio of relationships each with a dedicated activity feeds. These feeds that can be viewed together or individually provide strong filtering, subscription and notification capabilities to manage information overload.

But at Fuzed, we believe that’s just one type of context. The other more important context is around a factual piece of information itself. One of the challenges that enterprises face is exposing information from multiple systems, each with unique factual pieces of information that employees need to access for “360 views” that aid in decision making. For example, to work on a specific task for a particular project, one may need to go to SharePoint to access project documents, access a work in progress document in the works stored on the local PC, a question that a team member had asked which may be in email and a survey from the business team regarding their feedback. Additionally, people rely more and more on information from outside the enterprise to complement factual information from internal systems in making or influencing decisions. These may include searching the web, analyst reports, industry news, expert analysis, subscribed data sets, trends and even social web sources like LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook.

When people create or share a factual piece of information using the simple content creation tools discussed above, by itself this factual piece of information may not provide the entire necessary context for others to perform work or use it to complete a thought or aid in making a decision. A factual piece of information may require others to tap into other systems or applications internal or external in order to find other related factual pieces of information to complete the context. The problem is that if this factual piece of information was shared with a group (lets say in our example, the document in SharePoint), it is entirely possible many members of that group spend time trying to complete the context (by trying to piece together all relevant items like the local document in PC, that question in email, the response from the survey) to accomplish a task never-mind effectively share what they found.

What if software aided in that context adding and sharing process? What if software could allow groups of people to share the burden of adding context? This is where we, at Fuzed have spent a lot of time thinking about and making it easy for people to add and discover context. So that when a member of the group sees the link to the SharePoint document in Fuzed they also immediately see related information connected to that document like the question and its answers, like the survey feedback, the report and the tweet from a customer. This saved this group member incredible amounts of time trying to search and piece together this information by themselves. Now imagine that every group member would have otherwise spent this time individually trying to piece this information.

In order to enable group based context adding capability, Fuzed provides plug-ins for a variety of applications and soon will allow enterprises to connect internal applications to Fuzed for the primary reason of enabling people to tap into the various factual pieces of information. Two of the most common actions that people are used to in social network solutions are the “Share” and the “Like” buttons. Fuzed introduces a “Connect” button that we hope becomes as ubiquitous as the other two.

As more and more people connect factual pieces of information, the resultant knowledge can be surfaced and used by others any time on demand now or in the future. Whenever a factual piece of information visible in the Activity Stream has existing context, the context will automatically be surfaced right in the Activity Stream. The use of visual cues in the Activity Stream alerts the user of additional context being available. Imagine discovering factual pieces of information you did not even know existed or knew to even search for. More importantly, the ability for others to rate the helpfulness of the context also ensures that the most relevant information is always right there. Not to mention, people who tend to connect the most impactful factual pieces of information can become part of a trusted network of individuals others can count on.



At Fuzed we think of the Activity Stream evolving into what we call is the “Context Stream”. We believe that extending the use of social within the enterprise to be more than the ability to connect people and collaborate, gives new life to information that otherwise may not surface at the right time. It also saves an organization productivity time spent in searching for relevant information.

Our leadership in thinking and our execution of evolving the Activity Stream into a Context Stream deserves consideration as you evaluate your enterprise social strategy.

Reprinted with permission

Published at DZone with permission of its author, Raheel Fayaz.

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