Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Managing Information Flow on Enterprise Platforms

Are multiple activity streams the way forward for enterprise platforms...?

As an enterprise community manager, I am often faced with varied user questions and needs. One that has been surfacing on and off recently is around the ability for more granular filtering to find relevant content.

Before I move on let me briefly explain how Jive--which powers our social platform--works. Jive offers users the ability to customize their two activity streams--one stream reflects everything the user is Following on the platform and this includes people, places and content. The other reflects what the user is Tracking--and Jive makes a subtle distinction between "follow" and "track". Tracked content, people or places are deemed to be of greater relevance to the user and all activities and communication in these get captured in a separate stream called What Matters: Communication along with @ mentions and direct messages to the user.

 Nevertheless, in spite of this level of segregation and filtering, I have had users requesting for further granularity, more specific filtering options, and ability to follow tags and such. Some deep diving and conversations exposed that users were missing or feared missing out on information. As is wont to happen with activity streams, content quickly moves below the fold and runs the risk of getting overlooked. A heavy user of TweetDeck and Hootsuite, I could identify with the need for further granularity. Both these applications make my Twitter use a breeze by allowing me to set my filters and create multiple streams.

Moreover, from an enterprise context, finding relevant content at the point of need is of paramount importance. While I was surfing the net to see what other organizations/users are doing, I stumbled across an interesting posts by Alan Lepofsky that seemed to mirror what I was thinking: Making Activity Stream More Manageable. I have quoted from it here: If we are going to continue down the path of taking dozens of different pieces of information and cramming them into one place, then a single stream is not the way to go.

In a different post, he writes: … I am concerned that having status updates, file sharing, Q&A, news links, CRM updates, social media feeds, workflow approvals, ERP orders, support tickets, polls/surveys and a dozen other sources of information all piped into the same stream can make social software almost unusable.

The more I think about it, I am beginning to feel that multiple activity streams is the way to go. Moving from a locked down inbox to an activity stream is a paradigm shift, and one that is well on its way to taking place. And reflects how far we have come. Nonetheless, enhancing user experience by giving them more control to filter in what they need or filter out as the case maybe will lead to greater adoption of social business platforms. Enterprise platforms will also need to give users greater flexibility and the ability to create personalized lists, follow tags, and so on. I am sure those days are not too far away and social business platforms like Jive and SocialText are improving by leaps and bounds.

Will greater granularity kill serendipity?
I don't think so. With content being created, shared and commented upon every second of every day even in the enterprise, it is essential that users be able to effectively filter and curate for themselves in an intuitive manner. Some of it will get taken care of by smart, automated filtering options like Jive's Recommendation engine, which suggest content based on the user's prior activity on the platform. But this may soon not be enough.
What do you think? Have you encountered similar needs? I would love to hear from you.

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