What is an Activity Stream?

Activity Streams have been widely adopted in social sites since Facebook rolled out the feature in 2006. Because of the massive adoption of Facebook by everyday users, it has single-handedly changed user behavior on the Internet by offering an alternative to email for sending information to each other. Today, more than a billion people use Facebook’s activity stream to consume and post information and pictures about their vacations, kids’ soccer games, and anything else that people feel is newsworthy. At the same time, smartphones and cameras have added features which make interacting with activity streams a part of everyday life.

linkedin

LinkedIn changed the way its members consume the site’s information by redesigning its homepage to include an activity stream in October 2012.

Activity Streams Inside the Firewall

Although the Activity Stream (also called a “newsfeed”) was initially met with some resistance when Facebook rolled it out to web consumers in 2006, it is now accepted as the primary way to organize and digest large quantities of information across social sites. It has also crossed over the firewall, and large organizations are starting to leverage it.

The biggest push probably came from SalesForce with the introduction to its activity stream feature, Chatter, which rolled out in 2009. SalesForce looked to follow the trends that consumer social sites made popular. Today, CEO Marc Benioff describes this activity stream as the primary interface for the SalesForce platform.

Including an Activity Stream in a Portal Strategy

Leveraging an activity stream can be an excellent strategy for organizations looking to establish an efficient and flexible communication channel for their employees, agents, partners, or customers. By emphasizing it as a main feature on the Portal’s landing page, organizations can consolidate key information from multiple sources into one easy-to-manage feature.

Key Questions You’ll Need to Answer

Here are some things you’ll need to consider when implementing an activity stream strategy in your portal.

1. What content should be in the stream?

This can include announcements or messages from corporate, but you should also consider including information and data from your crucial business systems such as CRM, ERP Systems, and even custom applications.

2. Should the stream be personalized by role?

Organizations can increase the value of content by allowing the stream content to be targeted and viewed based on the user’s role. We recommend our clients follow a strategy that involves targeting messages and content by the user’s role. This reduces information “clutter” and greatly increases system adoption because of the high relevance of the content for each user.

3. Should there be two-way or social collaboration or is this for one-way communication?

Although each organization may have different goals for their strategy, we do recommend implementing long-term strategy that includes letting users comment or give feedback on the content in the stream.

 

One-way communication
One-way communication
Activity stream with full social features
Activity stream with full social features

4. How will this content be implemented in your search strategy?

With organizations implementing robust search technologies available in technology platforms such as Microsoft SharePoint 2013, content in an activity stream can be indexed and included in the search results.

5. What is the mobile strategy?

Responsive Activity streams are an obvious choice for consuming important information from a mobile device. We recommend implementing a responsive design approach in the portal design, allowing it to be accessible from cell phones and tablets. The following is an example of a responsive design wireframe for a portal landing page featuring an activity stream.

6. Should the stream include a daily or weekly digest?

A well-designed digest will send a summary or highlights of the most relevant content in the stream on a regular basis. Because this information is pushed to the users, this can be a helpful strategy for encouraging engagement and adoption from users used to consuming most of their information through email.

7. What other platforms could leverage the activity stream?

Although this blog has focused on portal solutions, a stream actually can be integrated in your other systems and applications including ERP, BI solutions or even client applications such as Microsoft Outlook.

8. Should you use a third-party product? If so, which one?

forresterIf you can answer most of the previous questions, you may be ready to start considering how the solution will be implemented.

For most of our clients, developing an in-house or custom activity stream solution isn’t feasible, and implementing a third-party product makes more sense. Looking at the industry, there are five significant players in this area: Neudesic Pulse, Salesforce Chatter, Socialcast by VMware (Socialcast), Tibco tibbr and Yammer. You will want to evaluate these products based on your specific use cases to ensure the best fit. Although these solutions may be similar, each may have specific strengths and weaknesses. For a quick read, the research organization, Forrester, released a report on these five solutions.

Getting Started

One of the biggest keys for designing your activity stream is to understand how or if your users will really interact with it. With our portal clients we recommend developing personas to allow for accurate design decisions to be made without the design team counting on risky assumptions. If you are considering adding this type of feature to an existing portal and don’t already use personas, we recommend using a persona or user-centric approach to better understand the value this feature could bring to your organization. This process can be done internally or with the help of an outside consulting company. Regardless, this is an excellent first step for further validating the strategy and can help you get started.

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