Here are my raw notes from Chris Messina’s session ActivityStrea.ms: Is It Getting Streamy In Here? at SXSW. Like I said, these are raw notes, so there are bound to be some typos / mistakes. Also keep in mind these are his ideas and content, not mine.
Updated 3/13/10 with his presentation:
Generative structures (rhizomes) – start with small constructs that move into very complex systems. Like in “The Future of the Internet And How to Stop It.” This forms the basis for activity streams.
What if every time you went shopping, you got an activity stream – like a receipt, but electronic and more available. You bank has this information and aggregates it to find useful information & a digital identity for you. He showed a clip from fight club to illustrate this point. Receipts are paper, crappy activity streams – paper-based way of comprehending information. Banks have this, but it’s in a format that suits them (pdf / paper / etc.), and not in a good format for analysis by their customers.
The news feed (Facebook) is the best example of an activity stream now.
Brief history of feeds
- 1999: RSS moves content from one format / place to another. Initially just titles, description & link
- 2006: Atom came a little later – similar idea, but it had author, id & updated. Still based on media consumption usage.
- Now: RSS more like a news feed, but still not all that complex.
Formats were designed to syndicate basic media content, and now we’re trying to pump a bunch of additional data through it. Format is still stuck in 1999.
FriendFeed problem – it was an aggregation service with a few additional features (comments, etc.) Brought everything together in one place. When it was acquired by Facebook, FriendFeed started to languish.
The solution? A universal format – this is where the idea for activity streams came from. More than syndicating an activity from one place to another.
Russians proposed something called activity theory for how they could make workers more productive with divisions of labor: Subject + tools = object / outcome (triangle). Later expanded by Scandinavians to expand it into communities with mediating artefacts, rules & roles.
In producing activity streams, we want to create meaning and make sense of the information.
If your goal is to produce meaning and culture, then you have a compelling framework for a compelling service.
foursquare + activity theory will help you understand why it has been so successful. It’s not just about the games, but is more nuanced.
Social objects – Jyri Engeström – “people don’t just connect to each other. They connect through a shared object.” Through those connections, people make meaning.
As you roll around the web, you collect all kinds of information. Look at YouTube – adds value to a social object with comments, ratings, etc. Flick is similar – comments, tags, etc. Some people create the content and others curate it by adding comments, rating, etc. Publishers vs. contributors.
Flickr makes it easy to tune the rules (configure licenses, search, etc.)
Control and rules can be set at system or personal level. Life streaming is more than just a news feed.
The Second Coming – A Manifesto by Gelernter (2000) talked about lifestreams as a sequence of all kinds of documents that are retrieved by search and not names or titles. Stream is concrete representation of time with now dividing past and future.
Now we live in an environment with so much information. It seems like information overload, but it’s really that we don’t have the tools to effectively deal with this information.
Mapping of behavior becomes interesting when you can look at your behavior along with the data that other people have about you. In 10 years, your kids could look back on the profile of your history via foursquare, etc. and see how you spent your birthday (example from Kevin Rose).
What if you could use your status information to train your computers to better meet your needs. Fitbit tracks behavior over time. You need to accrue data over time and compare it to other people’s data to make sense of it.
Look at Feltron annual reports. He collects information about himself and summarizes it (not real, but an example of what you could do?)
The solution to data overload is more data (metadata).
Take the basic construct of RSS and weave in some metadata about the data: Actor (author), verb, object & target – all are added to basic atom / rss feed info. It’s trivial to add these 4 elements to make an activity stream based on basic Atom / rss data.
Verbs & objects:
verbs: favorite, follow, like, join …
objects: article …
Process inspired by microformats. Why: Ask why you are doing this? Homework: Do you homework and document what you think. Propose: Bring it back to the community for input. iterate: Use an iterative process to make it better. Inter-operate: find ways to collaborate.
This looks similar to the semantic web, but it’s a little less ambitious. RDF is pretty hard to use.
More information can be found on activitystrea.ms.