Don’t Cross The Streams

February 1 2012 02:00:00 PM Comments Disabled
I've found myself discussing the pros and cons of activity streams a lot lately. While streams, or news feeds, can be a great way to display information and encourage conversations, they can also be a huge contributor to information overload.

I'm sure your first reaction is to quote Clay Shirky's famous "There's no such thing as information overload, only filter failure" line.

Yes, filtering is EXTREMELY important, and the combination of manual controls, automated filtering via analytics, and crowd-sourced curation can be very helpful in managing overload. But shouldn't we question the root cause of the issue, putting too much information into the stream in the first place?

My favourite way to illustrate this point is the following scene from the 1984 movie Ghost Busters:

Dr. Egon Spengler: There's something very important I forgot to tell you.

Dr. Peter Venkman: What?

Dr. Egon Spengler: Don't cross the streams.

Dr. Peter Venkman: Why?

Dr. Egon Spengler: It would be bad.

Dr. Peter Venkman: I'm fuzzy on the whole good/bad thing. What do you mean, "bad"?

Dr. Egon Spengler: Try to imagine all life as you know it stopping instantaneously and every molecule in your body exploding at the speed of light.

Dr Ray Stantz: Total protonic reversal.

Dr. Peter Venkman: Right. That's bad. Okay. All right. Important safety tip. Thanks, Egon.

While I'm not worried about total protonic reversal, 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.

Of course I understand the potential benefits of making information available to a large audience by "freeing it from it's application silos." Enabling people to discover content and colleagues that can help them with their jobs is a clearly a wonderful thing. I'm just not sure that taking information from a dozen different systems and squeezing it all into one stream is going to be the nirvana everyone is hoping for.  

That said, at the end of the movie crossing the streams was what saved the day. So perhaps as activity streams mature they will be way to conquer the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man of enterprise collaboration.

Who you gonna call?