Real-time Flow – based collaboration in the Enterprise

Flow-based activity stream applications continue to emerge as an important characteristic for the future state of real-time communication and collaboration apps within the enterprise. 

While twitter, yammer, socialcast and identi.ca have been leading the charge of flow-ready micro-blogging solutions, start-ups (e.g. workstreamer) and existing players (e.g. socialtext, Jive, Alfresco) are embracing a flow-ready solution for enterprise users.

James Dellow comments on Jon Mell's coverage of Signals from Socialtext and offers his thoughts on what might be the basic design considerations for building a generic activity streaming application.

"In theory then, there should be no reason why any modern Web 2.0 influenced messaging, wiki, collaboration or Web content management system couldn't all offer the same style of desktop applications. So this morning I was thinking about what if we were to build a generic desktop activity stream application, what design considerations might we need to think about?

    • Do we support a single microblogging APIs, just RSS/ATOM or multiple methods?
    • Should it also help out as an email and calendaring notifier, and instant messaging widget (like theGoogle Talk Labs Edition)? Maybe also the ability to start a voice or video call with someone.
    • Should we provide support for multiple user or enterprise defined channels (like the way Social Textseparate "Signals" messages and other activity) or a single combined activity feed?
    • Should you be able to taken action on the stream without opening the Web-browser interface? And should we be able to book mark and tag items from the stream for future reference?
    • Do you aggregate all the activity data in a central place or on the user's desktop?
    • Do we develop our activity widget as a traditional fat client application or build it as a Rich Internet Application (e.g. Adobe AIR)?

Personally, I think the first three points might depend on user and organisational requirements. However, for the last two I think it would make sense to provide a cross-platform tool and to centralise feed and activity data for users that use different devices to access their stream. Of course in attempting the design a generic tool the whole design starts to sound quite complicated, but it shouldn't if we keep to open standards and make it extendable (this deals with the first three points more elegantly). It would also be nice to perhaps think of this as the next generation messaging tool that has the potential to finally push the old email client into the background where it belongs.

It is clear to me that future enterprise applications will embrace real-time flow-based messaging capabilities to improve collaboration and social interactions.

While most solutions today ride "above the flow" of work processes, I believe success and market share will belong to social flow-based messaging applications that are embedded in the work flow of the enterprise user.

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