Thursday was Activities day at Lotusphere. Activity-Centric Collaboration day, that is. There were three consecutive sessions scheduled INV302 , ID207 and AD404 . I blew off Gurupalooza in order to attend the last of them, but as I mentioned before I even left for Lotusphere, the activity-centric collaboration stuff was amongst the top three things on my list for this conference, plus from what I had already picked up in the lab it was obvious that IBM's strategy is intertwining Activities with social software concepts -- which was another one of the top three; and activities are going to be (IMHO) the major feature of Hannover -- which was the third of the top three on my list. So all three of these sessions were on my Must See list.
I've been involved in the electronic messaging and collaboration software business for more than 20 years now, and I can say with complete confidence that activities are the single biggest change in the way we organize and manage collaboration in all that time. Activities are a self-service system that allow creation of ad hoc private collaboration spaces for accomplishing and tracking a specific goal. They collect diverse types of data into a threaded representation of work making progress toward the goal. Activity-centric collaboration breaks the barrier of containers, e.g., the mail files, chat archives, forums, teamspaces, Notes databases, Quickplaces, blogs or wikis where we had to go in order to collaborate. Unlike Kubi, which basically threw in the towel and said "the mail file is the container for collaboration", activity-centric collaboration says "there are lots of containers for collaboration, and we can't be contrained by the limits of any one of them". There is, technically-speaking, a container for activity information so while I'm tempted to coin the term "containerless collaboration" as a way to better communicate one of the key benefits of the activity-centric model, I'm actually leaning more toward "unconstrained collaboration".
I will be writing a lot more about activity-centric collaboration soon. In fact, I've even just registered ActivityExplorations.com as a new domain with the intention of starting a new blog devoted exclusively to this subject. For now, though, here's a simple bullet list of information gleaned from the three sessions, along with some of my own observations.
IBM defines activities as "The relationships between people, the artifacts they work on, and the communication and coordination and the business processes they use to complete their work". That's a bit of a mouthful, and I think the word "artifacts" is a bit too much of a leftover from the academic research roots of this technology. On the other hand, at least it isn't "objects"
The central organizing motif is the work you do, rather than the tools you use.
Activity Explorer is released in WCS 2.6. All I wrote down is the acronym, but if I've got my IBM lingo right, that's Workplace Collaboration Services 2.6. This is now on top of my list of things to figure out how to install so I can start working with it. Notes 7 integration -- and 6.x, too, I believe -- is through a SmartIcon that sends notes:// URLs to the Activity service. This isn't quite the drag-and-drop level of doclink integration that I jumped up and down and sang about last year, but it's still a great solution. And, I'm told, btw, that the drag-and-drop will be there in Hannover -- which will put the notes:// URL on the clipboard! Yeehah! And a big thanks to Miguel Estrada and to the various other IBMers who listened to me about this and have made it happen.
In addition to the Workplace cleint and Notes integration, there is integration with MS Word or any other scriptable application that has access to an HTTP API, and that's of course do the the fact that there's a browser interface. A simple bookmarklet allows any web page to be added to an Activity.
IBM has added tagging to activities, which brings them into alignment with key concepts being popularized in the social software field. This is a good thing.
Notifications of state changes in activities go out via IM broadcasts. This is a good thing. An option to get notifications via email instead, however, might be a good thing, too. Better yet, an option such that if I'm on-line I get an IM broadcast, otherwise I get an email (but no more than one email per day) would be ideal.
There is an Activities Dashboard that shows an overview of all my current activities. Navigation is quick and easy via tags and via people's names.
When want you add something to an activity via a URL command, a web form is displayed. It's a simple form, which is good, but at this point it is too simple. For example, if you select "New" instead of an existing activity, the tags that you have already specified for the new item really ought to be copied into the tags field for the new activity -- or there should at least be a "copy" button. And after you save the activity, the confirmation page should have a link that will open the dashboard and take you to the activity you just created/modified.
There's some cool AJAX-y stuff that goes on. For example, when you're looking at the display of an activity thread and someone else starts working on one of the items that is part of the activity, a presence-like colored icon lights up to tell you what's happening.
There is a "Done" button for an activity. It's not clear to me whether there is an "I'm done even though other people aren't" button, which I think would be a good thing. I also think there should be a "Suspend" button for those occasions where an activity isn't done, but it goes on the back burner for a while.
Activities support Atom and RSS feeds for syndication, and Atom's publishing protocol for updates, and everything is exposed through a REST API.
Forms integration is on the list for future work, but bear in mind that any Notes document can be included in an activity today, so there's a certain level of forms integration that's already in the product.
The concept of sub-activiites was mentioned, but if it was actually shown anywhere I must have missed it. What I gather is that sub-activities allow access control for different work items to be limited to subsets of all the people with access to the overall activity. It's also probably another level that one can apply tagging to.
In addition to tagging, social networking concepts are being applied in other aspects of the product. For instance, there is a "related people" list that seems to be generated by extending out the network from an activity's access list.
I do see some potential for user confusion with activities, and I'm not sure how to avoid it. The activity has a life of it's own, and it includes the ability to add response messages within the activity -- essentially annotating the artifacts that have been brought into the activity from various collaboration containers. The confusion is this: if I'm in an activity thread and I'm pointing to a Notes document and I decide to reply, I may indeed want to be adding a reply within the context of the activity thread, but I might really want to be adding a reply document within the Notes database container that the document came from. And there's a vice versa problem if I actually open the Notes document from within the activity. The Notes application may offer a reply button on its action bar, but I might really want to be replying only in the context of the activity thread.
1. Gerco Wolfswinkel01/29/2006 02:59:46 PM
Great summary Richard, much appreciated. I agree on the importance of this shift, and I've blogged about it in Dutch a couple of weeks ago. And, I have also visited the labs, and am quite impressed with the directions IBM is taking with this stuff. Some real nice alpha products, there.
by the way, you play a mean piece of guitar
2. Ingo Erdmann01/31/2006 01:24:12 AM
Just to clarify: All you saw in AD404 will be released with Hannover and WCS/WMC 3.0. You will not see any of those features in 2.6.
It is true that Activity Explorer is released with WMC 2.6, but from a functionality standpoint that is not in any way comparable to what IBM has in the plans for Hannover.
3. Wes Morgan01/31/2006 11:28:49 AM
I think that your comments concerning the advent of activity-centric collaboration are spot on - it's precisely the right way to go.
Given that, I think that the notion of "role-based awareness" may become an important piece of the equation. There will undoubtedly be those persons within the enterprise who neither know my name or care to know it (at first), but will have a business imperative to drill down to "Team Lead for <activity>" or "Technical Contact for <project activity>", as the case may be.
I think that extending awareness from simple identity (e.g. "Wes Morgan is online") to the roles we play in various activities (e.g. "Network Architect for Project Caffeinate" or "Support Lead for <customer name>") will give a whole new twist to our notions of "community" and "contact."
ps> It's mere coincidence that I was pushing "role-based awareness" five years ago. *laugh*
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