Continuing with my posts about the Knowledge Hub (Beta release in April 2011):
I wanted to touch on another of the key features being delivered by the new system, the ‘Social Graph’ and ‘Activity Stream’. These are intimately related and hence it makes sense to discuss them as one feature or capability.
A social graph in its broadest context is the mapping of everyone and how they are related. The term is usually used to refer to online identities, e.g. as used within social networks.
As of 2011, the largest social graph in the world is Facebook’s, which contains the largest number of defined relationships between the largest number of people among all websites due to the fact that it is the most widely used social networking service in the world. (Source: Wikipedia).
Concern has focused on the fact that Facebook’s social graph is owned by the company and is not shared with other services, giving it a major advantage over other services and disallowing its users to take their graph with them to other services if they wish to do so, such as when a user is dissatisfied with Facebook. Google, has attempted to offer a solution to this problem by creating the Social Graph API, released in January 2008, which allows websites to draw publicly available information about a person to form a portable identity of the individual, in order to represent a user’s online identity.
You can see what your Facebook social graph looks like by adding the Social Graph App. Mine looks like this:
If you’re a member of the LinkedIn network (an open standards network), you can generate your own social graph here.
Mine looks like this:
The first release of the Knowledge Hub will not support a graphical representation as shown in the examples above, but the system itself will maintain the data representation, which will be used for managing the activity stream described below. A graphical representation will be considered for a future release.
The Knowledge Hub is an open platform that is adopting Open Standards wherever relevant and possible. We will be exploring the use of Friend Of A Friend (FOAF) standards for creating a Web of machine-readable pages describing people, the links between them and the things they create and do. FOAF defines an open, decentralised technology for connecting social Web sites, and the people they describe.
The activity stream is a chronologically ordered list of activities of ‘friends’ or contacts that have been mapped to the ‘Social Graph’ for each individual user. Facebook users will no doubt be familiar with the activity stream (referred to as the ‘News Feed’ in Facebook) showing what their friends are doing and saying. Only people who are in the user’s social graph (i.e. those who have been confirmed as ‘friends’) will show up in the activity stream.
Any and all actions are logged in the activity stream such as writing or commenting on a blog, uploading a document or photo, confirming attendance at a meeting, joining a new workspace or group etc. The system will automatically create an activity stream (or ‘digital footprint’) for each user, based on the actions they carry out. Each user will see an aggregated stream of activities for all of the people in their social graph, and for the workspaces that they have joined. Filters will be available for showing the activities for a specific user (who must be either part of your social graph or a member of one of the workspaces you have joined), or updates from the members of a workspace to which you belong, or just your own updates (a ‘Me’ filter). It will also be possible to block updates from a specific user, e.g. if you find their activities irrelevant or overwhelming!
So, what’s the benefit of all of this?
Activity streams are ubiquitous to any social network; I’ve mentioned Facebook, but they are also present in LinkedIn, Friendfeed, Twitter and just about any other social network you can mention. The activity stream provides information and intelligence about events that are likely to be relevant to a user and the broader workspace.community members. The user’s social graph is built up over time and includes people who the user has specifically identified as ‘people of interest’, for example:
- a shared interest or hobby
- working for the same organization
- working in the same location or region
- having a similar job
- an expert in a topic you are following
- a thought leader
We expand our networks and our knowledge by social interaction, i.e. we learn from others. When we’re in meetings we pick up lots of information from the tacit conversations we have with our colleagues. The activity streams we see in these virtual spaces are fulfilling a similar function, albeit far more powerful, because we can pick up on ALL the conversations and activities from a group as opposed to just the people we have had the time to talk to in a meeting.
For example, how useful might it be to know that your colleague had just joined a community of practice that you were completely unaware of, but given you both have similar jobs is likely to be as relevant to you as it is to your colleague? Or to know that another colleagues have just posted information about a conference that is looks highly relevant to you?
There are many other tools, facilities and capabilities embedded into the Knowledge Hub, but in my opinion, the most powerful and useful of them all is the activity stream, because it provides the ‘glue’ that links otherwise unconnected actions and events together, providing both a lens and a filter on the things that are most likely to be of interest to you.
For the next Knowledge Hub post I’ll talk about some of the exciting developments around the App Store.
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