- February
Posted By : Adrian Chan
Action streams: a blue sky proposal

Update: The recent launch of Google+ and twitter’s imminent UX redesign got me thinking that it might be worth reposting this concept for Action Streams. Most of our social services are currently structured as feeds, or streams. Primary organization of content consumption is chronological. The system is biased in favor of the now, or realtime use.

But given that most of these feeds deliver a form of talk, not of information plain and simple, it’s plausible that neither a chronological temporality nor the feed itself offers an optimum user experience.

This proposal outlines an alternative: essentially, status and activity updates (in this case, shared among social networks) enhanced by actions and coupled to addressees. Actions would be post or activity specific. An invitation item, for example, would be printed to screen with action buttons for Yes | Maybe | No. And like Google+, posts could be targeted to recipients. State would have to be maintained on posts so that participants could receive changes in realtime.

It’s worth noting that action streams could be implemented theoretically internally to a social network, or by means of shared standards (like activity streams) among cooperating social networks.

For reference purposes, Tantek Celik has a clear and more technical post on Web Actions that addresses a similar design interest. The key difference between my action streams and his web actions is that the actions I outline are social: that is, they are not actions on an activity update itself, but social actions that are completed by other users.

[This is the key difference between activity streams and action streams: activity stream updates are unilateral user activities. Activities such as uploading photos or tagging friends. Action stream updates are a form of talk in which a message, a referent, and social action combine in a supple and distributable unit of interaction.]


Original post:

Last fall after visiting with the activity streams group I spent a bit of time brainstorming what I’m calling action streams. As I lack the resources to pursue the idea for any meaningful length of time, I’m tossing it into the open here. (6 pp pdf).

The basic idea is for a distributed and decentralized stream schema that would permit posts not only to share activity updates across social networks, but to enable action within and around those posts also. Think twitter with buttons. An invite comes into the twitter stream, and Seesmic renders it with buttons so that you can reply with accept, decline, or maybe.

Posts could of course accommodate many different formats, including commercial and transactional formats. State would have to be captured and shared across posts where they appear, in as realtime as possible. I have no technical insight into the feasibility of this, so I can offer little more here than a breakdown of the idea.

If this were possible, it would make for an interesting evolution in streams overall. No longer would status updates be reports of activity, statements and messages incapable of hooking up to actions. Actions would be possible inline with the post and use simple UI elements as commonly used today. We could actually do stuff with our posts. And get system confirmation of activity at the other end.

Social and conversational implications of cross-referenced activity streams

Action streams: A new idea for social networks



  • Interesting idea…it would seem to require that each post enter the stream with a packet of metadata (I am an invitation, I am an advertisement, I am a news story, etc.). In some cases, these could be added automatically depending on the origin of the source, in others as a result of authors adding their own tags and finally via AI parsing. Of course spammers would game this system, so the solution would have to be really smart to be useful 😉

  • Yep. I'm seeing a format in which the status update/tweet is essentially a text field around which are additional UI elements permitting the update to be useful and by means of which it would be identified as a type of statement/request/invitation/question/recommendation or so on. And then rendered at the other end, using shared formats such as accomplished by activitystrea.ms

  • Exactly. And continuing the riff, I think that the avatar can play a role in the UI, being the perfect metaphor for “me” and therefore as “me and my invitation”. Did you notice how in Wave the presence LED, usually found on the roster is placed on the avatar?

    I'm a bit obsessed with avatars of late 🙂 To wit, I have just launched a little experiment with what I have dubbed pixelated metadata, http://www.twavatars.com . I would be honored if you were to have a look and tell me what you think. (It's the same tool that @kevinmarks used on his latest twavatar…)

    Your comments on the Tummelvision show with respect to the subject of faces were excellent, so I get the feeling that you can see where this is heading.

  • I've started documenting this idea here:


    Feel free to contribute!

  • Love the idea! I've been working in the field of B2B / B2C / business application for more than a decade, and this could work – and should, being a Twitterholic myself

    Don't have much time now so just leaving this here, basically what's needed is global uniqueness for senders and recipients (i.e. users), actions and activities and posts (i.e. messages). You're jumping from idea to UI, steps in between should be technical and functional

    Sure as heck would rock though, although The Bounce (auto-reply-to-all) is a potential killer

  • Awesome Chris — I have more to contribute. I spent a while looking into this after coming up with the idea. Nice to see it getting traction!

  • No doubt there would be challenges. But the payoff to everyone involved, if we can move from one-way and isolated updates to a world of updates/responses specified by action meta structure and data would rock indeed!

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