As people use various different web sites to blog, update their status, post their location, or photos, sites and tools have emerged to aggregate these various actions into a continuous eclectic stream of activities.
Such activities typically involve a subject (the person doing the activity), a verb (what the "doing" is of the activity), and often a direct object (what the activity is being done to or with). Activity stream aggregators typically republish activities in reverse chronological order, independent of type of activity.
Friendfeed is perhaps the most well known web site that does cross site activity aggregation/publication, and Movable Type has built-in support for aggregation/publication of activity streams as of v4.1.
For more examples, see the DiSo wiki activity streams page.
The type and variety of activities that services support and publish is growing every month. Services like Friendfeed and tools like Movable Type must either be continuously updated with one-off per service implementation support, or provide nothing more than lowest common denominator feed aggregation and publication.
If activity streams were published in an open standard format then activity stream aggregators that supported such an open format would automatically support any new standards supporting activity stream services without having to play the continuous one-off proprietary API implementation catch-up game. In addition, new activity publishers would be less beholden to trying to reimplement others' proprietary APIs (and all the giving up control to a likely competitor problems that arise from that practice).
Feeds (and related formats, RSS, rfc-4287, hAtom 0.1) solve most of the problems of activity streams. Movable Type 4.1's activity stream publishing support already supports hAtom 0.1 today for example.
The subject of an activity is nearly always the author of a feed.
The direct object of an activity is typically an item or entry in a feed.
apparent need and focus
Thus the only remaining piece that seems to be missing to standardize is the verb aspect of an activity.
Thus, per the microformats The microformats process: