A little of what I learned about #noemail so far.
- Learn from others. Luis Suarez of In Living A World Without Email was a inspiration and eventually a friend. His posts and his four years at IBM without email helped me think about how to appy his experiences to my own experiment. Donald Knuth is always an inspiration, but his experience of abandoning email entirely was less useful to me. A European group called , “We Quit Email” while pretty quiet since its conception and mostly in Dutch, added an additional perspective.
- It’s a great idea to start telling folks early about your plans to go #noemail. I started several months in advance talking to my family, my Deans and my colleagues about my plans. I also chatted some about the idea to my current (at the time) students.
I started with an auto-responder/vacation/away message one month in advance of going #noemail telling folks about my plans and offering many various alternatives — perhaps too many and too various — and offering to accept suggestions of additional alternatives.
- Some people deserve and should get a more tailored explanation and warning. I specifically contacted the students who has signed up for our fall class — also early on.
- Make some public announcements via the alternatives. I didn’t make a YouTube video, but I did make early announcements on Twitter, Facebook, Quora, Diaspora, LinkedIn and on this blog. Later on, I did some lengthy interviews with OpenSource.com and with ReeseNews.org.
- Alternatives can and should be flexible, changeable and even in some cases abandoned. When I started #noemail, Google Plus wasn’t announced. I added that service as an alternative soon after the announcement. I’ll likely drop a few of the alternatives that have yet to be used by anyone to contact me
- Do monitor the alternatives that you’ve suggested heavily at least for the first few weeks. People need to know that you are serious about the alternatives; not just abandoning all communication with them.
- Browers tabs are your friend. I created one browser instance, in my case Chrome, with a tab for each of the alternatives that I had suggested in my Away message. I kept the browser minimized for most of the day to reduce my distractions.
- I looked for some good alternatives for Listserv reading and rediscovered RSS. Most Listservs support reading by RSS feeds which are much better organized and much better for reading than having a ton of messages dumped into my inbox — even with filters and folders and the like. Unfortunately Mailman, a favorite Open Source listserving option, doesn’t support RSS in any easy way. Lyris, currently used by UNC, does but not in a very easy to understand way (I blogged about how to get that to work below).
Some lists are archived on blogs or other sites that have their own RSS feeds.
- Trouble tickets and customer services are better dealt with by online forms or services like GetSatisfaction. I plan to do a blog post on this in the future. We’ve not used email for trouble tickets at ibiblio for several years nor do many others. Spam is only part of the problem. Applying some structure to trouble tickets helps them be solved more quickly and effectively. Solving the problems openly ala GetSatisfaction increases satisfaction.
- Use OpenID, GoogleID, Facebook and/or Twitter to join new sites. Email is often required to join a site, make an order etc, but these alternatives are offered by most that I’ve dealt with since going #noemail and they work great. They certainly reduced my cognitive load for handling ids and passwords. Confirmations and resulting announcements from sites really fill up my inbox even though I work hard to turn off those options and/or opt out, like zombies they keep coming. #noemail fixes that problem nicely.
- Phones are fine. So is Face-to-Face. Some people, particularly those who have a serious and real difficulty, really need to have a meeting over coffee, in the office or at least a phone call. Our email instinct is often to try to hash things out in asynchronous messages. IMs and/or video conferences are better than email, but when folks are anxious or passionate or aggrieved the more open, personal and interactive you can be the better.
- The most resistant demographic to #noemail are those people between 50 and 65 years old. Not everyone between 50 and 65, but you’ll find many of them. They may need other alternatives — see phone and Face-to-Face.
- The most vocally resisting group are, unsurprisingly, those who make a living directly or indirectly via email. Those who run a business dealing with mailing management, advising folks about email newsletters, managing contacts, managing email services, and certain systems administrators who are responsible for email and messaging. I’m in sympathy with many of these folks as I’d been the postmaster for UNC for many years (see posts below). But spurious claims about the superior security and control offered email undercut their objections drastically. The argument isn’t really about technology, but about emotion. As Upton Sinclair once observed, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”