Archive for December, 2011

November was my 6th month of #noemail and people have learned well how to reach me by means other than email. I think my “vacation” message offering the many alternatives to email helped a lot on this front. As you will see from my deep analysis of the 12 Gmail Priority Messages that I received, no one wrote me angry messages or felt the need to explain to me why I must use email (save one sender).

I divide email-ers into four categories:

  1. evil robots – These send the most email by volume and the least useful email. We call them “spammers” as does Gmail which generally does a great job of dumping these complete time wasters into the Spam Folder. And my favorite email to hate — email that responds to my vacation message with “WARNING This is a Send Only Account” — and one most often that escapes the Spam Filter. Nonetheless, occasionally email that mattered (to me in the past) would end up in the Spam Folder causing me to look into this garbage pail. Of my — and of most others — mail, this amounted 90% of the mail received.
  2. well-meaning robots – Listservs that you always meant to read or forgotten that you subscribed to, Offers from sites you forgot to opt out of, Political messages that were important in some contexts, Alerts telling you about what you just ordered, Alerts about shipping dates for what you just ordered, Confirmations, Reminders of things you wish you could forget, More special offers that you might possibly want some day. These are usually in the non-Priority Inbox in Gmail — again Gmail is very helpful this way — and amount to about 80% of the non-Spam/non-evil robot email.
  3. well-meaning people – They think about 20 plus of their pals want attachments about their family, about fake church signs, about their political causes, about Groupon, about the last message they sent (as in “I want to make sure everyone got this. Some folks email programs blocked it last time”). They want to set up a meeting (I refer them to Gcalendar in my “vacation” message). They have Replied All to some one else’s message inappropriately. They want to collaboratively edit a document (It’s attached. It’s in an ancient version of Word. Or if from a lawyer friend in WordPerfect. Or worse in one case in the past 6 months — a PDF!); I refer them to Gdocs for this. Do not send attachments. Period. No excuses. No Exceptions. Share your pictures on Flickr, Smugmug, Picasa, or Facebook, please.

    Arranging meetings deserves a paragraph of its own. A committee of a dozen people doesn’t need to “send your available dates to the list and be sure to ReplyAll;” we should learn to use Doodle and we’ll all be happier and more efficient. Sign up. Check off your availability. Set the date for the meeting. Done. #noemail needed.

    Overall, well meaning people’s messages account for about 98% of the email not sent by robots.

  4. Real messages from real people with real requirements – I received 12 emails during the month of November that qualified as “Real messages from real people with real requirements.” Of those half solved their problem or concern themselves within a few hours of sending the message and didn’t follow up with any of the alternative suggestions from my vacation responder. Three almost immediately contacted me by Twitter or Facebook or LinkedIn or Google+. One called me on my phone.

    Two were from a friend in a higher level administrative postion who also sent me Facebook messages to tell me that he had sent me email. We are still friends — so far. (I know you are taunting me, but I resist even naming you here).

Most regular correspondents have already migrated to #noemail solutions.

Final tally. About 100 non-Spam emails/day. About 20 of those per day were from well-meaning people. And of the 3,000 non-Spam emails received in November, 0.4% were Priority and from real people with real requirements. Or about 3 per week.

Happy #noemail New Year.

Thanks to Rebecca Radish who sends, via Twitter, a link to this NPR story, “Analyze This: You Wrote How Many Emails This Year?” The sweet little app requires Gmail but promises interesting results and insights to those who dare look at their own email habits.

Felix Salmon writing for Reuters in an article just published as “How social networks beat email” reports:

My work email account, in particular, is a nightmare: it’s 95% unsolicited PR pitches and 4% internal emails going out to enormous distribution lists which I have no interest in at all. Which means I have to go to a lot of effort to find the 1% of emails that I actually want to read. There’s got to be a better way.

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Steve Gillmor of Gillmor Gang writes in TechCrunch about “Remembering Email” which is much like remembering the magic of Top 40 Radio or maybe the first clear FM stations. Steve notes that notifications have taken over his attention and ours, but even more the attention of our kids.
Readers of this blog won’t be surprised by this. Short, fast, highly interactive, mobile. That’s the future of messaging. And that ain’t email. And in case, you haven’t noticed that ain’t even voice anymore. Kids text more than voice and more than email. Many of us older folks do as well. The trend lines are set and the practices of business are changing (again see this blog).
Email puts knowledge in siloed inboxes; social (as Luis Suarez has been saying) makes knowledge more open, additive and makes us all richer. The business case, at least internally, is clear.
Steve notices that email serves most often as the default way to notify us of social updates. But, as he also notices, the new robust iOS notifications do a much better job. Those changes sent many folks running to shut off email notifications and get the notification clutter out of the inbox and on the palm top where they are Short, fast, highly interactive, mobile
Steve has additional observations about authority, command and control, sharing, and even the privacy of direct messages.
All good. Email contains the seeds of its own destruction. “The reason email will disappear is because it is the single most effective tool for moving to social.” Once that bridge is effectively crossed, we’ll burn it behind us.

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Atos world headquarters
Atos SA CEO Thierry Breton really opened the #noemail discussion to a wider audience with his announcement that Atos, one of the world’s largest technology companies, would put an end to internal email within 18 months. Perhaps the most amazing thing about the Press Release is that it is dated February 7, 2011 and is just this week making news and getting reactions. Less surprising is that the report is fairly clear and terse and to the point — yet, the interpretation of that release has been uniformly misread, misunderstood, and misreported.

Here’s the gist in a quote from the release:

In line with [Atos Origin]‘s Wellbeing at Work Programme launched in 2009 to support its goal of being one of the best places to work, [Atos] has implemented a number of initiatives to improve communication and information sharing across its organization For example, it is encouraging the use of tools such as Office Communicator and has set up social community platforms to share and keep track of ideas on subjects from innovation and Lean Management through to sales. Initial feedback is that these type of tools reduce email by between 10 and 20% immediately.

Information overload – the facts:

  • By 2013, more than half of all new digital content will be the result of updates to, and editing of existing information
  • Online social networking is now more popular than email and search
  • Middle managers spend more than 25% of their time searching for information
  • 2010 : Corporate users receive 200 mails per day, 18% of which is spam

So far so good. But after a panic and overreaction this past week, Thierry Breton was on BBC explaining the program largely by quoting or restating the same information that can be found in the February 2011 press release.

One thing not much noticed in the US press is that the driver for #noemail isn’t a capricious decision by Breton, but a suggestion from an employee-run study group. The company is made up of young people and getting younger as it grows. As studies cited earlier in this blog show, the kids don’t get email. Especially clunkers like Outlook.

This is part of a global initiative that we initiated in ATOS almost three years ago called “Wellbeing At Work” – a knowledge network made up of new talents in the company.

Their mission, in addition to their normal job, is to provide new ideas to enhance working conditions.

They put on the table the fact that most of the young people that we were hiring were not using email anymore after graduating from universities.

They were instead mainly using instant messaging tools and social networks like Facebook – and for most of them, when they joined Atos it was first time they had ever worked with internal email tools like [Microsoft] Outlook.

One note of clarity and of amusement: Breton supports external email (clarifying part). His email as posted on his bio page is more-info@atos.net a generic company email addy.

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Much of the media is jazzed about Thierry Breton’s decision to end corporate email within Atos SA in the next 18 months. Can he do it? Is he sane? What will come of it if it does work? And hey, we did that already ourselves.

In this last camp are: Klick in INC’s “The Company That Outlawed Email”, BonitaSoft in GigaOM as Email in the enterprise: entering its twilight at 40? and How We Killed Email: To Save Time and Sanity. The second by BonitaSoft CEO Miguel Valdes Faura and third by Josh Smith of GotToBeMobile and Notebooks offer suggestions for alternatives and productivity enhancers that would be quite helpful to anyone embarking on a corporate #noemail campaign.

Joe Mortis - #noemail

The New York Times catches the #noemail wave in their Room for Debate blog with the cleverly rhymed “Should Workplaces Curtail E-Mail?”. Here four experts or at least four people with vested opinions write short provocative essays to give rise to a spirited discussion or just troll for responses. Email or #noemail experts offered are:

Nicholas G. Carr author of “The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains” and a lecturer on no email and no social networking who uses underdeveloped brain research to argue that Google/Internet/email makes us stupid(er). In his piece “Put the Cost Back in Communication,” Carr argues predictably that distractions — email and social media make you stupid(er).

William Powers, the author of “Hamlet’s BlackBerry: Building a Good Life in the Digital Age,” has a twitter handle @HamletsBB. He’s not worried about his brain changing — he can quote Plato still — but he is concerned that we need both connectedness and disconnectedness. A basic “let’s use technology appropriately” argument. How could that go wrong? In some ways, it’s Nicholas Carr lite. In his essay, “The Phony ‘Zero E-Mail’ Alarm,” Power praises connectedness and warns of overload citing Jonathan Spira’s “Overload! How Too Much Information is Hazardous to Your Organization” for support. Finally, Power suggests that we meet Face to Face. In full disclosure, I can say that I’m closest to Power’s position (so far).

Peggy Duncan, an Atlanta-based personal productivity expert and Outlook consultant, and the author of “Conquer Email Overload with Better Habits, Etiquette and Outlook 2007″ thinks the technology is just fine. People need to change. It’s so simple. Their brains aren’t changing, but they should be changed. People should follow the rules and suggestions in her book. Or hire her as a consultant. Get rid of face to face; let employees “meet with their in inboxes instead.” Peggy, you had me at Outlook. Srzly?

That leaves us with my ole pal and #noemail pioneer Luis Suarez aka @elsua. Luis as readers of this blog know is a social computing evangelist at IBM, helping to accelerate the adoption of social networking tools as business tools. And Luis has been off corporate email and on social media solutions since 2008. You might expect that Luis would make a strong case for #noemail. But you would be wrong. Luis instead cautions against being too rash or too quick to kick out email in his essay “What We Would Miss.” As much as I respect Luis, I feel he is too moderate in his message especially given that this is a debate. True that Carr and Power aren’t taking the side of email at all. But neither are they exactly on the side of the move to social media. Luis and I have long had a disagreement about email as the best way for a private interchange (he says it is and I say you gotta be kidding, DM or SMS or other messaging is better for this) and to schedule meetings (he says it is and I say you gotta be kidding, use a shared calendar or Doodle.com).

Unlike the other authors, Luis responds to every comment that is at least half sane. Props to Luis! He is social. He is doing the work. He is not even selling a book. As a result, Luis’ thread is by far the best read of the debate. Social rules! Especially when lead by and experienced social media communicator.

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