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.
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:
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.
While some like Observer (UK) writer John Naughton are LOLing over Mark Zuckerberg’s observation that email is dead,” others, like Atos SA (Europe’s Largest IT Company) CEO Theirry Breton are kicking email out of their companies.
“The email is no longer the appropriate (communication) tool. The deluge of information will be one of the most important problems a company will have to face (in the future). It is time to think differently.”
“Companies must prepare for the new wave of usage and behaviour”
Obvious statements to folks reading this blog or who have since shutoff email themselves.
Not that everyone agrees. Dudley Dawson at examiner.com composed a long whine about Breton including a critic of his English (or of the translator’s version of Breton. I await to read with some anticipated glee Dawson’s French postings.) Dawson raises many points, misfiring on each and misinterpreting all while missing the main point — collaboration and social are less served by email.
But with Atos and IBM both pushing for #noemail workplaces, Naughton’s claim that “[T]he main reason young people don’t use email is that they haven’t yet joined the world of work” becomes more empty and obviously reactionary and tired. Work at great companies isn’t about getting stuck in unproductive technologies but about pressing forward to a more efficient and productive future — without email.
Ping ponging back and forth between experts on social media — Zuckerberg is pictured with his vision of better messaging’s somewhat redundant six points — informal, immediate, personal, simple, minimal and short — Graham recounts very briefly the history of email name-checking @ sign promulgator Ray Tomlinson in the process.
Overdue attention is given to MIME creator Nathaniel Borenstein. Borenstein notes that email use continues to grow and rues the slow uptake that IBM’s LotusLive has seen. Graham notes that until recently Borenstein was an IBM employees working on LotusLive. Borenstein became chief scientist at email management company, Mimecast, in June 2010
Who speaks for social? Lee Bryant, co-founder of Headshift, the world’s biggest social business consultancy (according to Graham). I wonder what he will say. “He believes email’s dominance over business communications is coming to an end.” Since he’s based his business on this, I guess so.
But setting the snark aside for a paragraph or two, I agree with Bryant as he opines:
“I think we’ve reached the stage where email as means of communicating is overloaded. I think we will see what happens on email today transitioning towards various kinds of both internal and consumer facing social tools.”
For a finale, Graham turns to Dave Coplin, head of Microsoft’s Envisioneers team. The guy who works for a company heavily invested in email solutions — Outlook, Exchange and HotMail — and famously unsuccessful at anything social can’t find anything wrong with email. Social media is just a “shiny new penny.” The Envisoneer is no Imagineer. He cannot speak publicly in a way that would disrupt his company. He does in the course of the discussion utter a keen observation: “I think that email is dead when it comes to social media in the same way that snail mail was dead when it came to email.”
Perhaps he’s still writing letters in the way we wrote them in 1960 or sending postcards as frequently. Maybe he hasn’t noticed that the USPS is seeing a precipitous drop in first class mail usage. Heck, we don’t even get billed on paper any more. Yes, I agree with the Softie: snail mail is diminished and fading like AM radio. Email will soon follow.
Aditya Johri. (Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA, USA) Look ma, #noemail !: blogs and IRC as primary and preferred communication tools in a distributed firm. CSCW ‘11 – Proceedings of the ACM 2011 conference on Computer supported cooperative work. Pages 305-308.
Email has been the primary communication medium in organizations for decades and despite studies that demonstrate its obvious disadvantages, the prevailing thinking is that email is irreplaceable. In this paper I challenge that view through a field study of a distributed firm that is highly successful in developing and delivering products without regular use of email in the workplace. Group blogging and IRC were the primary tools used and they allowed improved coordination and knowledge sharing compared to email. This paper contributes to scant literature in CSCW on firm-level technology use.
If you E-mail Paul Jones, you will receive an auto-response explaining why the journalism professor at University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill (UNC) quit using E-mail on June 1, 2011—and why there must be a better way to communicate.
In a phone interview, Jones says he stopped E-mailing because his inbox was clogged by computer-generated spam.
“When I started using E-mail 25 years ago, I sent mail to people, and people sent mail to me,” he says. “Now Amazon sends me mail telling me I just ordered a book. I know I just ordered a book, you idiot, I still have the browser open!”
Some recent research suggests that college students may increasingly share Jones’s view of E-mail as “a complete time sink.” A 2010 Pew Internet report finds that 11 percent of 12-to-17-year-olds exchange daily E-mails with friends, and 54 percent text message daily. A white paper released in early 2011 by the Internet marketing research company, comScore, charts a 59 percent decline in E-mail use by 12-to-17-year-olds in 2010.
But according to the recently released National Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology, which surveyed 3,000 students at 1,179 colleges and universities, 39 percent of respondents wish their professors used E-mail more often, and 75 percent send or receive an average of 25 E-mails a day.
In the course of the article, I offer more advice about managing email in college including: Don’t use it, Let others read it instead, and Unsubscribe from every listserv that you can possibly unsubscribe to. Read. Enjoy. Learn. Do.
In the last 18 months, hundreds of thousands of companies have signed up for private cloud-based social networking services such as Yammer, Chatter, Huddle and Jive — all of which are modeled after Facebook.
Today, millions of U.S. workers are using these social networking services on the job instead of e-mail, Intranet sites, wikis, blogs or other collaboration software. CIOs are reporting significant returns on their investments in these services, which cost $5 or less per user, per month.
“Social networking is really powerful because it allows people to have real conversations with each other, and it’s unfiltered,” says Chris Laping, CIO of the Denver-based Red Robin Gourmet Burger chain and a Yammer user. “It’s a great way for me to get a pulse check on the topics that people are talking about in the regions, whether it’s labor costs or food costs. …There isn’t a week that goes by that I don’t see some conversation on Yammer that I don’t think: ‘Wow, that’s interesting.’”
A lot of my colleagues express amusement when I tell them that I’ve been able to reduce my inbox from 100+ emails/day to ~20 emails/day. The first question they always ask is: “How did you do it?”
It wasn’t easy and it has taken time, but I was motivated by Luis Suarez. Luis was was interviewed by Leo Laporte and Amber MacArthur in their Net@Night show last year and is living the dream: a world without email. It was one of Luis’ webinars that introduced me to the concept of moving away from email and embracing social software.
Luis Benitez includes a SlideShare from IBM’s Louis Richardson:
Benitez also includes this terse but useful summary of Richardson’s presentation:
Richardson summarizes why a business should embrace social software over email:
Open the conversation, leverage the wisdom of the crowds
Use networks and communities to target the conversation
Easily capture intellectual capital and avoid re-inventing the wheel
And most of all: It’s Easy. Low Impact. High Value!
Great, if a bit noisy, hall interview with Luis Suarez at Jamcamp yesterday. He is down to three social networks: Twitter, Google Plus and IBM Connections (for work) –no Facebook (because he dislikes the Terms of Service).
Good insights. Including how to stay in contact with your clients without email.
Nearly 30 years ago Paul Jones began working on unified messaging systems leading from Call-OS, USENET, WYLBUR, TSO, BITNET, DARPA, ARPA to modern (for its time) SMTP mail. That was then, and this is now. Email has become a zombie that doesn’t realize that it’s dead and falling apart, a vampire that sucks your life’s blood away slowly each night. You’ve probably noticed this yourself.
Jones has put email behind him. In an attempt to atone for his part for inflicting email on UNC, he is exploring alternatives to email with a shotgun and a wooden stake (and Facebook, Twitter, Google+, etc.) as his tools.
Martin Bryant, writing at The Next Web (insider), covers the 40 years of email from the first email sent by MIT graduate Ray Tomlinson who was working at research and development firm Bolt, Beranek and Newman to the pending end of email and the coming of #noemail. Yes, Tomlinson confesses that his very first mail was likely gibberish or what we now call spam, likely “‘QWERTY’ or another string of characters”.
Spam continues to be part of the email life, if you can call that life. “Pingdom claims that 262 billion spam messages were sent daily in 2010, that’s 89.1% of all emails sent.” (emphasis added).
But the nail in the email coffin isn’t spam, but a changing culture that requires something better, faster, more personal, more mobile, more like IM, Messenger, GTalk, Facebook, and/or Google+. ” A ComScore study on 2010 digital trends in the US found that Web email usage saw an 8% year-on-year decline in 2010 overall, with a 59% decline in use among people aged between 12-17.” (again I add emphasis).
I won’t rehearse the myth of Sisyphus here. But suffice it to say that I don’t agree with Camus when he concludes his essay “The Myth of Sisyphus”:
The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.
I am happy when I play Tetris although I know that that game is only about struggle that will never end. The difference is that I decide to engage in the game myself. Sisyphus had no such choice. And I can abandon Tetris at any moment, sans the grip that the game holds on my through my own competitive nature. Again Sisyphus could not end his torment on his own.
@AndrewHyde tweets: inbox = tetris getting zero lines doesn’t win it just makes the next move easy.
Mark goes on in his article to talk about his own experiences with the illusive inbox zero and the impact of email and normalized email behaviors on his life as a VC and startup exec. Some of Mark’s insights as specific to his work (as he himself notes) but many are very useful in getting us all to do a bit more out of the (in)box thinking.
email is Tetris; not Sisyphus’ stone. There are alternatives. You can escape.
David Stewart, Yammer’s vice-president of product management, is quoted saying (with some obvious self-interest) that: “People have seen the value that social networking has provided in the consumer space. They’ve come to recognize that as that space matures … they can do this in [the] employee space as well.”“Unlike e-mail, enterprise social networks can store and keep detailed records of public exchanges between employees and track how ideas evolve. For instance, instead of e-mailing everyone in the company with a question, employees can seek answers on the network. Not only is that less intrusive than e-mail, but it also keeps a record of the response that others can reference in the future,” Stewart adds later in the article.
Despite Stewart’s position, or perhaps because the experience it gives him, the gist of his statement which I would translate as “people know how this work in their lives in general and we know that they are using social media at work even as back channels so’s let’s make it work in a way that works for all of us and can even be legally accountable as needed” is certainly true in many good ways.
Here’s hoping active and productive use of enterprise social media will be rewarded.
Two announcements from Facebook yesterday are worth highlighting.
First, Facebook announced some improvements to the ways you can organize your friends. One of the nicer features is the some friends can be grouped automagically. Say, you want to post only to friends in a certain town or other common connection. Now, Facebook promises to make that Smart. They don’t promise that Smart Friends will make your friends smart or sort out those friends that are less smart though. Either would be something grand!
Further, Smart Friends borrows from News Feed by deciding who you *really* want to interact with based on the same or very similar Top Sekrit Facebook Friend Ranking Voodoo. Facebook puts it this way:
Close Friends and Acquaintances lists – You can see your best friends’ photos and posts in one place, and see less from people you’re not as close to.
There will be more interaction between Close Friends and the News Feed. That is if you add someone as a Close Friend — yes, it’s automagic but you can manually add and remove folks too — they get more News Feed points and are more likely to show up in your Feed.
And these Circles, err Friends Lists options, can be used along with privacy settings.
Second, Facebook has promised to reduce notifications from single message to periodic updates. This is presented in this way:
We’re testing a feature for people who are very active on Facebook and receive lots of email notifications from us. We’ll provide a new summary email and turn off most individual email notifications. If you want to turn them back on, there’s a control in your account settings.
Really it’s little more than a digest feature as seen on most listservs. Still it goes a long ways for many people toward reducing annoying inbox fillers. About time. Most of us have already set our notifications to “OFF”
The worry at ReadWriteWeb is that those of us who have our settings as we like them may have them reset for us. I doubt that that will be the case.