We’ve had a busy past few months from end of semester to a summer seminar in London followed by a trip around the Balkans: Croatia > Serbia > Istanbul > Bulgaria > Serbia. It’s time to do a little catch up on the state of #noemail.
* Whilst in London, we met up with pioneer #noemail er Luis Suarez aka @elsua. Besides visiting his favorite dim sum shop, Luis offered some insight into his first steps away from email.
Luis realized that while email was touted as a way to increase cooperation and comradely interactions that it was largely being used as a way to CC higher ups on discussions in ways that actually put a damper on cooperation and decrease trusted interactions — and of course filled up everyone’s mailboxes with unnecessary reports and discussions. Team members spent more time looking over their shoulders than acting like a team as managers were flooded with with chitchat. No one was winning and most people were frustrated by the overload.
* I offered a couple of my own insights — later tweeted into the #noemail stream:
When the Buddha said you should avoid attachments, I’m sure he was referring to email and PDFs
Email is like a bunch of squirrels. Cute & amusing at first then timewasting, destructive, overmultiplying, & finally *evil*
Friends have been keeping me up on new #noemail articles:
* Joe Bob Hester sends: How useless is email? Two new studies weigh inhttp://gigaom.com/collaboration/how-useless-is-email-two-new-studies-weigh-in/ which leads us to a GigaOM piece what plays down the kind of gossip and small talk that builds social bonding. Yes there is a lot of that in email, but there it’s annoying and almost not work the cost. Unlike, say, the News Feed on Facebook or a Tweet stream both of which are designed, well-designed, for skimming and sharing in a small talk and social way. What in email is weighed toward being a time sink are positives in more social environments.
35% of all teens socialize with others in person outside of school on a daily basis.
29% of all teens exchange messages daily through social network sites.
22% of teens use instant messaging daily to talk to others.
19% of teens talk on landlines with people in their lives daily.
6% of teens exchange email daily.
Teens would rather use a land line than send email!
But Texting is the dominant daily teen communication channel. “Texting dominates teens’ general communication choices. Overall, 75% of all teens text, and 63% say that they use text to communicate with others every day.”
* Don Sizemore tells us of the need to redesign email using a “new protocol [that] should be a todo list” in a ReTweet from @hackernewsbot on Replacing Email – http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4228402. I think the hackers miss the point. There are a lot of communications protocol and even print drivers that we’ve dropped and reconceived over the years. The whole concept of email should be dropped and reinvented.
Since technology hasn’t solved the problem it has created with e-mail, it looks as if some younger people might come up with their own answer — not to use e-mail at all.
So I’m taking a cue from them.
I’ll look at my e-mail as it comes in. Maybe I’ll respond with a text, Google Chat, Twitter or Facebook message. But chances are, as with many messages sent via Facebook or Twitter, I won’t need to respond at all
Fluent, a new service that integrates with Gmail (and eventually, its creators say, with other email platforms) to deliver messages in the flowing fashion of a social media feed. The service, built by a team of former Google developers — the guys responsible for Wave, but don’t hold that against them — converts Gmail’s grids into a message-sharing service that’s more dynamic and fluid than any kind of letter-writing has been before, giving way to an inbox that’s not a box at all so much as a Twitter-like feed of information.
I think I’ve mentioned earlier that Wave was a good idea executed terribly from a social point of view (to say the least). Nonetheless I found it useful as it combined many of my styles of communicating, integrated many of the sites and environments that I used to communicate and allowed me to “slice and dice” the various threads and conversations.
I’m no longer interested in how to improve email or it’s best current implementation – Gmail — but if I were I’d be giving Fluent.io a test drive.
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.
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.
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.”
Nick Mehta writing in Mashable blames your overflowing email inbox and your desire to check in on it on — YOU! Yes, you loser, you are just too lonely, vain, anxious, and self-deceiving. Nick assumes somehow if you are social, self-effacing, calmly unparanoid and have a clear self-perception — tada! — your email problems will be solved.
Note to Nick: email comes to your inbox from somewhere other than yourself. Mostly not even from people, as I’ve seen in the past weeks are people are redirected to other more sane means of communications, but from various automatic mailings, alerts, confirmations, and the like. No psychological changes on your part will have much impact on the amount of email you receive. You may change your reading and responding habits, but there will be email as sure as the sun rises in the east.
Yes, I’m ranting this time and I hope uncharacteristically. I admit I’ve been infected with a rant-virus after having read the rants posing as comments following the WRAL interview. ;->
One of the many great things that David Christopher brought to my attention is this video on social media for business done by Red Sky Vision of UK which begins with the premise: “There is disconnect between how immersed and digitally connected employees are outside of the workplace, and how their internal communications are being delivered. On the ground, employees are still posting printed communications on the water cooler when they can be engaged, led and informed via the latest digital channel.”.
“Technology has somehow skipped the organization.” More deeply it’s about taking social to the C-Suite (as the Brits call the housing for the CxO level execs). It’s a convincing piece of work, beautiful and well-produced. Part a pitch for and to effective Internal Communicators, part a backhanded compliment to services like Yammer.
Brian Shrader of WRAL shot some footage for a #noemail story a few weeks back. He had the story ready before Google Plus was announced, so it may seem a little dated instead of forward looking. Nonetheless he did a great job including digging up some ancient email footage which some old time computer geeks will appreciate. Last night the story ran on the 6 pm news as “UNC professor tries to go email free”.
Two different former students from two different decades asked recently, “When you started #noemail, did you know that Google was going to release Plus? And how did you know what Plus would do?” Somewhere embedded in the questions is: “Did Google give you some kind of head’s up about Plus?”
My guess was that someone would do something serious to work on messaging and radically reduce the centricity of email. I knew that Facebook and Google both had projects aiming at changing the way social and messaging work. Of course, there were and are several other players working in the same areas. When I started thinking about #noemail seriously last summer just before hearing of Sheryl Sandberg’s talk at the Nielsen conference, I had already seen the software infrastructure in place or ready to be put into place with projects mentioned in this blog in the early parts of the #noemail category and in interviews with OpenSource.com and Reesenews.org. HTML5 + JSON were just too powerful and too promising to anyone interested in integrating activity streams and changing messaging.
Then as you noticed in my classes especially the one in Fall 2009, I’ve been very interested in an emerging literacy powered by vernacular video. Google+ out Skyped Skype on that — leaving out the shared screen and telephone Skype-out parts, but doing a better job of group chats and video sharing.
All this said, Google+ is only in limited field trial and will be changing as the Googlers see how we use it, how we work around the constraints, and how we define the communities and communications uses.
I expect to see something like visible Circles or cooperatively managed Circles or something to help groups communicate better — perhaps an integration of Reader+Groups with a Plus and Circles spin to it. Services to Groups (of the Facebook type rather than the Google Groups type) missing now and was done as a hack early on in Friendster, then in MySpace, then in Facebook, before each added the feature belatedly. Integration and/or a refinement of Google Groups would be one way to get there pretty quickly.
The most pressing question for me is: can we run a class in the fall using Google+ instead of other services? Groups of some sort would help on that a lot.
What Google+ has done for or to me after 5 weeks of #noemail is to answer a lot of the questions that I was trying to raise. I already am enjoying the aspects of Plus enough that I’m not upset about the learning curve and the advent of a new service.
No, I’m not returning to email as a result of Plus. Just to opposite. I may never use email again.
I’m quoted about #noemail at in the Triangle Business Journal. The article by Olivia Barrow talks about “[College and University - pj] Administrators embracing social media to reach out.” As you’ll see, I try to push the idea of interactivity rather than broadcast and of social media over email. No surprised here. I wish I could read the article but it requires a subscription and is mostly behind a paywall.
Paul Jones, a UNC journalism professor, says that although many university departments use social media, they do not put a lot of energy into having interactions with their audiences.
“The real question about whether it’s social or not is whether there’s any interaction that happens, either with them or as a result of what you put out,” Jones says.
For Jones, who wrote the code for UNC’s email service [more correctly good parts of good parts of some email services - pj], social media is the next step in the evolution of communication.
“I think university email has been obsolete,” he says. Jones no longer communicates via email. Send him an email, and an automatic reply will point you to 14 different social media sites as ways to get in touch with him.
“Tech has moved on,” he says. “It’s like horses — this is a world better built for cars. This is a world that works much better for other varieties of social interaction.”
Developers, sysadmins, coders and other members of my Geek tribe, especially open source coding geeks, get their social interactions in the process of writing code and sharing in that environment where they are much less private than in their personal lives. “Here’s my code. Judge me on that. I’ll keep my birthdate to myself.” Nothing wrong with that.
We’re all, or have been in my case, on some IRC channel, in some chatroom, using github or sourceforge or launchpad as our places for social connections and fulfillment. But more often than not, we don’t recognize that those places are our own kind of Facebook, Twitter or other services that many Geeks avoid, disparage, or completely ignore.
It seems so obvious when I say this, but you wouldn’t believe how many conversations start: “I hate email too. I only use it to communicate with [my clients, my boss, my salesforce]. But I don’t need that kind of idle talk that they have on [Facebook, Twitter, Quora, Hunch, LinkedIn, etc]. Who has time to be social?”
Then a conversation will drift to say, where to go for lunch. I get: “Jim says this new place is great! Let’s try it.” “Isn’t Jim in San Jose?” “Yeah, but when he was here last he liked this one. We were just talking about that this morning while we worked on Project X.”
My point here is that small talk, important small talk, is going on in a lot of different environments. It’s as common as breathing. So common that like breathing, we don’t pay serious attention to it until there’s some serious problem. But that common talk enriches our lives and deepens our engagement with our co-workers and the world.
We, on IRC, are as social as our mothers are as they play Farmville on Facebook. We’re playing a slightly different game — and in general, we’re better paid for it. We’re social but in a more hidden way. So hidden we often don’t see that ourselves.
Just to end on a #noemail note. Have you ever send email to a developer, sysadmin, coder? Did they respond? Usually we don’t. We let it sit there aging like fine wine to be appreciated later. Maybe your problem will fix itself. Maybe you’ll ask someone nearby. Maybe you’ll take some initiative and fix it yourself. You didn’t want to talk to the Sysadmin from Hell (BOFH) anyway. We’ve always practiced #noemail but in a passive aggressive way — accent on aggressive.
Morris promises that this article will be the first of a five part series. I’m looking forward to see what more he and Tom Van Vleck have to say.
The proposal for the mail command (see below) is particularly interesting in that it states a couple of uses for email. First, the system could automatically “notify a user that some of his files had been backed-up.” And second, that email could be used “for users to send authors any criticisms.” No other uses are mentioned.
One feature that has just reappeared as Google Priority Mail is URGENT MAIL. Mail from the system to “the user will always be placed in a file called URGENT MAIL.” The MAIL ME command which presents the user with the contents of her inbox “will always print the URGENT MAIL before [the more pedestrian mail file] MAIL BOX.”
There at the very beginning, email was already a box clogger, already a place where priorities needed to be established automagically for the user, and already with some guiding suggestions about use that would quickly be ignored.