Archive for the “General” Category

In the 70s and early 80s when I was a great email evangelist and a half-assed email application coder and a not too bad email systems admin, there were no cell phones (1983 was the first commercial cell), there were no truly mobile computers (Osbourne 1 in 1981 and Kaypro in 1982), telephone answering machine were still mostly tape decks. There were some video text projects; none really succeeded.

Portable phone of the past -- could they do email?

Portable phone of the past -- could they do email?

Now wonder email looked so fantastic!

And as a utopian popularizer, I was happy to predict that email would change everything in communications. It did and for a while was quite wonderful and even freeing and at least it enhanced productivity and even built relationships.

I was reminded of this separately by two folks who organized talks around the UNC campus to promote email, Libby Evans and Byron Howes. But as we reminisced about those heady times, I could only think of what a complete mess email has become. All that we had said email would do is better done by apps — and email never adapted to a truly mobile world.

One look at Blackberry users and their construction of use says so much to this. A special purpose device that just does constantly trickling email has had a phone stuck on it in an ungainly way, a web browser plunked on a too small of a screen for the target users, etc. It’s an email reader made worse.

Phones went through the same identity crisis — save Apple’s iPhone which has always been less phone that computer with phone back up.

Now the market is settling down on multipurpose, location aware, multimedia producing and receiving devices. And email looks even more clunky, more like a communications oddity than a solution. More like a 50s console stereo system than a 70s component or like a digital system that you carry with you and stuck in anywhere. It cannot be dressed up and taken out.

As much as I loved being a part of email’s development, evolution, adaption and acceptance, I’ve been wondering when and where to stop the madness. Not to check out as a Luddite might, nor to take an email vacation, nor to declare bankruptcy, nor to just hand it over to a secretary to do for me, but to really commit myself to seeing if the nacent concepts of activity streams, of open social, of hyper-intergration, of emerging and sinking social communications apps can do the jobs given to email and do those jobs better.

That’s the #noemail project and it begins at midnight tonight.

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I’m giving up email beginning June 1, 2011. But f I’ll be open to
communicating through many other channels and technologies. I’m
convinced that there must be better and more effective ways for us to
communicate and to get our work done.

You will be able to reach me on
Facebook http://www.facebook.com/smallJones
Diaspora https://joindiaspora.com/people/7472
and on most socialnetworking sites as smalljones including:
Twitter https://twitter.com/#!/smalljones
Gtalk,
AIM,
Skype,
Quora,
Hunch http://hunch.com/pjones/
LinkedIn http://www.linkedin.com/in/smalljones
DropBox,
YouTube,
XtraNormal
and on The Real Paul Jones blog http://ibiblio.org/pjones/blog

If you’d like to schedule a meeting with me, my calendar is on Google
Calendar http://www.google.com/calendar as smalljones@gmail.com You
can pick a time there and schedule your best time to meet face to
face.

Sharing documents? Use GoogleDocs and/or DropBox -
smalljones@gmail.com & jones@unc.edu respectively

Phone? Yes voice & txt. See FB info for my number

I’ll probably be on freenode too. More details on that later.

I’m also open to other suggestions; please feel free to send me your good ideas.

For more about the #noemail project, see

http://ibiblio.org/pjones/blog/category/noemail/

Paul Jones

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Virginia Heffernan writing on the NYTimes Opinionator blog in an article, “The Trouble With Email,” makes a perhaps unconscious but very appropriate reference to one of my favorite Star Trek episodes “The Trouble With Tribbles.

Up to his chest in Tribbles

Too Much Tribble for Kirk

Heffernan notices that EEEEEEEK! email is discoverable, persistent, leaves a long footprint, and often embarrassing if not incriminating. The safer alternative is, ssssssh!, LDL — not as defined in the Urban Dictionary where some definitions may be NSFW nor the more common “Let’s Do Lunch,” but “Let’s Discuss Live”.

From whence comes “LDL”? According to Heffernan:

Goldmanís Jonathan Egol is the first known master. When a trader named Fabrice Tourre described a mortgage investment in e-mail as ďa way to distribute junk that nobody was dumb enough to take first time around,Ē Egol shot back: ďLDL.Ē

While one can wonder about the morality of Egol, Tourre, the use of LDL and even of Heffernan for spreading notice of the practice, LDL brings back one of the first email lessons that I, writing as Emily Postmail, tried to teach new users, that is, “email is not so much mail as a post card that cannot be easily retrieved or revoked or removed.” Ollie North found this out the hard way in the Iran-Contra Hearings.

This applies to most all electronic communications. But email seems more like Tribbles than most other activity streams: it seems so warm and attractive, it seems harmless but needs some attention, it needs more attention, it seems like the Tribbles to reproduce at will, but unlike the Tribbles there seems to be no end to it — no poisoned grain. No Trouble With Harry or even Trouble With Angels here.

Bones: They reproduce at will. And brother, have they got a lot of will!

Privacy vs Secrecy is another matter — this is what LDL is really about. The folks who got in trouble were mostly relaying illegal information in what they thought was a secret way. Most people are upset about violations of their privacy, their legal but none-of-your-biznez behaviors

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I’d had a full day of meetings, Face to Face, with people yesterday and so did no email. One of my colleagues Skyped me to say let’s go to the Bull game and so I spent the evening without email as well.

Strong Bad uses technology (mostly email)

Strong Bad uses technology (mostly email)

Then I went to sleep. In my dreams, my favorite email reading entertainer appeared — Strong Bad from Homestarrunner. I can’t remember the dream, but here (sorry I can’t embed) is Strong Bad receiving his dream email.

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Stealing the headline completely from Matt Lynley of Venture Beat (and one of my former students) to point to the growth and changes in Yammer as it moves toward a comprehensive activity streams service.

Yammer is doing exactly what I’ve been talking about in moving beyond email and integrating services and activities in a more effective way. I haven’t used Yammer in a while, but it looks like time to revisit it.

One downside for me and the #noemail project is that Yammer is designed for intranets. Great for companies, as is Lotus Connections, but I want to try working in public and in the wild.

Matt writes about the new embed feature:

The feature functions similar to the way YouTube users embed videos on other websites. Itís a few lines of code that fit snugly into an HTML or JavaScript code. The site then calls out to Yammer to pick up any information about a specific feed and publishes it into a widget built into the website. The feed works both ways, too ó any information entered into the widget is sent back to the main Yammer website.

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VC in NYC, Union Square Ventures principal Fred Wilson has some astute things to say about email and its interaction with more social — and I would say more appropriate and efficient — technologies. He even asks an expert what he thinks. The expert though is Matt Blumberg, Return Path’s founder and CEO. Return Path is a portfolio company of Union Square and according to Fred “the category creator and market leader in email deliverability.” The comments tell you why I don’t want to use email anymore — they are all from attaboy marketers talking about how they get you to read their email and accept their newsletters.

Fred Wilson

Fred Wilson

Fred ends with:

I do think the rise of alternative notification channels; sms, mobile push notifications, direct messages on twitter, facebook messaging, etc are going to move some of this kind of thing off of email over time. But today, if you want to drive retention and repeat usage, there isn’t a better way to do it than email.

Reminds me of an Emo Philips quote I love:

I used to think my brain was the most important organ in my body until I realized what was telling me this.

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Donald E. Knuth

Donald E. Knuth

In early 1990, programming hero and influential textbook author (“The Art of Computer Programming” in more or less four volumes so far), Donald Knuth wrote:

I have been a happy man ever since January 1, 1990, when I no longer had an email address. I’d used email since about 1975, and it seems to me that 15 years of email is plenty for one lifetime.

Email is a wonderful thing for people whose role in life is to be on top of things. But not for me; my role is to be on the bottom of things. What I do takes long hours of studying and uninterruptible concentration. I try to learn certain areas of computer science exhaustively; then I try to digest that knowledge into a form that is accessible to people who don’t have time for such study.

I’ve only been using something like email since 1977, but I stayed with it longer all the time hoping for improvements. The promised improvements didn’t come from email really; more from the various email interfaces the best of which are still attempting to integrate “Activity Streams” and variously named productivity flows into the desktop in some meaningful manner. The first mistake is focusing on the desktop and on work.

Just as Xerox focused on a personal computer while — as Malcom Gladwell notices (behind a paywall at New Yorker) — Apple focused on a popular and affordable computer, email integration needs to so to where people both play and work, where they have family, friends and co-workers in some customizable way. And that means the most personal interfaces yet known — those on mobile devices.

In the meantime, I’m exploring other options with your help. When you or others contact me and where will help me decide where to put my communications energies and time.

Unlike Knuth, who handily handed off his email tasks to his secretary as he declared email abandonment, I’m divesting and looking for better, more efficient options.

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Writing on his Portals and KM blog, Bill Ives reports on IBM’s vision of making email actually useful in “IBM Covers the Transformation of Busines Email”.

A couple of key paragraphs to whet your interest:

Email is becoming more focused. Ed [Brill, IBMís new leader for social collaboration] said that his own email volume has actually decreased in the era of other social tools. File sharing, for example, has moved to these social tools. However, the email he gets more often requires an action on his part. The concept of an activity stream is getting a lot of play these days. This capability had its origins with micro-blogging when auto-generated updates made an appearance. Email can serve this same function. Ed said that the activity stream, regardless of location, will evolve beyond simple alerts. It will allow for direct actions. For example a request for vacation can be approved right in the message with one click, rather than requiring opening another app. REST APIs allow for this capability and it will be a big productivity booster.

Ed said that IBM is working to embed these actions within email. It is also working to apply analytics to email traffic to determine what might be useful to users. For example, it could let users know who should they talk to about certain issues based on email traffic. They are also working to make the activity stream more pervasive, as well as more connected to other apps. SAP is one example, of this increased connection.

My own take on this is that the activity stream already pretty much exists in a variety of ways — all of which I’m still going to use after June 1′s divesture from email — all of which are more effective than email. Ed and Bill point to file sharing as an example. One thing that’s bigger here is that a kind of intelligent use of analytics to determine which actions are best handled where is called for or predicted or being pre-pitched. A lot of that exists already in Gmail and even iPhone mail: great spam filtering, great sensing of Priority, adding links that might be dates and so could be moved to calendars easily, gTalk and on Facebook chat and message integration, etc. Tripit can scan your inbox and build your travel itinerary — and it does a great job.

I’d like it if I never saw my inbox at all (as I plan to try out), but by analytics or by human redirection that actions, requests and services end up at the right places where they can be handled more efficiently.

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The Orchid Thief
Orchid Thief author and New Yorker writer, Susan Orlean, can’t schedule a dinner with Buster and blames too many channels of communications ending with “Since when was communication so exhausting?”

I’ve got no problem with the number of choices for doing different things. I only want to divest in the least efficient and most annoying channels — starting with email.

email has always been a Rube Goldberg operation. In the early days of Usenet and UUCP — before BITNET or a well-connected ARPAnet, sysadmins had to collect and share tables not just of known hosts but also of known routes. If you didn’t know a good route to another computer on the net or had a slack sysadmin, you were stuck. If you did know and perhaps knew better than your sysadmin, you could explicitly specify the route of your mail in the address by means of Bangs! aka !. Here’s an example of such an explicit route address from Wikipedia:

hubhost!middlehost!edgehost!user@uucpgateway.somedomain.example.com

In earlier days, there would be no example.com — in fact no .com at all. Those were a simpler and for some a happier time. Not for me! I’m ready to move on from email!!! email has been too banged up for too long.

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When I arrived at the University of North Carolina in 1977, I had had no experience at all with computer messaging systems. In fact the term “email” wasn’t invented yet. 1977 was the year that the first of the RFCs regarding email was issued (RFC733 – “Standard for the format of ARPA network text messages”). Although the Computer Science Department was nearby, those of us working on the IBM 360/75 had to be content with a non-networked mainframe and its primitive time-sharing system CALLOS which called nothing much but allowed for some simple messaging and light weight programming. CS would soon be using UUCP (The Unix to Unix Copy Program or occasionally and more properly Protocol) developed by Mike Lesk, but for the moment even their email was mostly on the same computers. Usenet’s invention was only a few years off (2 or 3), but CALLOS was about as good as one could hope for — if one’s hope weren’t too high.

Somehow I managed to get to share responsibility for CALLOS with Martin Feinstein and tried my hand at a few scripts that I used to create games which were more like question answerers than games. I never got very far but I was heavily influenced by the folks I saw obsessively playing “Adventure” aka “Adventure Cave” on the teletype machines. Nothing on CALLOS could approach the complex Fortran-based Adventure with its dwarves, canaries, dragons and the secret word passed on from player to player – “XYZZY” .

Years, not so many years, later a City Planning student, Howard Cherniak, who had completed the Adventure give me a printout of the Fortan code. I have no idea where it is now nor do I know what became of Howard. Perhaps he has returned to the edge of a dark forest typing downstream and hoping to rejoin the cheering band of friendly elves.

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More that one study, more that one observer, more than one predictor has noticed that teens as early as 2005 were abandoning email. Chad Lorenz writing in Slate spent some serious time in anecdotage whilst writing his article, The Death of E-Mail
Teenagers are abandoning their Yahoo! and Hotmail accounts. Do the rest of us have to?
back in 2007, but he also cites some of the early Pew studies on teens and email.

Lorenz would be even more pessimistic about email if he could have leapt to the future and read this 2010 report on teens and their communication choices.

Also worth reading and following The Pew Millennials Project. which is ongoing. And fun to take the “How Millennial are You?” quiz.

Teens and communication choices

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Whilst this report reported on at Mashable is done by an independent research group commissioned by Microsoft, the resulting graphics completely overstate the importance of Outlook and of Microsoft in the creation of email culture and use. M$FT was very very late to the party and Outlook continues to fail to play well with most standards due in large part to a creative misreading of the RFCs and a continuing impulse to embrace and extend the protocols. Not that M$FT hasn’t contributed to my own decision to quit email despite the perceptions, reported here, that email is so essential that it cannot be abandoned.

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Most folks leaving email do it as a kind of a stunt as Peter Bauer of Mimecast did in 2008 for one week at the behest of the Financial Times.

These result in little vignettes and sketches of withdrawal and envy of others still using email (or chocolate or coffee or whatever has been given up). But one week? That’s hardy a change. Lent is longer that than (40 days if you are unaware).

And these experiments such as they are don’t offer attempts are an advanced replacement of any kind. If there is any substitution, it’s usually backwards looking — paper, phone, fax — fercrissake fax! — or face to face as if that were the only alternative.

Not what I’m after at all. I’m looking to see how folks will sort out the various richer and more appropriate communications options offered online and off in the absence of email.

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I see John Freeman (not a nom de guerre de email) is more of a rejectionist than an alternativist like Luis Suarez, but Freeman does have some points I agree with. I’m afraid that Freeman, given the answers in the question section, looks back to better times; Suarez and I look forward to better solutions.

John Freeman talks about The Tyranny of E-mail: The Four Thousand Year Journey to Your Inbox.

The former president of the National Book Critics Circle and current American Editor of Granta, gives us a history of people’s need for correspondence. He examines the astonishing growth of e-mail — how it is changing lives, and not always for the better.

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Luis Suarez

Luis Suarez

Luis Suarez, IBM Social Media evangelist, has been living in a world without email for three years. He presented a bit about what he learned — so far — from his experience as a mind map called “Email is where Knowledge Goes to Die”. I’ve learned a lot from @elsua already and so far am following in his steps closely even tho I had no idea of his good preceding work before yesterday.

There are a few differences between Luis and myself. Luis has been living in a world without corporate email; I’ll be trying something broader. Luis has some integrated IBM tools, like Lotus Connections, to rely on as alternative communications; I’ll be using only those openly accessible to anyone on the open internet. Luis hasn’t really spent most of his adult life developing and using email; I started with a proto-email system in 1977 (more on my own experience developing email, BITNET, and the Internet in later posts).

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These are some of the reasons that I plan to divest from email beginning June 1, 2011.

Email for collaboration?

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Giving up email beginning June 1, 2011. You will be able to reach me on Facebook and on most socialnetworking sites as smalljones including Twitter, Gtalk, AIM, Skype, Quora, Hunch, LinkedIn, DropBox, YouTube, XtraNormal and here on this blog

My calendar is on Google Calendar as smalljones@gmail.com You can pick a time there and schedule your best time to meet face to face.

I’ll probably be on freenode too

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About a year after a poorly researched piece by Tara Parker-Pope on Internet Addiction in the Science Times section of the NY Times, a more perceptive and better researched piece by Virginia Heffernan appeared in the Opinion Pages today.

Heffernan quickly identifies Kimberly Young as what sociologists would call a “Moral Entrepreneur” only slightly removed from con man Harold Hill of the Music Man. Hill sells his 76 trombone remedy to River City as a cure all but in particular a cure for the folk devil — pool (We got trouble right here in River City). Then Heffernan points out the differences between passions, interests, habits and addictions through the story of steampunk Gabriela.

About a year ago, I did a talk not unlike Heffernan’s for the Morehead Science Center (slides below). We covered much of the same ground but some of you may appreciate the pictures of various “addictions” that I dug up and the references to serious studies of addiction claims, happiness or alienation claims and the aspects of Moral Panics, Folk Devils and Moral Entrepreneurs.

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I was in Austin last week holding a Core Conversation at South By Southwest (aka SXSW) Interactive in Austin Texas. SILS was well represented with panels featuring Ryan Shaw and Evan Carroll. Also attending was Adam Rogers who is now a Library Fellow at NCSU. Several of the News21 folks from the J-school were there as well.

There were 20,000 attendees at the conference which was well-covered by media if in a fairly superficial way. As the subject says, I saw the main themes as Gamification, Anon. vs Authenticity, Location(still), NetNeutrality(sorta), Open Gov, DataViz, MySpace 3.0 A bit about each.

Gamification is an inane term for adding the “game layer” to any use of technology be that education, eating out, taking trips, partying, purchasing anything, or just passing time on Facebook. New startup SCVNGR’s boy wonder and Mark Zuckerberg wannabe, Seth Priebatsch, gave a well received — if snarked at — keynote pushing the subject into the stratosphere and remarked on here in the Guardian http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/pda/2011/mar/14/sxsw-2011-scvngr-seth-priebatsch Just say Games it’s much less painful than “funware.”

If you follow the link to the Guardian, you’ll see that Priebatsch’s talk was turned into a poster by Oglivy Notes. This may remind you of work done a conferences like PopTech (by AlphaChimp http://www.alphachimp.com/poptech-art/ ) or Royal Society for the Arts etc (RSA Animate http://www.youtube.com/user/theRSAorg). Oglivy had illustrators/sketchers/cartoonists at many of the talk and those large posters were changed into limited print runs (I have a few) and are also available online here: http://ogilvynotes.com/

One of the key tensions covered was that of Authenticity and vanishing but important Anonymity. Facebook Connect seen as the champion of authenticity (carp as you will) and on the other end 4Chan as the champion of anonymity. A keynote by 4chan’s moot aka Christopher Poole took on the Zuckerbergification of identity and is described here at ComputerWorld http://blogs.computerworld.com/17966/anonymity_zuckerberg_wrong_says_4chans_moot_sxsw?ud Note the story at the link includes an Olgivy Note poster.

Location as service, as a way to target services, as a way to game. etc was still big everywhere including journalism and advertising. Gowalla which adds games, interacts with existing location apps like Facebook Places, Twitter, Foursquare, and Tumblr spent a lot of $$$ to get their name out to attendees. They’ve also partnered with Associated Press and others to gain a presence on several college campuses. See http://gowalla.com/sxsw to see how they present themselves and their gamification badges.

Senator Al Franken gave a very well attended talk on Network Neutrality. Covered here by TechCrunch http://techcrunch.com/2011/03/14/techcrunch-interview-senator-al-franken-talks-net-neutrality-and-his-morning-workout-routine/ ending with the memorable call to action:

“Letís not sell out. And letís not let the government sell us out. Letís fight for net neutrality. Letís keep Austin weird. Letís keep the Internet weird. Letís keep the Internet free.”

Franken was followed by a series of Network Neutrality sessions including an intimate conversation with Master Switch author Tim Wu.

Open Government whether as a term on its own or affixed with a 2.0 or 3.0. Kicked off by Tim O’Reilly’s fireside chat and his support of Code4Gov and other Open Government initiatives. http://blog.opengovernment.org/ for some happenings in that area.

I’m late in this report to be mentioning Ryan Shaw’s data visualization panel which filled a very large room and gathered a lot of attention far beyond the Humanities information being visualized as the example. Journalists in particular were quick to pick up on how the geo-temporal issues in visualization could be generalized. http://www.geotemporalviz.org/ for some of the presentations (I have more links some place).

As you might guess, several trade show companies were trying to justify their staying over for the Music week as well. To that end, many had an Interactive pitch and a Music pitch in reserve. One of the more interesting to me was WebDoc which assist in threaded multimedia conversations. The Music pitch: fan created material can easily be curated and presented with official band or label material. http://www.webdoc.com/ Fans and bands and anyone else can also easily Perez Hilton-ify their photos for example (If you don’t know what I’m talking about you are living a better but too safe of a life).

A conference this large has much more going on, but I have the schedule, some Olgivy Notes and a sharp memory in case you have any questions for me. http://sxsw.com/interactive

I can also chat about how the official Journalism sessions were mostly retread of older sustaining and perplexing topics — bloggers vs journos, pay walls, citizen journalism as being mediaActive, Googlization (at a time when Facebookization is on a lot more minds), etc.

Peace out,
Paul

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Our Core Conversation at South By Southwest Interactive aka SxSWi, “Internet Evolution: Hyperconnected, Hyper-real,” will be held on Tuesday March 15 at 11 am. Joining me will be Janna Anderson @jannaq the organizer, Chris O’Brien @sjcobrien of San Jose Mercury News, and Mike Nelson @MikeNelson of Georgetown University.

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