IEEE Spectrum has a great special issue, “The Social Web,” (June 2011). Authors including Robin (150 friends) Dunbar, Siva (Googlization) Vaidhyanathan, Jeff Jarvis, Bob Garfield, and others look at the current state of the Social Web through the lens of Facebook vs Google for the most part.
If you like me have stuck with Google and love Google Calendar — especially as an intelligent scheduling service –, you’ll be delighted to learn that the Calendar now supports Appointment Slots, that is times when you will agree to meet with people, instead of just any open times. Now you don’t have to mark large amounts of time as “Busy” just to get some serious reading, writing, research or sleep done. You can have actual office hours!
One more nail in the email coffin. Scheduling with me; don’t send email.
On page 59 of the Independent Weekly‘s Best of the Triangle 2011 (sharing a page with an IP3 advert “Best Place to Watch International Soccer for 6 years in a row”) is my little piece about my favorite discovery and reuse of Bill Smith’s Honeysuckle Sorbet. It’s not online yet but is out in print so here’s the text I sent in unedited:
What invasive species and its transformation into food would give rise to my most transient Triangle experience?
No, it’s not kudzu or bamboo grass or starlings that I’m talking about but that lovely scented treat from Southern childhood – honeysuckle.
How many of us spent the first hot days of May and early June risking ticks and chiggers as we plucked honeysuckle flowers? We pinched each flower’s base and drew the anther through the blossom’s cone to reveal a sweet drop of nectar. Like bees or humming birds, we would suckle on the honey. Then–repeat.
I could and did spend hours at a mass of vine learning in the process which of the flower colors indicated the sweetest drops. (Answer: not the whitest nor the most yellow, but white going to yellow a sort of middle aged bloom is the most tasty and most reliable).
A few years back, I heard that Bill Smith at Crook’s Corner had invented a new dessert treat that captured this experience and improved on it. I rushed down to Crook’s and I wasn’t disappointed – I was taken to a special section of foodie heaven, a place where the most formative tastes of my childhood were re-presented and reformed and reimagined.
Bill had kept the distinctive honeysuckle flavor, made it both sweeter and cooler, by borrowing a cool extraction process some Persian recipes for flower nectar ices. Bill’s invention took me to the cool late May evenings spent along the vine covered hedges picking flowers but without the chiggers or ticks or – thanks Crook’s – the mosquitoes.
Since that first night at Crook’s, I’ve started making my own batches of sorbet. I returned to being food for the insect pests. I’ve been back out in the summer heat – especially this past weekend. But I can stockpile the honeysuckle flavor for a while and make some new uses of the sorbet
Since Bill was good enough to share his recipe in “Seasoned in the South,” I’ll share one innovation here.
Instead of putting the final liquid into an ice cream maker, I pour it into ice trays. Once the ice has solidly formed, serve about four cubes per chilled glass. Add two shots of good bourbon. Garnish with mint. Then as with Mint Juleps, sip slowly while holding the glass from the bottom allowing the heat of your palm to slightly warm the mixture.
Don’t hurry. In time, you will be transported and transformed.
As part of giving up email aka #noemail, I need to get off of a lot of email lists that are important to me.
I had, as you are about to suggest, used Gmail filters to send lists to various folders where I mostly ignored the postings unless something urgent was going on there.
But I am more diligent with my RSS reader and I can scan it more easily. I keep seeing old postings about getting RSS from various mailing list programs like Pipermail and Mailman, but they really seem dated and abandoned.
To make matters worse, several campus lists are on Lyris which doesn’t seem to have much to offer in alternative reading styles. It’s either in your inbox or through a difficult to use web archive page.
Then I started poking into the UNC Lyris documentation for help. After pointing me to an unusable URL form ( http://example.com/read/rss?forum=forumname&rev=0.92 don’t even bother), I found this bit which looked promising and with a little improvisation worked! I apologize for the UNC-centric-ness of this post, but I hope it will be useful to others here in Chapel Hill.
ListManager’s RSS function supports authentication and authorization. The same settings controlling access to the Discussion Forum Interface controls RSS access.
RSS will only be available if your list is set to keep archives. Without archives, no messages will be displayed.
If the list allows visitors, then non-members will be able to subscribe to the list’s RSS feed without actually subscribing to the list. If not, members will need to log in to proceed to the About page and get the RSS URL. The login information will then be included in the RSS URL on the About page, and will be formatted to include your email address and password (encrypted).
Only those IP addresses granted access to the Discussion Forum Interface in Utilities: Administration: Server: Server Settings: Security: Web: TCP/IP for Discussion Forum Interface will have access to the list via RSS.
ListManager will return messages from the past 14 days, up to one hundred messages.
Go to http://listserv.unc.edu
Login using the mail address to which you used to subscribe to the lists that you would like RSS feeds from.
Choose “My Forums” on the right side bar
Choose the listname by clicking on it under “Forum Name”
You’ll see recent messages to your chosen list (aka forum)
Click on “About” on the right side bar
The 3rd line should read “RSS Feed: RSS 0.92″
“RSS 0.92″ is a link! (but notice that RSS 2.0 is the current standard. Nonetheless 0.92 will work on most readers)
Copy the Link
Paste the link into your RSS reader of choice adding it as you would other links
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?
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.
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
and on most socialnetworking sites as smalljones including:
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 firstname.lastname@example.org You
can pick a time there and schedule your best time to meet face to
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:
Goldman’s Jonathan Egol is the first known master. When a trader named Fabrice Tourre described a mortgage investment in e-mail as “a way to distribute junk that nobody was dumb enough to take first time around,” Egol shot back: “LDL.”
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Email is becoming more focused. Ed [Brill, IBM’s 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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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 email@example.com You can pick a time there and schedule your best time to meet face to face.