If trends mean anything, the analysis by the pollsters at Pew miss the point of their own data. Whilst the title for the report is “Search and email still top the list of most popular online activities”, the use of email has remained flat — dropping 1% really, but statistically insignificant — since 2002. Searching rose from 85% to join email at 92% (since 2002). But social network use, which was not even measured until 2005, begins at 11% and is up to 65% by 2011’s survey.
Email fans shouldn’t get all that excited by the report as the data underlying the report show communications trends that will move us all from email even in the immediate term. Note also that email alternatives were not measured giving some confusion to the frequencies of communications.
The release is interestingly coincides with reports that use of RIM Blackberry BBM has outstripped the use of Facebook and Twitter — in the London riots (only).
I’ve had Beluga on my phone but not done too much with it (running txt thru Google Voice to save charges ;->). Looking to download Messenger now. Let me know if you’ve found and are trying it. At the moment, https://www.facebook.com/mobile/messenger says “Messenger will be available soon. Please check back later.”
In most of this interview with John Battelle and Tim O’Reilly at the Web 2.0 Summit 2010 conference last fall, Mark Zuckerberg talks about replacing email with Facebook Messages — why FB Msgs isn’t email and why email is broken hopelessly — and how the Facebook Social Graph changes everything.
This talk and Sheryl Sandberg’s earlier talk convinced me that Facebook, not Google or Microsoft or Yahoo or others, would be the ones to succeed in creating better data portability, better messaging and activity streams. Interestingly, much of what Zuckerberg talks about concerning user control of data are addressed in Google + Circles, Google Checkout and Google+ itself.
Let’s go back in time. Not so far back, but back to 2008. IBM was making big changes in how their company worked and continues to work. These five predictions are credited to Mike Rhodin who was then head of the Lotus division and pushing Sametime and Sametime Advanced as IBM’s unified communications and collaboration platform and services to be used internally and to be offered to other companies. Even or especially keeping that in mind, the recognition of these 5 trends all point in the same directions as the #noemail project as described in the process of writing this blog.
We’re talking about #noemail in the marketplace (as one G+ commentor called his business), in serving customers (one reason that another G+er claimed he could not possibly even think of trying #noemail), and building internal communications (as Luis Suarez at IBM has been practicing and promoting since 2009 or earlier).
The Virtual Workplace will become the rule. By that IBM means that you’ll be carrying your work everywhere you are. Imagine working in a coffee shop! Or taking calls and IMing during off hours!
Instant Messaging and other real-time collaboration tools will become the norm, bypassing e-mail. IBM wasn’t quite ready with something like Google Plus or even Facebook messages, but they are right about collaboration tools changing the way we communicate and work together.
Beyond Phone Calls to Collaborative Business Processes We’ve seen this too. Most smart phone users I know are using more Smart than Phone. That is to say that the phone part has become more about connectivity than about voice messages. In business this has been true for a while. I confess: before I completely turned off my desk phone, I changed the voice mail to ask people to send me email instead — or finally to find me online
Interoperability and Open Standards will tear down proprietary walls across business and public domains. I like this and hope that it’s true. There is continuing evidence that things are becoming more open. But closed and non-interoperable systems persist. Android is gaining on the iPhone. Google Plus includes a Data Checkout option. But Apple remains mostly closed even as Microsoft is diminished in our communications sphere.
New meeting models will emerge. Here IBM is pushing Virtual Worlds as meeting spaces. For whatever reasons, Second Life and others still seem too soon and too flaky. But Skype, and now Google Plus, have become a regular part of our lives in business and in private or social life.
Today, I paid the cost for #noemail. The cost was $7.00.
I was cleaning my office and picking up books that I’d checked out of the UNC Library. Among those books was one that was just out and so had some sort of truncated checkout time. Most books are available to faculty for several months. This book was only allowed to be taken out for a few weeks. Oops!
I trucked my books over to the Library. First as a negotiator trained at the Grand Bazaar, I tried to get credit for the books I was returning early to offset the few days that my one special book was overdue. No dice.
Then I was told that my fine was extra. Not because of my negotiation attempts, but because the book had been recalled even before the due date.
The Library robot had sent me email. Err, didn’t the Library robot or her minder get my message that I don’t do email? If they had, then there are many ways to contact me.
– Oh, we’ve set up the messages so that we don’t receive replies. But we do include a link in the message so that you can just click on that link and then we add your message to our database.
Doesn’t adding several links to an automated message pretty much assure that the message gets marked as spam?
– We never thought of that. $7 is the charge.
But is there any way at all that you contact people who choose not to use email? I mean, everyone fills out a lot of contact information and the UNC One Card is tied to the Campus directory. It’s not hard to find ways to contact people other than email. Hey, the robot could call or text just as easily.
The tide turned and junk moved online. Talk of email addiction has changed to internet and social network and game and particularly Facebook addiction tracking the trends closely. Addiction? No. Over-fascination? Yes. The mechanics and contents are unchanged but the social and psychological relations between postal mail and email have switched places.
And with that switch, love forever changes.
Arthur Lee and Love – Forever Changes (London 2001)
As you may know, John Cage is famous in part for his pieces that used silence especially in his 4′33″ — not playing or performing but listening to what you would have missed had you been listening only to a performance. He seems then the right person to join Marshall McLuhan as a guiding light for the #noemail project.
What email means is as important as what it does and doesn’t do. That is one of the points of the #noemail project. There are better ways of communication. Those better ways should assist in relieving stress rather than becoming a cultural and individual symbol of overwork and stress.
This paper just out from researchers at Stanford and Boston University does a fine job of quantifying and explaining what email means. May require library access or subscription for access.
I note with some irony that the email addresses of the authors are included in the abstract and in the paper.
E-mail as a Source and Symbol of Stress
Stephen R. Barley, Debra E. Meyerson, Stine Grodal
Department of Management Science and Engineering, School of Engineering, Stanford University, Stanford, California 94305
School of Education, Stanford University, Stanford, California 94305
Department of Strategy and Innovation, School of Management, Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts 02215
The increasing volume of e-mail and other technologically enabled communications are widely regarded as a growing source of stress in people’s lives. Yet research also suggests that new media afford people additional flexibility and control by enabling them to communicate from anywhere at any time. Using a combination of quantitative and qualitative data, this paper builds theory that unravels this apparent contradiction. As the literature would predict, we found that the more time people spent handling e-mail, the greater was their sense of being overloaded, and the more e-mail they processed, the greater their perceived ability to cope. Contrary to assumptions of prior studies, we found no evidence that time spent working mediates e-mail-related overload. Instead, e-mail’s material properties entwined with social norms and interpretations in a way that led informants to single out e-mail as a cultural symbol of the overload they experience in their lives. Moreover, by serving as a symbol, e-mail distracted people from recognizing other sources of overload in their work lives. Our study deepens our understanding of the impact of communication technologies on people’s lives and helps untangle those technologies’ seemingly contradictory influences.
Bascha Harris of OpenSource.com and I did an interview using Google Docs checking in after 8 weeks without email. Part of the pleasure of the interview is how nicely interactive Google Docs is and how well that environment works for interviews. The integration with Gtalk, the change tracking, the real time updates, the easy for adding comments and notes make for a painless way of collaborative writing — and a good, I think, interview.
“The next medium, whatever it is – it may be the extension of consciousness – will include television as its content, not as its environment. A computer as a research and communication instrument could enhance retrieval, obsolesce mass library organisation, retrieve the individual’s encyclopedic function and flip it into a private line to speedily tailored data of a saleable kind.” McLuhan 1962
Here and during interview and on discussion boards, I’ve offered GetSatisfaction and related socially empowered answer sites as better tools for handling customer complaints and suggestions for businesses and even schools. Add to that voting systems like Google Moderator and User Voice (this last being used at UNC – Chapel Hill for feedback on the ERP effort)
What’s so great about these systems? #noemail of course. But more the technology does what the users and the providers actually want to see happen in a nice clean way. No convoluted emails or mis-sorted trouble tickets.
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.”
Just for fun, I did the Google search that I should have done weeks ago just after the show looking for email is dead and “email is dead”. Several million stories, opinion pieces, articles full of dread and/or wishful thinking fill the results.
One thing we all pretty much agree on — okay, I admit I only read over about 20 or so of the articles — is that email is threatened or communications are done better by IM, restricted messaging systems ala Facebook, and now by Google+. Whether email is threatened, changing or will still be here in a much diminished role are mostly arguments of hope (if you are frustrated by email), fear (if you feel your company depends on email especially) or tied to a variation of definitions of what email is (the “message is a message” school of social communications ignorance).
The bottom line is that email as we knew it in the late 1980s and early 1990s is already out the door. Soon email or whatever gets called email will be unrecognizable to the folks like David Crocker who wrote the original RFCs (RFC822 and associated papers) for the Internet Engineering Task Force.
As the photo above shows the social normalization of #noemail is and has been underway for a while. There will be no turning back. There are better days and better communications options ahead — and many here right now!
Now social networking services are on track to replace email as the primary communications method for many business users in the next few years. It’s a concept IBM social computing evangelist Luis Suarez (who describes his experience in a 2008 article for the New York Times at this link – PJ) has advocated for several years. But this new paradigm impacts more than the inbox. As each company looks to incorporate social networking technologies, it is, in fact, becoming what IBM calls a Social Business.
This approach shifts the focus from static content and other temporary artifacts to the source of the energy, creativity, and decision making that moves the business forward: people. As a result, people not only find what they need, but also discover valuable expertise and information they weren’t even looking for that might solve a problem in a new way.
From the archives of Speed Hallman. The same day a story ran in the Daily Tar Heel about a new course in “Cyberpublishing and Cybercasting”, this chart ran as part of a story on UNC’s email explosion. It shows that the semester was beginning with a giant increase in Internet/email ids — by 1,900 raising the total UNC email space to over 14,000. Note that email and Internet confused even then.
People have suggested many reasons why one should or should not use email or #noemail. Like most technology, there are four factors interacting that cannot be isolated from each other but that can really make the choices difficult or simple.
Many of my IT pals would like to fix email through some technical changes (they see these are improvements) aimed at changing misuses of email — shortmail and sentenc.es and even Gmail are promising examples of technology modifications for email. They say mail filters are the answer. etc.
Some people just love email. It means something deep to them. Others just don’t like change. They have something that they are very comfortable with and won’t want to learn anything else. One friend said: I still love Pine — for example. It works the other way too: “Paul is always just trying something new and shiny.”
Where my friends, business, etc are is where I want to be. The social is very strong. Not just about being social but how our social circles define themselves. Examples: I won’t have a Blackberry because that’s for suits. I’m in open source so I need an Android phone. My band and my fans are all still on MySpace; we’ll never leave. Only dorks use [whatever]. All the cool kids are on Google +.
Politics and law are also exert a very strong influence on how tools are used and preceived as in: My boss insists that we all use [whatever system]. We can’t use Facebook at work; the IT folks blocked it because of company policy. HIPPA requires that we keep records this way. Isn’t there a state law about that? I travel to Iran and that software won’t work there.
Technological – the tool part of being a tool including function and interface
Psychological – your attitude, perceptions and use needs etc. you are part of the tool and it’s part of you
Social – how your friends, colleagues, etc see and use the tool in a social and cultural context.
Political – you must or must not use this tool or you may only use this tool for [whatever]
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. ;->