MG Siegler of TechCrunch, who has also given up email, writes and opines about Gmail’s crowdsourced plea to help make keep email relevant by creating Gmail+ in Google Already At Work On “Several” Gmail/Google+ Integrations.

Google+ is not quite two weeks old. I quit doing email just about six weeks ago. I did give a one month warning back on May 1 (and on this blog on May 3).

I’ll admit that giving up email seemed radical, like putting myself at risk of some kind. But I know enough about myself that if I don’t take myself out of my comfort areas, I don’t learn very much and more importantly I don’t see the things that suddenly become obvious. I had spent too much of my life convincing people that email could improve their lives — and relative to phone calls, memos and the like, email has improved our communications environment.

But more and more the juryrigged nature of email showed it cracking up and not just at the edges. Improvements in collaboration technologies for scheduling meetings (shared calendars and Doodle), for coauthoring documents (Gdocs, MindTouch, various wikis, and even Sharepoint), for sharing pictures and videos (Picasa, Flickr, Facebook, YouTube, Vimeo, etc), for transferring files and doing backups (Dropbox, Box.com, etc), for managing the sharing of casual information in social networks (various activity streams) including location (4Square and various check-in providing relatives) left email in the dust. Even trouble ticket reporting via email is dead, replaced by services like GetSatisfaction.

Attempts to curb email abuse by social contract (like Chris Anderson’s Email Charter) or by technology (like the currently hot ShortMail) are mere patchwork and are doomed from the start.

It’s not just that email is time sink. It’s no that over half of the email any of us receive is spam. Filters or no. It’s not that I can’t create a filter for every site that wants to confirm who I am. It’s not that listservs get too busy — but I may need to read them sooner of later — and that RSS could bail me out of a lot of that problem.

It’s that our world of communications interactions has gotten very rich, very sophisticated, very active and very faceted. Email can’t keep up and we can’t keep up with email. As Michael Tiemann observed: email as a “enterprise service bus” that connects many applications via a common messaging format into a central processing unit. That CPU is YOU and was ME.

Technical developments like JSON and HTML5 have provided the technology underpinnings to help us restructure our approaches to activity streams and communications options in ways that allow us to be social and somewhat private as we desire.

I’m not the only one thinking this. Last summer, Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg described some of the same problems and offered some of the solutions that we are beginning to see coming at us.

Sandberg noted, I have here, and Pew Internet studies report that under 25s have already given up on email. In fact, the email sticky demographic is pretty narrow. From my sample, completely observational, since May, that demographic is largely those 50 – 65 and systems administrators in institutions (as opposed to enterprises). The same demographic, at least the age one, resist online social networking according to another Pew Internet study.

My sysadmin/poweruser friends like to tell me on one hand that email is secure and on the other that no one can own their email. These are contradictory claims that don’t click. The more hands an email passes through on it’s way to you, the less secure. The only way to deal with a broad set of communications agents is to send very open messaging protocols across many different environments, few of which you or even people you trust control. Email is about as secure as a post card left at Starbuck’s by the sugar.

Things that are thankfully not email have taken on emailish names but they are no more email that a locomotive is an iron horse (or more recently a Harley) or a car, a horseless carriage. And we are all better for that too.

Horses, mainframes, and very tall hats all have their times of glory. No more. I see the same for email as you now know it. It’s already at the edge of the dustbin of history; soon it will be like photo magazines and radio theatre — seen as a curiosity or in revivals.

Yes #noemail is possible even practical. As Luis Suarez (four years without email at IBM) reminds me living in a world without email #lawwe can be done and can be fun.

One note to help bring insome other posts here in the #noemail category: Google Plus has begun to address many of the problems that I’ve been describing here. Hence a lot of posts here as Google Plus emerges and changes and as we all come to an understanding of how to help form its future. I fully expect that something more awesome than a simple partnership with Skype will be coming from Facebook soon. And I can’t believe that there will be only two players, Google and Facebook, fighting this out.

4 Responses to “Looking back on #noemail at 6 weeks”
  1. I feel you have correctly identified serious problems with email. But knowing what the problem is does not mean we know what the best solution is (or could be).

    Should you really should be relying on two big for-profit corporations (Google and Facebook) for a solution, given both organizations are unlikely to have the public interest truly at heart? The solutions they will supply will be undoubtedly constrained by their trying to create incompatibilities, lock in users, add advertising, create artificial scarcity through information monopolies they control, and so on.

    For all of email’s problems, you have abandoned a general open standard (yes, with proprietary implementations) and are now, for the most part, putting all your data into proprietary systems owned by others. What happens to the history of all your communications if Twitter or Facebook or YouTube and so on go away? What are you going to do if in two years these organizations ban you for some arbitrary reason (like luxuriant hair or the politics that often go with it) perhaps with a new US administration even more dedicated to whatever ideological stuff has lead to increasing corporate rule?

    Not that Richard Stallman’s opinion is all that matters, but what would he say about you deciding to use proprietary systems for all your communications needs? Are you supporting free and open source solutions by your choice? What are the legal implications as well of who has control of disclosing your communications? Related:
    http://mashable.com/2010/05/15/stallman-software-freedom/
    “No matter what talk of “openness” you hear in the media, no major web company — not Facebook, not Google, not Adobe and certainly not Apple — is creating truly free and open applications. Some may make gestures toward this ideology with APIs or “open source” projects, but ultimately, the company controls the software and the users’ data. At the end of the day, if you want freedom and privacy, the only way to attain those goals is to abstain from proprietary software, including media players, social networks, operating systems, document storage, email services and any other program that is licensed, patented and locked down by a corporation. If you prefer convenience — well, best to stop complaining about your loss of freedom and/or privacy.”

    Still, do I use YouTube, Google Knol, Google Groups, Twitter, and so on? Yes. But I’m not happy about it from that point of view and I’m trying to work towards better alternatives. And I use those services to try in part to move beyond them. Example:
    “Five Interwoven Economies: Subsistence, Gift, Exchange, Planned, and Theft”
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4vK-M_e0JoY

    Another related general post by me (to a Google Group) on moving from email to a semantic desktop:
    http://groups.google.com/group/openmanufacturing/msg/576771df555e729f

    Aikido can be a model here.

    See also, for previous thoughts by others about rethinking email considering its good points and bad points:
    http://www.russellbeattie.com/blog/1008869
    http://daringfireball.net/2007/08/rethinking_email
    http://domino.watson.ibm.com/cambridge/research.nsf/58bac2a2a6b05a1285256b30005b3953/f9092470e23a3ad785256ca7007532bf?OpenDocument

    I added a comment to a previous #noemail post which goes into architectural ideas for something that could integrate lots of social media as a social sematic desktop application with CouchDB and Java., for something one might call #muchmorethanemail, and one more general one:
    http://ibiblio.org/pjones/blog/talking-noemail-with-michael-tiemann/comment-page-1/#comment-441321
    http://ibiblio.org/pjones/blog/noemail-in-light-of-google/comment-page-1/#comment-441317

    Why did I have to do provide those links? With your blog, you are using a system that does not include generalizable support for tagging user comments to find related ones by the same author. No one can easily copy all the posts and replies and reorganize them locally. In the desktop email software I currently use (Thunderbird) I can easily find posts by the same author across the half a million or so emails I have in my archive, and I can import more emails from things like mbox archives maintained by gnu mailman. The ten thousand or so emails I have sent over the last decade are also all available to me, unlike posts to individual blogs like this one, which I have to bookmark and maybe cut and paste into local files or draft emails. You are losing all that.

    Maybe part of whether that loss matters to you or anyone else depends on what Philip Zimbardo calls “time perspective” in his book “The Time Paradox”.

    By the way, twenty-somethings tend to become email users when they join the workforce.

    You are right to be angry and frustrated about email. I am too. The issue is what we do with that anger and frustration. Take a deep breath, get your vitamin D level checked (mine was low from writing so many long emails indoors, given humans are not physically adapted to spending all day indoors using computers to write emails and then traveling place to place in enclosed boxes since just like plants we need sunlight), eat some great vegetables for essential phytonutrients and get your omega-3s somehow, and then ask yourself, what is a life-long supporter of free and open information doing putting all his communications into proprietary systems and encouraging others to do the same? So, “email bad”, yes. But does that mean “proprietary websites good”?

    Shane raised some related issues; I’m echoing some of those and amplifying them from even more directions. I don’t want to defend email as much as suggest that we need to go forward with the better aspects of it like open standards and decentralization and local archiving and so on.

    You wrote in another post: “But more and more the juryrigged nature of email showed it cracking up and not just at the edges. Improvements in collaboration technologies for scheduling meetings (shared calendars and Doodle), for coauthoring documents (Gdocs, MindTouch, various wikis, and even Sharepoint), for sharing pictures and videos (Picasa, Flickr, Facebook, YouTube, Vimeo, etc), for transferring files and doing backups (Dropbox, Box.com, etc), for managing the sharing of casual information in social networks (various activity streams) including location (4Square and various check-in providing relatives) left email in the dust. Even trouble ticket reporting via email is dead, replaced by services like GetSatisfaction.”

    How many of those are open standards? How many can you guarantee will be around in ten years like SunSITE?

    We can do better than that. We should do better than that. Maybe we have to live with proprietary systems for now, but we don’t have to celebrate that. Just about every one of the systems you mentioned there is a non-generalized proprietary-coded communications platform (except for some wikis). Where is your spirit of wanting to do better than that? Another more open and democratic world is possible. Maybe it will be hard to get there, but it is possible. Anyway, sorry for giving you the lecture I feel you should be giving everyone else. :-)

    You also wrote: “It’s that our world of communications interactions has gotten very rich, very sophisticated, very active and very faceted. Email can’t keep up and we can’t keep up with email.”

    I might debate that first point, but look: Baby here (communications archives, global open standards). Bathwater there (spam, non-tagged, unwanted commercial stuff, proprietary backends, etc.). Which to throw out?

    I’m not encouraging you to go back to email. But I am encouraging you to go beyond it in new and more open ways, even if it takes 100 person years of FOSS coding by the community and significant public computing resources, the kind of stuff you and ibiblio are good at coordinating.

  2. John Klein says:

    I’m John Klein, a Technology consultant to industry for over 35 years. I find the noe-mail movement quite interesting. I’m a very big proponent of communication and technology use and its security.

    The articles by Paul Jones and Paul Fernhout point out the problems for abandoning e-mail, and the short comings of social networking services. This reminds me of the time period when government and commerce was transitioning from Telex, and TWX, to e-mail. At that time people who were using e-mail pointed with pride “well nobody uses Telex and TWX”. It should be noted that at that time in history, aka the late 70′s, more than 50% of the governments and commerce were still using those systems. Even today, 2 August 2011, those systems are still in use around the world.

    The point here is that it will take time to transition from one technology base to another. During that time period it is not unreasonable to think that e-mail will evolve, as well as social networking services. So there will be this push and pull between both technology services. As technologists we should look openly at both, and pick an choose what is best for our customers and ourselves. I believe that at this point in communication technology we should adhere to one of the US Marine Corp. sayings: “ Adapt, Improvise, Overcome.”

    Regards

    John Klein
    Intrepid Technology, Falmouth MA.
    “technology from around the world serving mankind”

  3. [...] meant for him to ditch work email and, instead, rely more on social networking tools to connect, reach out and collaborate with his peers and students. And he has been getting lots of great press [...]

  4. [...] and Library Science and School of Journalism and Mass Communications, is one such email defector. He writes, “Our world of communications interactions has gotten very rich, very sophisticated, very active [...]

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