The Real Paul Jones

Accept no substitutes

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Are #noemail days the Casual Fridays on the 2010s?

Slave to Email

There have been a flurry of articles recently calling for a #noemail day at work. Not easing into a reduced email daily practice or the switch from email to better forms of communication, but just “Hey relax. Change things up a little get to know each other better. Casual Friday. #noemail Wednesday. Beach Volley Ball after work.”

Now on the face of it, this isn’t such a bad idea. I mean a few folks will seriously reconnect and realize who they are working with and why. Some of them will not jump up and get a new job once they realize that. I mean they may remember why they joined the company in the first place — in a good way.

And a few will have begun to develop some of the better communications options we’ve been discussing here on this blog for the past nearly four years. That’s progress.

But for more it’s just a novelty, a change up, a head poke up out of the rut – the cubical, the open office, the Skype conference that daily rules the lives of office workers.

Consider Stephanie Vozza‘s “Why Your Company Should Consider Banning Email” in a recent Fast Company Leadership post, an article that can’t decide how much a company should give up when they give up email.

Vozza rehearses a selection of stories covered by Fast Company in years past to go from the evils of email (stress, poor communication, etc), to taking a day off, or half a day off, to stalwarts ATOS and Angellist who have made serious moves from email. Oddly–it seems at first–her final paragraph, dedicated to quotes from Babak Nivi of Anglelist, who just in the article in a paragraph above praises HipChat, in favor of face-to-face communications. Finally you get that the article is a fine humanistic piece about reconnection.

While there is nothing wrong with desiring a human connection, a conversation, or even a location-centered company, all of that is difficult to achieve and in many cases the needs of the workers, the needs of the company and the needs of the clients trump location, trump face-to-face and reestablish the routine that Vozza seeks to undermine in favor of an enriched work life.

There is no going back to face-to-face only, location-based work places.

What #noemail will have to do is to offer strong alternatives that are highly collaborative, mobile preferred, whitelisted, terse, quick, highly interactive, context appropriate, available to all devices, and with highly manageable and customizable communications streams

Let me without irony invite you to begin getting ready for #noemaildayhq May 5, 2015 (aka 5/5/15). I mean it can’t hurt to try.

Duke students must have email! Cannot do 48 hours of #noemail

Duke B-school

Dan Ariely, author of Predictably Irrational and others and professor at nearby Duke University, asked his students to go without email for 48 hours.

We all know that email is broken — the question is how many of us are willing to experiment living without it for a while? Last year I asked my students to stop using email for 48 hours, and they all broke down within the first day.

Business Insider logo

Ariely tells this tale in the context of posting a link to Steve Kovach‘s Business Insider article “I stopped checking email for a week, and now I realize I’ve been using it wrong for years”.

Kovach, who is mysteriously a fan of Outlook, also turned off Twitter for the week. In the process, he learned about Slack and that “fewer than 5% of [his] emails [received during the week] mattered.” This last is his final sentence. Earlier he says, correctly, that less than 3% of the Inbox was useful.

I do the math and get even less that matter. Kovach reports he received 1,511 messages of which 44 were worth reading or 2.9% and only 5 (.3% of the total or 11.36% of the interesting mail) required a response.

Kovach notices Mailbox — not the wonderful Gmail Inbox app which goes unmentioned — and Outlook’s QuickFilter as two notable attempts to tame the midden pile that is his and our inboxes. Kovach is a great fan of QuickFilter on his phone not having reviewed MailBox or providing a link (I did just above so you can try it if you still use email).

Slack is the preferred communications for his work at BI. Kovach “can see Slack (or something like it) completely replacing intra-office email one day.”

Of course there are more solutions arriving everyday. Follow #nomail on Twitter. Watch the upcoming video sessions with @elsua and @claireburge.

I released the LinkedIn Spambot – Sorry #noemail

LinkedInHelp on Twitter

LinkedIn will have to face a lawsuit that alleges it damaged the image of users by repeatedly sending emails to their contacts inviting them to join the social network. PC World, June 13, 2014

Yes, LinkedIn got me. I didn’t intend to but after carefully using LinkedIn for over 10 years (yes sometime in 2005), I wasn’t careful about the pages that are shoved at you *after* you intentionally accept a connection request. As a result the LinkedIn ConnectionBot is still telling people that I want them to join and connect with me. And yes despite the lawsuit described in PC World, the LinkedIn Bot continues to remind them. VIA EMAIL!

The email is From: Paul Jones so no one could contact me without joining LinkedIn!

Normally, I accept a connection after checking to make sure that I actually know, have met, or plan to meet or do business with someone or that they are a former student or colleague. Then I skip the all the suggestions pages by clicking on the LinkedIn log or just close the browser tab.

I’m not sure how I acted differently last week. The evidence is showing that I somehow agreed to give LinkedIn access to an old and long unused email contacts list. Then I had somehow in the same mouse click allowed LinkIn to invite folks with email addresses currently not registered at their site to join. Many people were already on LinkedIn with a different address. Some never wanted to be on LinkedIn ever. Some did join and connect as LinkedIn hoped they would.

LinkedIn doesn’t not offer an undo or remove or stop or pause option directly. But by consulting their Help section, I found that not only was I not alone in my misery, but that the answer was hidden in Messages and worse didn’t work for me. Others seemed to see and be able to “withdraw” bot-sent invitations one at a time for thousands of messages! Mine did not show up at all.

I posted on Twitter mentioning @linkedIn and quickly got a response. I went to the link suggested and filled in a Help Request, but nearly a week later friends are still on my case as the second string of reminders is hitting their Inboxes.

Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. #nomail and possibly #noLinkedIn

ReachMail’s History of Email shows the eternal fight against spam – #noemail

History of Email

ReachMail prepared an amusing graphic of the history of email. Despite their attempt to show a triumphal growth of email, the twisted trail of email history is littered with battles against spam and misuse from the very beginning.

As noticed here in an earlier post, in 1971 Ray Tomlinson claims to have sent the first email message. Yes it was spam. Some random sequence across the keyboard — “qwertyuiop” or the like — as far as he can recall. (note that Tom Van Vleck and Noel Morris have a legitimate and well documented earlier claim for inventing email with their “MAIL” program of 1965)

Further along, ReachMail commemorates the first unsolicited commercial email (1978) see Brad Templeton’s excellent history of spam for more on this event, the purchase of the spam-sending Hotmail by Microsoft (1997), the release of the accursed Outlook (1997) by no coincidence, the word “spam” entering the OED (1998) pretty late that, the infamous fake Bill Gates spam (1999), anti-spam laws that has almost no effect (2003 & 2004), MMS (for multimedia inclusion), SPF (insuring identity), and DKIM (for anti-phishing) none of these that were effective nor helpful (2004, 2005, 2007), Gmail (finally something that more or less works for spam control (2007), Obama campaign’s 13 million email address database — used to spam you for donations (2008), a report of bad passwords (2011), Gmail tabs for more complex mail management — as if that were a good thing (2012), and finally a notice of the Sony email hacking of 2014.

All in all, 15 of 25 events noted were not positive for email; most of those deal with spam. And I’d argue that noticing that the 90 million Americans (2012) trying to read their email on mobile devices are frustrated. Frustrated to the extent that only 64% of those 90 million check those devices daily. Email is synonymous with delay.

Email born bad and getting progressively worse.

Vodcast/Hangout series on #noemail with @elsua & @claireburge

Luis Suarez (@elsua) and Claire Burge (@claireburge) today embarked on a series of vodcasts (video conversations0 via Google Hangouts and later available on YouTube on the subject of #noemail.

@elsua writes:

the series will talk about how to live a life at work without email and still remain as productive and effective, if not even more, as ever.

This first conversation sets some of the parameters for the discussion — how to work happier, more efficiently and without email.

One small niggle with @elsua which we may discuss when I visit in a future installment; he says email is okay, not that evil, and may not go away. Readers here will be aware that I take objection to all three of those claims so look for some lively interactions.

I should note that on February 15, 2015 @elsua will have been 7 years without email. I record I hope to match one day, but he does have a serious head start.

Embarking on #noemail for 2015 – the @andyswann story

“In January I sent 22 emails,” admits Andy Swann in his very helpful and personal Medium post recounting his first month of #noemail.

Swann does a great job of pointing out his discoveries of helpful apps and practices (many of which you’ve seen on this blog, but his is a great update of what available at this point in time).

Interestingly the biggest bugaboo for Swann was his “out of office” aka “vacation” aka autoresponder in Outlook. It seems that Outlook wants some complex rules to avoid looping and over-responding. My own experience with GMail’s version was conversely completely simple and reliable and remains so. But do take Swann’s experience as a warning and keep an eye on your autoresponder actions even if you’re not quitting email.

One observation from Swann that readers of this blog will appreciate what Swann discovers:

Ive come to rely on my phone as my complete communication hub now. I use native apps for everything and rarely use browser versions, or my laptop at all, if I can avoid it. The phone keeps all my communication methods together with instant access, notifications and updates.

Yes, the future of messaging will be: highly collaborative, mobile preferred, whitelisted, terse, quick, highly interactive, context appropriate, available to all devices, and with highly manageable and customizable communications streams

Swann touches on all of that and gives practical advice based on his recent personal experience. Check it out.

Andy Swann's Away Mesage

#noemail from ABC Down Under’s Modern Office

credit: Steelcase Corp via Australian Broadcasting

The modern office, as seen above, is changing once again. IT, says David Oakley, Managing Director, ANZ at ServiceNow, “will be spending less time on laborious, manual tasks and can focus more on business driven, valued-added tasks.” In short, that means #noemail.

Writing in an opinion piece for Technology + Games of Australian Broadcasting, Oakley asks (as I do):
Why do we expect and demand easily accessed consumer services – such as shopping, reservations and the like — but tolerate tedious, unresponsive, isolated, and asynchronous communications from an earlier century when in the office?

Nearly 75 per cent of the survey respondents said at least half of their company’s business processes still rely on email. Although emails are delivered quickly, they stall once they hit each person’s email box – hence why it is typically referred to as asynchronous communication. Email requires significant human intervention and doesn’t provide any visibility as to status, ownership, bottlenecks or priority. By primarily relying on email to run internal services, most companies are stuck with inefficient processes.

Oakley doesn’t stop with problem definition, but suggests where to pioneer new processes. Based on a KPMG study, he offers Human Resources, the enterprise’s largest internal service provider touching every employee at every level, as the place to begin offering a new service automation systems — sans email.

Brief, helpful and online since October 2014 (news sometimes travels slowly towards me). Recommended quick read.

It’s time for email to take a backseat and for IT to deliver what their business users want, and their business efficiency demands – more automated services. This will not only drive increased productivity and efficiencies, but an improved bottom line and more satisfied employees.

Up to 60 messages per month! – #noemail

Tim Wu (and others) alert us to this lovely advert from 1994 for the late CompuServ in which the wonders of the internet are offered at a low rate — including access to their “electronic mail service of up to 60 messages per month.”

60 message per month

Read, remember, regret.

Entire advert here: “Finally, a computer information service you can’t out grow. No matter how hard you try.” via Consumerist

#noemail – Get Happy! Quit checking email & replace it.

“Is email overload bad for you?” ask Kostadin Kushlev and Elizabeth W. Dunn of the University of British Columbia as the marshall their research to show that yes indeed it is bad for you in so many ways. They proceed to detail these ways in their opinion article in the New York Times Sunday Review.

But is their article really about overload or is it about compulsiveness? Their research, published here in Computers & Human Behavior, studies frequency of email checking and its effect on happiness, effectiveness and general well being. In other words, the study is not about overload but about the anxiety caused by constant checking of your inbox.

One way to remove that anxiety — #noemail. Just sayin’

Shel Holtz of seeks a solution for offices and enterprises that may not keep offices in his blog post “Will companies ever embrace a culture of messaging?” reposted at Ragan as “Can internal networks replace email in the workplace?” Holtz’s section titles give a good precis of his argument: “Email is ineffective for most communication,” “Most enterprise social networks fail,” “What about those external social networks?” and finally “Message Mission Control.”

While Holtz doesn’t bring any research or references that are new to readers of this blog, he does use the good work done by researchers to present an intelligent argument for enterprises looking to Yammer, Hipchat, Chatter, etc and to understand the place of social business.

Don't Do It!

#noemail – IBM Social Business presents “Email Confessions”

After publishing a series of brief (15 seconds staged) confessions of email misuse on their YouTube site, the IBM Social Business folks compiled some of the better in the amusing 2 minute video above. The miscommunications, confessed by Gen-Xers of the most part, could have all been corrected by using something like say IBM’s Verse, a new competitor to GMail and Google Inbox.

There are some significant differences between Inbox and Verse worth mentioning. Verse is an analytic based work space aimed at enhancing your productivity across the enterprise. While Inbox too is an enterprise productivity tool, the Google solution is more aware of our messy complex and mobile lives. Note the difference in how each is presented. Verse on the desktop or laptop. Inbox on the phone. Verse about meetings and managing. Inbox about a varied life in motion. Your boss may buy Verse as an enterprise solution. You will sign up for Inbox for your phone.

Both only pick at the larger problem. As Luis Suarez has been saying “Think Outside of Your Inbox.” #noemail

#noemail at the End of 2014

As usual, XKCD nails it with a set of panels on email and #noemail and phone and fax. It makes so much sense — Snapchat or Fax instead of email or voicemail.

What is email?

But a new report from Pew Research on the perceived importance of work communication says people at work value email over even “the internet.” I have nits to pick here. the biggest one being that email is part of the internet. I think the survey meant to ask the Web, but just as the same Pew folks did a quiz about how well you “know the Web” which asked several questions that were about the internet as a whole and about apps that are not Web apps — this drives me bananas.

A lot of people are concerned about productivity and the negative impact of email on the office. Over the past week or so:

Perry Timms of i-Practice was interviewed about #noemail by Claire Burge at her blog. Irony alert: To find out more about i-Practice, just click on the mailto: link and you will send email to Perry.

Andy Swann of The Work Project writes about The Last Days of Email in Medium. Subtitled “Re-humanising the way I communicate” (yes he is British and so we get “s” for “z” occasionally), Andy encourages more human contact (without saying as I’ve said here that we are engaged in a robot war against evil robots (spam), well-meaning robots (sending notifications and the like), humans that act like robots (ReplyAll, acknowledging to an entire list, etc) and the robotic architecture of email itself). Call him or follow him on Twitter. Both are more human. I agree.

Founder and CEO of Pyrus, the workplace collaboration and productivity platform, Max Nalsky writes in The Next Web that “How quitting email helped my company communicate better”. Rather than tell how he did it with examples, Nalsky provides a better service; he suggests several solutions for various size companies and includes a section advice for “brave CEOs.” Among the suggested tools are Slack, HipChat, TigerText and building your own solutions.

Another person collecting #noemail stories for productivity is the aforementioned Claire Burge who interviewed Perry Timms. It all started with a moment of madness. I had simply had enough of email. It ruled my workday and I didn’t want it to dictate my life anymore. And so I decided to quit… Burge writes on her page dedicated to “Living a Life Without Email,” which is the tag line long used by Luis Suarez. Burge includes a link to a video interview with Suarez. She also offers workshops on reducing dependence of email within your workplace.

All of the above, and I, are offering more social solutions for increased productivity and a better life. But venture capitalist, Fred Wilson insists “Social is over” and it is increasingly being replaced by Messaging and Mobile.

“What Just Happened?” Wilson asks. And having seen this trend myself, I too wonder what’s in store for the new year.

How Christmas became New Year’s (in poetry in 2006-07)

Looking back, as one does as a New Year approaches, I found this post from December 2006. I had had a poem accepted to be published in the Sunday Journal of the News & Observer (Raleigh). I had seen it as a simple poem with a complicated view of joy based on some simple rhymes and numbers. Perfect for Christmas. My editor agreed. Until someone sent in a poem with a star. Here’s our exchange:

Joy is Here is bumped to New Years Eve 12/20/2006

She: [other poet] sent me a christmas poem, so id like to run yours on new years eve. okay?
Me: You mean its more joyful than mine?
She: Not necessarily. [other poet]s is more Christmasy.
Me: More Christmasy than a contingent and contextual look at the compromises we make to achieve joy?
She: [other poet]s has a star in it.
Me: if i add a star somewhere in my poem can i be the christmas poem? i already have birds and a tree.
She: yours will be the perfect poem to greet the new year.
Me: What if someone shows up with a poem with party hats and champagne in it, will I get bumped again?
She: hmm. well .. let me think about that.
Me: Wait! Wait! Im rewriting now. Mine will have a party hat. And it will have a very large acorn.
She: ok! youre secured!

And here is the poem and 99 word preamble which explains itself.

Email -> Facebook -> Messaging with #noemail

three epochs of personal use of computers

Writing at, Ben Thompson proposes and explains Three Epochs of Consumer Computing as seen at the end of 2014. In this smartly argued piece, he notes the ways that consumer use of tech has moved from core technology (like PC or phone), dominate operating system(s), and killer application(s). The chart above does a nice job of laying out his claims.

Thompson bets heavily on WhatsApp, which I also use heavily for a few people. But my students are much more likely to use SnapChat.

Worth a read. And keep doing #noemail

Imagining the Future of Privacy and Security

Pew Research Internet Project
The latest Imagining the Internet report is out from The PewResearch Internet Project and Elon University. This one focuses on the future of Privacy and Security.

In it, I say:

During the previous century of urbanization, we constantly complained of alienation and isolation. No one knew anyone quite as well as we did when we were in small towns. Now, like it or not, we are having to relearn the social behavior of small towns: how to cooperate, tolerate, or just ignore differences. Frankly, we were not so great at all of that when we were in small towns. Now, we get another chance to try to live like a Family of Mankind.

But read the report for more and varied insights.

Email is a personal monster The Oatmeal reminds us

email is broken

The Oatmeal is on the #noemail page exactly seeing the deep ways that email is broken and seeing the ways that social media and texting are appropriate.

Remaking or Removing the Inbox – #noemail

Google Inbox Logo

Recently Google changed the way we see our email, if we were still using email, with the deployment of Inbox. If you have a Gmail account, you can ask to begin using Inbox now. Inbox smartly does filtering, selects proper folders, creates conversation streams and really looks good — for an email inbox. Among the other enhancements are a native To Do list function, great integration with Calendar, and a lovely Snooze option that lets you push a message down for say a week or whenever you need to deal with it.

Upside = greatly improved intelligent management of your Inbox for all your email communications. Downside = email communications.

IBM Verse

Not to be left out, IBM yesterday announced Verse with a flurry of YouTube videos explaining how living in your enterprise inbox can be changed for better productivity. One of the biggest innovations of Verse is that the email is sorted by who sent it and made available under a Google Plus like circle icon. Other features of this new subscription cloud service are a DropBox like file sharing option and integration with calendars. Overall, I see Verse at first glance and after intensive video watching as a people centered version of Google’s Inbox with some Asana-like project management features.

Unlike Inbox, which works for enterprise and/or personal, Verse is definitely an enterprise play. Verse could be used as personal email, but the win and the direction are clearly business productivity.

Collaborative Objects logo

Today, Collaboration Objects, the dream of two Finnish programmers, became live. CO makes no bones about how they feel about email. “Death to Email” reads their home page.

And then:

Why kill email?

There is a paradigm shift ongoing, the amount of private emails sent daily is decreasing, but the amount of daily business emails is still increasing.

The reason for this is the emergence of the so-called social media, which gave consumers easy and instant access to better (=more efficient) means of communication.

So far this has not been available for businesses or organizations, instead various enterprise collaboration tools have entered the market, which have brought very little efficiency to the daily business, instead they have added an additional layer of communication and complexity yet another place you need to remember to go.

In order to improve the productivity of knowledge work, email must die.

Collaboration Objects sees communications as a collection of objects to be created, shared, modified, and discovered — not as a metaphorical letter to be filed for exclusively personal use. Of course this is hosted service like Verse and Gmail and Inbox. Like Verse, Collaboration Objects is aimed at the enterprise and is all about increasing productivity. This last is the strength and weakness of Collaboration Objects as more and more people find themselves outside the enterprise dropping in then back out as contractors or intermingling their various personal and business tasks. We’re not supposed to do that intermingling, but we do.

Yet, Collaboration Objects (for which I do not yet have a log in) shows promise for increasing productivity through reconceiving business communications as initially shared objects rather than enveloped messages even in some novel sort or package.

Collaborative Objects promises an app soon.

Wally explains #noemail to PHB in Dilbert


Wally: “Studies show that continuously checking your email lowers your functional IQ”
Next panel.
Wally: “You advised me to ‘work smarter’ so I plan to ignore all your email from now on”

Yes there is more! So funny, so true, so sad.

Only 6.6% of your email delivered at UNC – #noemail

UNC Email stats
Yes, the chart is correct; over 93% of the email directed at you at the University of North Carolina goes directly in the dumper. You never see it. And you should be glad.

Tim McGuire, Director of ITS Campus Infrastructure Services at UNC-Chapel Hill, has the sad job of marshaling resources and intelligence to protect you from “Evil Robots” (see my earlier article) by scanning every incoming email with “proprietary algorithms developed by the vendor to scan entire email content to determine if a particular message is a problem.” And that’s only the first step. Emulating Google, UNC uses Cisco’s to try to separate Well-Meaning Robots from Evil Robots. I mean, you may have asked for that special Constant Contact sent offer for a sale at an outlet store you once stopped in for socks while driving up the interstate. But wait there is more. A total of 5 points for email “protection.”

Overall, Tim does a good job of briefly describing the efforts that an enterprise must go through to offer useable email services. That effort is complex, expensive, intrusive, highly reliant on outside resources, compute-intensive, and requires “continual reexamination of our effectiveness, constantly updated vendor algorithms, use of the latest reputation scores, and vigilance in stopping our own accounts from being compromised and endangering our reputation.” Yes, as needlessly complex as the sentence I just quoted.

There is another solution. Simpler and cheaper. Get out of the email business. And there is more to more social solutions as this new report from Forrester (on Tech Republic sponsored by IBM) on “The Business Value of Social Content” [pdf] contends.

Slides for WWW/Internet 13 Keynote in Porto – #noemail

Summary of in-firm #noemail Productivity Tools

This is a list of in-house/in-firm/in-enterprise alternatives to working with email. Most have at least chat and Trello-like features and offer collaboration features at their center. Some work well on mobile as well as laptop or desktop. I’ll be adding more notes and links, but also see your comments and additions. List is in no particular order.

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