E L S U A ~ A KM Blog by Luis Suarez

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A Refreshing New Way of Collaborating and Sharing Knowledge – Giving up on e-mail! (Part II)

If you would remember, last Friday I eventually finished up the week putting together a blog post, where I was sharing a number of insights on something I have been doing at work for over a week now and which I thought would interest folks over here as well. As you all well know, I am a social computing evangelist at IBM and all along I have felt that I needed to change something in my day to day interactions in order to go through a substantial leap towards embracing social software behind the corporate firewall. And that major step has actually been giving up on e-mail!

Like I said, while I am entering the second week of this particular experiment, and not to worry, over the course of the next couple of days I will be sharing with you folks how things are going so far, I thought I would start the week with some additional thoughts triggered mainly by the good bunch of commentary that people have been leaving at the original blog post I put together. I thought those comments were just too good to go by unnoticed and perhaps buried in the threaded discussion. So over the next few minutes, I am going to try to address those comments, hopefully, being able to add some more into the overall conversation. So here it goes:

From Turtle‘s comments: "We have an enterprise license for QuickPlace, but no, instead people thrash out long topics in email that then overload my account quota and get everything all plugged up."

Yes, indeed, that is exactly how I have felt myself for quite a while! I am sure I’m not the only one who has got a quota on his mail inbox and that soon enough it piles up to the point where you are blocked, i.e. mail jail. This, folks, was one of the primary reasons why I decided to take this radical approach of moving away from e-mail. For good. And embrace, even more, social computing.

One of the things I realised about was that the more e-mails I tried to respond to, the more answers I would get back at me, and as a result more and more files will be sent out across my mail box and before I knew it, I would be in mail jail again. So for a few days now, I don’t reply to e-mail (Unless it is something confidential or a private conversation that needs to take place between the two of us), I go and seek that person in my social networks and provide the answer to the query in that public space. That usually triggers a notification mechanism and they find out about it. I move on. I know it takes a bit of getting used to it, but once you start doing it once at a time and start moving away some of those conversations, it would become a natural experience and you will regret not having done it before! Later on, I will explain why…

From Laura W‘s comments: "[…] not sure others are there with it all yet. Really be interested to see how it shifts behaviour and use!"

To that set of comments from Laura I would say never underestimate what people have been exposed to all along. Believe it or not, there is a great chance they may have had an early exposure to those social software tools, but because they are in their own comfort zone with processing e-mail, they may be feeling it is not the right time just yet. Provoke it! Smart moving them out of their comfortable spaces and bring them further on into the public dialogue going on within social networks. Inviting them over with your reply to their queries surely is going to get their attention. Specially if you reply faster than you would normally do with e-mail. That will give them a sense of what’s your response like w.r.t. e-mail vs. social networking. The sooner you reply with the latter, the more keen they would be to move away from the former.

From John Smart‘s comments: "How do you keep from getting information glut???"

Something that, believe it or not, I learned from Twitter some time ago… Following the flow of the river, versus drowning on the lake. That is right. Today I bumped into a lovely quote from Ton Zylstra as well on Information Abundance vs. Information Overload and that is exactly how I feel about it. Sometimes you will be able to grab it all, some others, you won’t, but that is when the power of the social networks will kick in, because believe it or not they will come to your rescue! Think of it as the give and take from participating in a community. Your community.

"[…] you said that you scan 2,500 articles each morning! If we assume that everyone will follow suit and also give up on email, that number will easily double, right?"

Not necessarily, because at the same time that I get that amount of articles, there is plenty of scanning and filtering that goes on, and in most cases done by the social networks I belong to, which means that at the end of the day I end up reading / going through 30 to 40 items I really want to keep and which are now readily available online on a public space for other folks to enjoy. This is along the very same lines of when you read a newspaper, if you come to think about it.

"How will you keep from missing questions that people would normally direct to you via email?"

You wouldn’t miss a single question, if you really want to… Welcome to the wonderful world of syndication (RSS / Atom feeds)!! In my opinion, syndication is probably the single, most important success factor from moving into a social networking collaborative space, because you can configure and set up those various alerts or feeds to notify on everything you need to be notified on. Key difference from e-mail is that with e-mail you are no longer in control. With RSS / Atom feeds you are at the center of it all and in control of how much exposure you would want to get. Oh, and believe me, even if you miss out one question / query, you will be getting friendly reminders from those folks, just like you would do with e-mail in the past.

However, here is the key thing that will make it all work. If you have nurtured your social networks and connections rather nicely you will be finding out how over time they are going to be helping you out sorting out those questions, so that in case you forget or in case you may be busy with something else, they will be able to jump into the social computing open space and answer those queries for you. And voilá! Helped provided, without your own involvement!!! … Although it works in both ways, too! Those same folks would also asking the same thing in return in the overall social networking space, whenever they would need to, just like you did.

"Will they need to make a post, then send a link to you via email or is there some other mechanism?"

Well, like I said, they can use whatever method of getting in touch with me. Preferably through our mutual social networking spaces we all belong to. But that may not always be the case. Folks can still send me e-mail with no problem. The difference now is that I am not replying through e-mail, but through other means, and much faster than through the normal e-mail expectations, so that over time folks would realise how they can get faster through to me. E-mail is not going to be it any longer! Various social computing tools would surely get my attention! As so would they get yours, I am sure.

"And how do you follow replies to your comments on others’ blogs? Will that scale?"

Oh, a quick and short answer on this one: Welcome, again, to the wonderful world of syndication with RSS / Atom feeds! Your online / offline feed aggregator is what is going to keep you sharp and on top of it all! Also Web 2.0 tools like CoComment will become very handy and helpful! And best of all, anyone can make use of them!

"Put another way… your mail inbox has a priority all its own because people are sending messages to you, individually and specifically. If you are giving that up, why isn’t it making things worse for you?"

Let me put it this way. My mail inbox does not have a priority, specially when I have to fight against mail jail, or spam, or unsolicited e-mails or whatever. I lost control over it and it is not longer having the priority it once had. However, on the other hand my social networks do have that priority and the main reason is because I treasure those connections, those relationships, because, after all, with social computing, we are talking all about the people, and the same way I’ll be watching out for them helping them out fix whatever the issues, so will they, helping me with my own.

That is the whole point of the commitment behind belonging to a social network: you care about people’s needs and try to help them sharing your knowledge and experiences. With e-mail, you are just so focused to have a clean inbox that you lose track of what needs to get done and before you know it, you are out of touch with what is happening. Your inbox is more about information, whereas your social networks are more about people & their connections. Now, which side would you want to sit on? I think you know what my answer is going to be, right? 😉

From Swan’s comments: "I know that any kind of categorization is going to be over-simplification of life, but it might be interesting to draw up some categories of knowledge workers and then assign a recommended “bundle” of tools that would meet that type knowledge workers’ needs"

In a way, Swan is spot on with regards to this one! The key thing from this particular initiative I kicked off a few days back is nothing more, nothing less than becoming myself (And as a result of that… applicable to others) smarter, without working harder necessarily at it. Yes, I know, it may sound more complicated than it is, but believe me, it is worth while a try. You would be amazed as to how many conversations you can drive away from e-mail and move them into open spaces, i.e. your social networks, and best part of it all, is how keen your connections would be to hang out in those open spaces because everyone would have a chance of sharing, connecting, collaborating and innovating together at the same time! And from a single triggered action!

Give it a try yourself for a few days and you will see how you would be able to cut off e-mail almost completely and for good!

Now, I do know though that your job may involve handling and sharing of very sensitive information across the board and in that particular case it may not really apply that much, but I bet that time and time again you would be able to find the odd conversation you can divert into those open social software spaces. And you know the drill. Starting small, and building up further from there will get you there! It surely has helped me reach the status where I am today, where the average of e-mails has been keeping steady all along during these few days and reduced by more than triple the amount of what I used to get not long ago!

That would be it, folks. As you can see, lots and lots of information details to digest in this rather long blog post. I hope though that experience will give you plenty of ideas to try out at your own organisation(s) and, why not?, share your thoughts as to how that experience is going. You will be gratefully surprised, I know. For sure! … I was 😉

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  1. I think things like landing planes and climbing cliffs gives a person a good appreciation of phenomenal world. You know, facts and actualities, rather than the fuzzy stuff that makes chat so much fun.

    In my last big contract the outcomes were pretty clear: the plane lands (and the passengers go on their way, happy) or it crashes (NOT!).

    “you said that you scan 2,500 articles each morning!” … oh, really. Let’s say 10 seconds each. Let’s say eyes-to-monitor 60 seconds per minute, 60 minutes per hour … no interruptions, no reading, no forwarding. C’mon … really … you can keep that up 6 or 7 hours a day?! C’mon … really …

  2. Hi Ben, well, what can I can say … Yes, I surely can, my friend!! And here is how it happens. In most cases it doesn’t take me more than 3 to 5 seconds to scan the article. And I am saying scanning, which is not the same a reading. I am subscribed to plenty of different news sites, both business related and technical resources, and pretty much like you would do with a newspaper I only check from those the actual headline, if it interests me I will file it, if not I will delete it, which is why I find the Delete button so important to keep things clean.

    Then when I go into my regular feeds I do a lot of pre-scanning as well. I don’t get to read all of the different articles, not because I may not be interested, but more than anything else because I like coming back to them. So I quickly scan as well the ones I am interested and the other ones would go away. So from all of that scanning and filtering, I don’t think it is 6 / hours, like you suggest, would have to time myself one day, but more along the 4 to 5 hours a day, which in between meetings, conference calls and whatever other tasks sounds like quite reasonable to me.

    Should I cut on my feed reading? Probably, perhaps I would be doing that over the next few weeks as my interests have narrowed down quite a bit lately. Thus over the next few months I bet that listing would go down.

    Must say I was surprised to actually see the above comment coming from you, since I thought, you, above anyone else, would be getting exposed to a whole lot more than I do and still keep everything under control. Perhaps you could share with us how you get to digest feeds on a daily basis. I would love to know, as I am sure I may be able to learn a trick or two! 🙂

    Thanks ever so much for the feedback comments!

  3. Luis,

    You are currently providing two key personal services
    1. You are reviewing a variety of sources for what you consider to be interesting (2500 per day apparently)
    2. You are then merging your own personal opinions in with the “best-of” ideas that you have reviewed.

    I am sure that the sources you review are based on an extensive review of the types of content they put out. Most people will not have the time to do that type of analysis let alone the 4-5 hours daily scanning.

    Services like Digg help people find popular content. However, many online users go to the names that they trust offline. These are names like Covey, Peters, Buckingham, Fiorina, Gerstner, etc… These days many of those luminaries and their surrounding “people” are putting out content in a digital format.

    Any thoughts about how this “luminary” content could be aggregated to create a stream per luminary or even aggregate by concept across luminaries?

    This goes a bit against the democratization of the internet where anybody can have a good idea and see it rise to prominence. We are already pre-filtering by some sort of “luminary filter”, which means that until you are a luminary, your ideas are not included. However, it seems that this pre-filter would help the knowledge worker who has 4-5 minutes rather than 4-5 hours to review online feeds.

    I am curious to hear your thoughts, but for now I am going to assume you see some merit so let’s talk about how the aggregation might be accomplished. There are services like xfruits that aggregate muliple feeds into a single feed for an end user, but how about on the backend? Are there tools that will help a service combine private content with multiple streams of public content based around a particular luminary and offer it up as a customizable feed service where the service provider and the luminary can earn some income?

    Perhaps some of the public content comes through full-access and then other elements are just stubs that require a subscription. Similar to the way Yahoo Finance has gone.


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