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

From the blog

Is Email In Danger? – Depends on Its Ability to Evolve to Meet Your Needs

Now that this blog has turned itself into A KM Blog Thinking Outside the Inbox, I thought I would keep things going further by commenting on interesting links I have bumped into over the last few days and which basically touch on the subject of how e-mail is in a serious need to re-purpose itself, if it would want to survive for the following few years ahead of us. Latest of these examples is the superb blog post put together by Alex Iskold, over at ReadWriteWeb, titled "Is Email In Danger?".

In that particular blog post, Alex comes to cover the role of e-mail, both in the consumer market as well as the corporate world, by giving us a very helpful and insightful trip down the memory lane where he talks about the key role that e-mail has been having in the further development of what we know as the Internet. However, at the same time he is commenting on the fact of how little by little, but steadily, the emergence of social networking tools is undermining such paramount role that e-mail has been having all along, to the point where a good chunk of conversations are already starting to happen through those other social software tools and not e-mail itself.

Examples like Facebook, MySpace, Flickr, Slideshare, Twitter (And whatever other micro-sharing option available out there you can think of), FriendFeed, ma.gnolia, etc. etc. are some very good ones of how things are starting to shift away from our good old use of corporate e-mail. As you can imagine, while I got busy reading what Alex was mentioning, I just couldn’t help smiling a bit as something that I have been doing myself for a while, but perhaps much heavier for the last five months, since, as you well know already, I have given up on e-mail (Corporate e-mail) in order to collaborate and share my knowledge with other knowledge workers much more effectively.

However, what I found rather interesting from the article put together by the author of the article was a couple of gems that I thought I would share over here as well as they are very descriptive of how I feel myself about the whole e-mail thing, which I am sure you are going to find as well very relevant, since this is not the first time that I mention such thing. Thus here we go:

"Since email was the first killer app for the web, it’s used for everything. We’re now observing a fragmentation cycle where we’re discovering better ways of passing around information and getting things done.

Email is fundamentally great at substantial person-to-person communication. The following diagram illustrates why email is facing competition. It cannot effectively support broadcast (except for spam) and it’s still poor at helping with tasks and projects." (Emphasis mine)

You would have to agree with me that those two paragraphs are very representative of what I have been mentioning all along in the last few months: e-mail is perhaps not the best of collaboration and knowledge sharing tasks as it keeps failing come together when handling one to many and many to many interactions (Remember one-on-one interactions of a confidential or sensitive nature are probably the only instance where it is still rather useful on its own! But forget about everything else!). And the particular diagram that Alex has included just after those two paragraphs is rather representative of what’s currently happening with e-mail on how it has become rather stagnant, specially on the corporate world:

From there onwards, you would be able to read some further interesting facts as to why e-mail is facing some competition and how, more and more, e-mail is becoming much more fragmented (Which is a good thing, by the way!) and how a whole bunch of conversations that use to come through e-mail are now going to find various different ways of getting across to you. Much faster, much more efficiently and effectively and with one single key aspect added new into the mix: you are now the one in control of those interactions by walking away from e-mail and you decide where else to take the conversation!

Finally, one of the items covered by Alex, towards the conclusion, which I thought was rather interesting was this specific paragraph:

"We’re likely to see a consumer shift from email towards more compact forms of communication, but in the enterprise the email hold is strong and unlikely to be replaced any time soon."

Interesting remarks, but I must say that I have always thought that the consumer market is not the only one that is going to successfully get rid of e-mail by moving away most of those conversations. The corporate world will also have a say in it. And more than anything else not because most folks may well think that e-mail is dead (It is not, believe me!), but because it is that gentle push from the consumer market that will be forcing e-mail to evolve and move on with the times. Move into a space where it could certainly explore some wild ideas on how to become much more open, public and transparent, not just for a single individual, but for an entire group, i.e. a team or a community!

Because those same end-users who have been consumers for quite a while and who have discovered the wonderful world of e-mail-less would also start demanding that e-mail smartens up quite a bit, because otherwise people would find other means of communicating, collaborating and sharing their knowledge. And, believe me, there would be plenty of really good choices out there that will help those knowledge workers forget what, once upon a time, was their primary method of communication & collaboration.

Hope that e-mail will realise that it is time for it to become fragmented and focus on improving the overall user experience of those tasks that it knows how to handle well and properly: one-one-one conversations, and let all of the rest of interactions go in to the social computing tools as they are all much better suited options to engage in one to many, many to many interactions! And guess what? This is not something new. Most of these social software tools, like blogs and wikis, have been there for as long as 10 years. So we are not really discovering a new world. The consumer market has got it already figured out & more and more they will be demanding to make use of the tools they use outside of their companies to bring them into behind the firewall!

And here is where e-mail will have to decide to be flexible, change, adapt, move on, innovate & come up with something better, if it would want to survive over the next few years, because otherwise I am sure you all know what will happen next… (And it won’t be pretty for e-mail, I can imagine!)

For some of us it HAS already started. How about you? Is your e-mail still dragging you back into the 20th century? Do you think it would evolve and re-create itself to meet the demands from the knowledge workforce of the 21st century? Or rather will it become more rigid, stricter, with no sense of innovation making it move forward and therefore slow you down on your quest to work smarter, but not necessarily working harder?

When was the last time that you saw e-mail going through some really key and fundamental changes since it was first invented to match the current collaboration and knowledge sharing needs? Not sure about you folks, but I know exactly where I would want to be!

And you?

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