A World Without Email – Year 2, Weeks 49 to 51 (EMail Is Where Knowledge Goes to Die)

Tenerife - Mount Teide's SurroundingsIt has been nearly a month since the last time I put together a blog post over here on how I’m doing living "A World Without Email" and, while looking into the last few weeks, I have just realised that I’m almost on the closure of the second year experiment of giving up on corporate email altogether. So I thought I would write down today the one before last blog entry for Year #2 of those weekly (Now probably more monthly) progress reports sharing some further insights on the state of things at this point, as I am about to close the second year of this my new reality.

Over at my Flickr account you would be able to see the weekly progress reports for weeks #49 and #50. However, for week #51 I am going to share it over here, so you can get a quick glimpse of what the last three weeks have been like put together in combination. So here you have it:

A World Without Email - Year 2, Week 51

As you would be able to see things are looking amazingly good, since, during the course of those three weeks, I received a total number of 44 emails, with an average of 14 per week! Yes, 14 emails received per week! Not sure what you would think, but I am feeling incredibly excited that what started as 30 to 40 emails a day (Nearly two years ago), it’s now turned to 14 emails a week! Huge achievement, if you ask me, and well on target for that follow up challenge that I set up at the beginning of the year of receiving 20, or less, emails a week. Yes, I know … double w00t!!!

If you notice, you will see there has been a steady decrease in the number of emails received over the last few weeks, yet that doesn’t mean that virtual online interactions have not been taking place. Actually, quite the opposite. I can certainly share with you folks how the number of those online interactions through social software tools have tripled during that time. Specially, for my second most frequently used social software tool while at work: Lotus Connections (Lotus Sametime is still number #1, by the way).

It looks like, at a much faster pace than last year, fellow colleagues are starting to experience how powerful some of the offered capabilities behind the firewall can well be; specially, for something so trivial, yet so incredibly useful as Lotus Connections Profiles’ Micro-blogging/-sharing component. I will probably be sharing some general statistics on IBM’s internal usage of that Profiles capability, but I can certainly tell you how well used it is at the moment that I am starting to see the effects myself by spending most of the time in there collaborating and sharing knowledge with my peers.

To me, it’s like a nice catching up exercise, because I have been using that functionality from the very first moment that it became available in previous beta versions, and most IBMers are starting to see the main benefits of using such micro-blogging/-sharing component versus using other traditional tools, like email. Yes, it’s plenty of good fun seeing how after these two years, nearly, I am not that crazy weirdo anymore for abandoning email and, instead, using social software tools. Things are catching up rather quickly! Exciting times!

I know at this point in time you may be wondering what kinds of interactions do I have on a regular basis interacting through Profiles Boards, right? Well, not to worry, I am already putting together another draft blog post where I am listing a Top 10 set of activities that I come across rather often when interacting, behind the firewall, on our very own instance of Lotus Connections. However, I will share with you what’s probably the number #1 activity I embarked on through micro-blogging/-sharing behind the firewall…

Questions and Answers! Indeed, the good old Q&A that every single knowledge worker engages with time and time again during the course of the week and, in most cases, several times a day. As you can imagine, using micro-blogging/-sharing tools for Q&A already provides me with lots of advantages to help me reduce my email clutter even more.

Oh, and I am not the only one feeling the very same thing. Did you have a look into the wonderful blog post that Jeremy Sluyters put together under the title "EMail Is Where Knowledge Goes to Die", where he references that quote I have been using myself for all along from Bill French that clearly describes why I abandoned email a couple of years back? You should read it, if you haven’t done so just yet.

In it, Jeremy gets to share a very compelling use case on how, regardless of the tool, a certain, relatively simple and recurring task, like asking a question and getting an answer, finds its place in using much better and suitable social software tools versus email, providing an opportunity to save time and effort as well as allowing a much easier, and faster!, re-findability of the content originally shared.

Pretty compelling story, I can assure you. One that, once you go through it, will surely help you understand a bit better why living "A World Without Email" has been one of my passions over the last few months and why, as I am about to head into the third consecutive year without using email at work, this is just the beginning. This is just one use case of the kind of impact and business value of using social software tools to collaborate and share your knowledge across the company with your peers. One out of several dozens of them out there. One that has allowed me to reduce my email clutter substantially and that can only be a good thing. But it’s not just the only one. There will be plenty more and I will be looking forward to sharing them all with you in its due course…

For now, an open question for you all out there: are you ready to proclaim and live by our motto on "Email is where knowledge goes to die?"… If not, what’s stopping you? How can we help?

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  • Luis, not so sure about re-findability. Sure, that the stuff shared has more chances to be found by other people, but how about being able to find it yourself? Let’s say you remember having an interesting discussion a way back that would be useful for the thing you have to do now – and you don’t remember where (internet/intranet) it was. What do you do given that everything is fragmented over different tools and spaces?

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    • Luis Suarez says:

      Hi Lilia! Thanks a lot for dropping by and for the feedback comments! Well, I guess it all depends on how good that Search engine may well be, right? In the last 10 years I have been using various internal social software tools I have yet to see the first instance where I can’t re-find the content I have shared myself, regardless of the tool used at the time; time and time again I have been able to re-find it and with no problems.

      As an example of what I mean, inside IBM the Haifa Lab has been developing some amazing new social tools in the real of Social Search (SaND – http://portal.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=1572156 – being the most significant and powerful one) and with as little as a name and a single keyword of a topic talked about, or discussed, it finds the content wherever it may well be stored (Whether on blogs, wikis, bookmarks, micro-sharing sites, etc. etc.).

      So I think it all depends on how powerful that search engine experience is and how well tuned it is to tap into the various fragmented places that people use extensively. Now, I can’t say it would be that effective finding that email in my inbox and may have been be deleted by the system if a specific period of time has taken place …

      Oh, and I haven’t touched base yet on the topic of Social Search, i.e. through your social networks; there’s a great chance they would know better than you where your knowledge has been stored ;-)

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      • I like Lilia’s point. Now that I am post-KM, I realize that the biggest consumer of the information I save is me.

        I think we all realize that one of the failings of early KM systems is that they were designed for the benefit of the company, not the individual. I think that is starting to change.

        I have some concerns that information is being scattered over too many platforms. But it is still easier to search through a a few platforms than to churn through email. Nobody else will find it if it lives your email.

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        • Luis Suarez says:

          Hi Doug! That’s a great point and one with which I agree entirely! It’s interesting to see how important the concept of “Personal Knowledge Management” will become with our wider adoption of social software tools. We need to eventually be able to find stuff again and somehow it all starts with ourselves. In our email systems, we are not going to be able to find everything we need, and others won’t even have a chance to peek through!

          However, when using social software tools we have got the opportunity of using key concepts like tagging where I can add tags for each and everyone of those pieces of information for easy retrieval at a later time; I think that’s going to become rather fundamental in the next few months to make it work according to one’s needs and again Social Search Engines will need to come up to the standards & demands of what we would want to look for and re-find again.

          Thanks again for dropping by and for the feedback!

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          • Well, when I talk about searching email, I mean gmail, not Outlook – makes a lot of difference in my case (I use Outlook for strictly work-related stuff and gmail for everything else, including professional networking).

            And a couple of follow-up thoughts (that came over dinner :) From the personal knowledge management perspective the biggest challenge would be to search MY stuff that I contribute inside a firewall and outside of it, as well as public together with private/small-group interaction. Something similar to Personal Learning Environments, but broader than just for learning. While I can easily see the market for smart search within a firewall, I’m not so sure that the incentives are there to develop those tools for an individual…

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            • Luis Suarez says:

              (For some weird reason, I am not capable of responding through the main Web site to your comment Lilia, the “Reply” is not showing up; may need to look into that if you can’t comment on it as an indented comment any longer… not that I have disabled comments. I haven’t) Right, when searching mail for me it would be Lotus Notes, which also provides a very similar functionality to Google Gmail’s threading and therefore allowing me to find conversations rather quickly. However, I don’t rely on email as much as before any longer (For the last two years), so rather prefer to concentrate on the interactions through social tools.

              You bring an excellent point with regards to internal and external sets of interactions; *that* surely is a challenge, although for me it hasn’t been that much, since most of my interactions outside of the firewall are in very few places that I have trimmed down consistently over the years, so I know where the content would reside; however, I can imagine how for most other folks it would be quite a challenge if they haven’t been cultivating those spaces rather well and, instead, spread around all over the place. I am kind of wondering whether the idea of a universal profile, both for internal and external social tools would address some of this; something like having your own social software tools Dashboard with stream activities, tasks, etc. etc. per the tools used through that universal profile and feeding that information into whatever the search engine… Just a thought…

              I agree with you on the internal market for search engines; in this case, with the example I am talking about, SaND, that search engine is part of the product; in this case, Lotus Connections, where a good chunk of the functions I mentioned are already there, and the ones I shared from Lotusphere are currently being piloted inside the firewall before they make it into the product. So in a way that concern would be addressed there with that social search engine being incorporated into the main product used.

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  • Sure, eventually we’ll get perfect search, but it’s far from there yet. My problems with most (social software) search systems are around the following:

    – not an easy way to see conversations (back and forth around a topic) or histories of interaction with a person (all exchanges that I had with you over time and tools)

    – you need multiple tools to search in multiple places (and what if I don’t remember where it was?)

    – they search most recent/most popular stuff only (and what if I need an obscure idea from long ago?)

    [I use gmail to aggregate many of my interactions/streams – it far from perfect, but works better for re-finding than everything else.]

    Thanks for the SaND link, btw.

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    • Luis Suarez says:

      Hi Lilia! Boy, this is one of those times when I wish I could demo to you guys some of the really cool technology we actually use behind the firewall. All of those three times you mentioned above are all handled, and pretty nicely, too!, with this SaND search engine I mentioned above.

      It gives me an opportunity to find a conversation with a particular person, or group of people, get entire history on the discussions, an interactive tagcloud I can play around with and a drill down of when a discussion took place and with whom. Even for the most obscure conversations, where I may just remember a keyword!

      And it searches across all of the various social networking tools we have got available behind the firewall and aggregates all of that data nicely in fancy format I can digest according to my needs and likes.

      They demoed it a couple of weeks back at Lotusphere 2010 in Orlando and everyone was WOWed by what they saw. Going to find out whether I can share a sneak peek with you guys, so you have a chance to see what it looks like …

      I agree with all of the points you have mentioned above, by the way, which I think is the huge problem with working on the Internet with various social networking tools that don’t talk to one another, but I think behind the firewall it’s a different story: integration *is* key and needs to happen.

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  • Jack Vinson says:

    Luis, I’ve blogged about this, as promised. The topic was so obvious, but your post nailed it for me. Q&A is so much richer when it is out there available to anyone.
    http://blog.jackvinson.com/archives/2010/02/03/helping_the_experts_and_stopping_the_email_chatter.html

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    • Luis Suarez says:

      Hiya, Jack! Many thanks for dropping by and for sharing the link to that wonderful post! I have read it already and will be dropping by to share a couple of comments in the next few minutes, so I can try to answer with some thoughts on your conclusion… It’s not as complicated as it may seem, I think … But we shall see …

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  • Wilson says:

    I have been occasionally checking into this with interest. To me, though, much of the anti-e-mail conversation (not just here but everywhere) ignores the need at times for private point-to-point communication. Consider sensitive personal and employee situations as a simple example, and there are also value-add political interactions requiring a level of opaqueness.

    So the challenge is increasingly and just as discussed here how to bring all that together. For me, e-mail has never been where information goes to die – rather the old-fashioned file store is where that happens! Of course much of this is the lack of good search tools on that file store level which I happen to experience and which of course we organizationally hope to change. In the meantime, I find it easier to organize messages than files.

    Personally, it’s even more challenging. Two of my very best friends reject participation in more open networks (one is simply a bit Luddite-ish, the other has experimented with social networks and for reasons I won’t bother to go into has decided they have more negative than positive issues). Remember, we’re talking personal, intimate relationships here, not professional. So the objective is very different. Due to these situations coupled with that there really is a compelling need as well as interest on my part to participate in transparent-ish social networks, my personal life I am finding is best managed via an “e-mail portal” using Nutshellmail though conversely Netvibes hooked to e-mail also would work well.

    That said, the point is that these situations lead to the importance of a portal with both personal and public elements. This is an area I contend is of critical importance to address the many necessarily-divergent work and personal styles and even legitimate needs. It also, if done well, can serve as a bridge in this general transition from siloed information and behavioral practices to more open ones (and bear in mind we really don’t know yet where this transition is going: yes, I think we can categorically state it is going towards the open direction in the long term for sure, but we do not yet know the limits, and we have not yet observed the “Millennials” grow up and go through a lifecycle of personal and professional development, let alone next generations and the next technology leaps).

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    • Luis Suarez says:

      Thanks, Wilson, for dropping by and for sharing your thoughts. I agree with you and, contrary to what most folks, I have never said that email is dead or suffering from a slow and painful one. Quite the opposite, I *still* see value in making use of email for two very specific scenarios:

      1) To process calendaring & scheduling events; something that seems to always happen through email and which, in my case, represents a good amount of the notifications that still arrive in my inbox.

      2) To host 1:1 private, confidential or sensitive conversations on whatever the topic between two parties. I agree with you those conversations still need to take place, but in my case there aren’t many of those hitting my inbox; mainly, because when they come through I prefer to handle them through a phone call. Much faster and much more efficient.

      For the rest thought everything else goes out, out of my inbox and into whatever the social tool that provides the right context to interact out there in the open; something that with email it’s very difficult to obtain specially when interacting with many folks at the same time; it’s that abuse of the system that I am not in favour of and which I want to get rid of for good.

      Oh, notice as well I am doing this initiative only on my work related email, not my personal one, although with my social presence outside of work, folks know where they can get me way faster than just email. But still people have been using my personal email and that hasn’t been an issue; most of them are, indeed, agree with you on that one, private conversations, so they remain private…

      Really like your conclusion as well about exploring that opportunity of a dashboard / portal interface that would allow us to blend, to some extent, both our personal and business interactions; something that typically we seem to be “forced into” more and more and without remedy probably, just as we all become much more distributed, virtual and “owners” of our own workflows and productivity while working away from traditional offices. I think there’s still a lot to cover in this aspect, even for the younger generations, as they enter the workplace.

      I would love to see some more research done on this important aspect to see how our personal lives will disturb, and pretty badly, our corporate culture(s)…

      Thanks again for the thought-provoking and insightful feedback!

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  • […] I also learned that “eMail Is Where Knowledge Goes to Die” via […]

  • Wilson says:

    Hi Luis, thanks also, and I think you bring up a good thought re where will all this disruptive technology go. Although in some ways I’m dubious of the view, in other ways I can see this all as massive facilitation and even a sort of push into an agency-based work force.

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    • Luis Suarez says:

      Hi Wilson! Many thanks for the follow up! Well, I am not really sure where we will be heading, since things are changing so incredibly fast that’s rather a challenge to predict. One thing that I know for sure is that open & transparent collaboration and knowledge sharing will become so distributed that although incredibly helpful I bet it will present to us plenty of challenges as well, but then again those are the ones I’d be keen on pursuing further. I bet the learning path would be much more intense than with other traditional tools that we seem to have exploited enough already over the last few decades … We shall see …

      Thanks again for the great feedback!

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  • […] It is not even true that old business is not social. More of the opposite. There is more than enough talking anywhere, in the floors and around the coffee machines. Problem is, it’s the wrong kind of sociality: the ongoing unconstructive babble that is always only repeating that we are right and they are idiots. This kind of collective egocentric sociality culminates in the e-mail inbox. In the e-mail world everything is a "message": something important with a sender and an addressee, always giving hidden hints about social status. Each mail claims undivided attention, and processing it takes always longer than one thinks. The average IBM worker is spending 2- 3 hours a day in the inbox, says Luis Suarez, Web-evangelist at IBM, who is demonstrating in public since for two years now how man can survive without e-mail. […]

  • […] bis drei Stunden in ihrer Inbox. Und “E-Mail is not Work”, sagte der Workshop-Leiter Luis Suares, Web-Evangelist bei IBM, der seit zwei Jahren ein Leben ohne e-Mail öffentlich […]

  • […] September 22, 2010 in E2.0, Knowledge Mgt, Social Media Luis Suarez recapping his journey towards zero emails […]

  • Luiz, FYI – here’s the complete backstory on my quote and its origin – a good chuckle if you have the time.

    http://ipadcto.com/2011/02/28/email-is-where-knowledge-goes-to-die/

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    • Luis Suarez says:

      Hi Bill! Whoah! How wonderful! Thanks ever so much for dropping by and for sharing the link to such a wonderful story! I know I still owe you a response to another blog post comment you shared a little while ago, but this time around I went ahead to that blog article you put together and shared some further insights over there, adding further on what it is like challenging and displacing email as a means of communicating and collaborating effectively. Look forward to your comments and many thanks for adding further up into the conversation!

      Looking forward to pointing folks to your article that explains so nicely where that now famous quote comes from! :)

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