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

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A World Without Email — Year 3, Weeks 24 to 28 (Email Is Where Knowledge Goes to Die – The Presentation)

Gran Canaria - Pozo de las Nieves & Surroundings in the Spring It has been a while now since the last progress report I have shared over here around the topic of living “A World Without Email“, that experiment that has been going on for over 2.5 years now, where one day I decided to give up on corporate email altogether and, instead, make heavier use of social networking tools to collaborate and share knowledge with other fellow knowledge workers. So I thought I would drop by today over here and share with you folks an update of how things are going, specially now that there seems to be a growing interest in demonstrating how social software tools are consistently not only helping reduce the amount of emails we receive on a daily basis, but at the same time we are starting to witness the changing role of email itself, transitioning successfully into becoming that messaging / notification system that was designed for over 40 years ago versus remaining that content repository where everything goes. Even your knowledge!

Matt Forcey put together a rather insightful blog post not long ago under the heading “Email Usage Drops 28% in Past 12 Months!” where he quotes a recent study by Nielsen “focused on how Americans spend their time online, [and] unexpectedly found that email usage has dropped by 28% over the last year“. Worth while a read, for sure! Just as much as Ethan Yarbrough‘s Email’s Role in an Enterprise 2.0 Environment: Signal Not Source where he is sharing a terrific story of how his own team is progressively changing the role of email in a business environment, moving away from that content repository format where conversations used to happen, to only serve as a notification and messaging system for content that’s stored elsewhere, in this case, social software tools.

If you remember, and if you have been reading this blog for a while now, that’s exactly what I am trying to advocate with “A World Without Email“. Yes, I do realise and acknowledge that email is not going away any time soon. And that’s probably a good thing! What we are seeing though is how email is being re-purposed into no longer becoming the bottleneck of how work gets done. How it is now part of the flow of conversations happening all over the place and, perhaps, in much better, and suitable, social spaces, so that both information and knowledge flow faster and, as a result of that, knowledge workers become more efficient and effective at what they do, which, I am sure, is what really matters at the end of the day… So how have I been doing over the last few weeks, since my last progress report, on moving away, successfully, those various email driven conversations, you may be wondering, right?

Well, things still are going really good! Actually, better than ever! Here is a snapshot of the last five weeks of incoming emails I have received:

A World Without Email - Year 3, Weeks 24 to 28

As you would be able to see, except for last week I have been consistently getting less and less email by the week, and, even more exciting, way below the 20 emails per week mark!, which surely is making a good progress from when I started 2.5 years ago. Remember, at the beginning, before starting this experiment, I used to receive 30 to 40 emails per day! And now, 2.5 years later, it’s just 17 emails per week! Yes, indeed, you are reading it right! I’m now averaging 17 emails received per week, while the majority of my online interactions are now happening through social software tools.

So, to me, it is not just a drop of 28% in the past 12 months, but way over 90% of the email I used to get! And, not sure what you would think, but that’s *huge!* Yes! Being able to state how email is no longer the only game in town for me, quite the opposite!, actually, is a good thing. It proves it can be done! It proves I am not the only one who can make it happen. And this is when it gets really exciting! When you see other folks increasingly paying more and more attention as to how they interact with their email Inboxes and how they effectively start looking for ways of reducing such email clutter.

Very exciting, indeed! Even more when you notice it’s folks around you who are starting to ask you how you can help them eliminate most of their incoming emails and instead progress towards a much more receptive adoption of social software tools for business. That’s why I’m pretty jazzed up about seeing a whole bunch of fellow co-workers who are continuing to make efforts to reduce their email workload. To the point where entire teams are figuring out strategies to make it work for them and over the last couple of weeks I have been working with a couple of them where there is plenty of promise ahead! Yay!

But it gets better! Because over the last few weeks as well I’m starting to notice how even customers want to figure out ways on how they themselves can get rid of, or reduce substantially, their incoming email. And they seem to keep finding me out there as they search how it can be done (Double yay for #lawwe), which is really good news, because I have been invited a couple of times already to go and present to them how they themselves could live “A World Without Email“.

One of those presentations was eventually one I did last week in Germany for that one customer where they wanted to know what it was like making the transition from using email as a collaboration tool into that messaging & notification system. Thus they wanted me to speak to them for about one hour on what it would be like. Of course, I couldn’t say “No!” to it, right? I didn’t.

And the end result is this mindmap I have put together under MindMeister (One of my preferred online mindmapping tools available out there!) and which tries to explain that 2.5 year long journey of having given up on corporate email and, instead, use social software tools using four different entry points of discussion:

  • Why did you do it?
  • How did you do it?
  • How has it changed the way we work?
  • Tips on reducing email – where do you start?

Now, the great thing about MindMeister is that rather you can go to the Web site to see the mindmap itself, or, instead, you can just go through it in the embedded version attached below, which I think is a really cool way of delivering presentations. In fact, for none of these did I use any kind of slideware and it surely was a new, and quite refreshing!, way of delivering a presentation. I should do it more often! Here it is:

I think at this point in time you may be wondering whether there would also be a recording of this presentation so that you could listen to the flow of going from one node to another and learn some more about what that journey has been like in the last couple of years, right? Well, great then!, because I do have a recording of the presentation, although not the one from last week’s customer visit, but from another customer presentation I did remotely through an emeeting (Using LotusLive) and which I’m pretty excited to be sharing it across with you folks over here, in this blog.

It’s a 45MB download you can grab from here and the recording itself includes both the audio and the video, with a short introduction, so you could be able to follow the flow of the mindmap and how the various pieces fit together. It lasts for a little bit over one hour, so you may want to go and grab a cup of coffee, or tea, sit back, hit PLAY and let the show begin. And if you are looking for a one pager of the mindmap itself, I have also gone ahead and uploaded it into my Slideshare space and can be accessed through here.

Hope you enjoyed it just as much as I did putting together the mindmap, reflecting some more on what that experiment has been, and the couple of customer events I have done in the recent weeks. Somehow, I sense we are just starting to have some good fun!

(Ok, here is the thing though, after going through the various Tips on Reducing Email – Where Do You Start?, will you now be capable of Living A World Without Email …? What do you think?)


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  1. @elsua I found your headline of “Email Is Where Knowledge Goes to Die” provocative. There’s a nuance of the individual, the social and the artifacts.

    You appreciate that I’m a big fan of sharing. On my hard disk, I have presentations going back to 1991 (when the company was still using GML), which presumably some day will be gone to the company. Of course, not all of that content is equally valuable, so there’s the human judgement about which situations will benefit by apply archived knowledge (some as wisdom, much as junk).

    In checking my files, I was bemused that my source files are still readable. Before the rise of industry standards and open source, that wasn’t necessarily a sure thing. We were using GML in those days: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IBM_Generalized_Markup_Language .

  2. Luis, how’s it going – have you reduced your inbox by 100% yet?! Do keep us updated at All about the Idea and tell us what you think should be voted the greatest idea of all time in our Idea Awards. Great to follow your work. Jo

    1. Hi Bill, thanks a lot for dropping by and for the wonderful comments / additions! It’s greatly appreciated to have such comments to add context on when such an insightful quote came about, long long long before Web 2.0 entered mainstream, not to mention Enterprise 2.0.

      It surely shows how far back email has been having issues as a successful knowledge transfer and collaborative tool and your comments and quote surely helps puts things in perspective. In a number of different blog posts I have been referencing this quote as well and referencing the link you mentioned above, so it certainly helps close the circle quite nicely!

      Many many thanks for that and for the inspiration! 🙂

  3. Luis,

    Yep, email has been a big problem for decades and have you noticed there’s been very little progress? 😉

    Knowledge curation is a more modern way to think about how organizations can avoid corporate amnesia, but few seem willing to invest in these ideas with a bottom-up strategic level approach.

    I also wrote a little bit about it here – http://bit.ly/94fctT

    Having spent 15 years bitching about email, I’ve come to the realization that it’s not likely to change. Tools such as Gist tend to improve the usefulness of existing SMTP-based content but it still feels a bit disjointed. More – http://bit.ly/dfmPnr

    What’s next?

    Certainly not Wave. 😉 I was wrong about Wave – I thought it would profoundly change how we use email (or at least use it less). But the timing and a few other critical elements were not present – mobile apps and lack of Gmail integration are the key reasons it never caught on.

    Wave came out at about the same time the globe started to adopt an app-centric model for communications. In the tsunami of mobile apps for “just about everything”, SMTP will continue to be used as a transport protocol, but mobile apps will tend to mitigate the use of email clients and arbitrate on our behalf to provide more effective use of information.

    The future of communications and knowledge management is already in the palm of your hand – the only thing remaining – mature apps that form a cloud-based grid of information persistence. We can see examples of this pattern emerging already.

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