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

From the blog

Living “A World Without Email” … in Google Plus

Gran Canaria - Roque Nublo in the WinterIn the last few weeks a lot has been written about whether Google Plus is the ultimate killer social networking site of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or several others, you name it. Perhaps we have seen far too many articles and blog posts on the topic and while I do think it’s just a bit too early to make such kind of statements, even if Google Plus has just reached over 25 million users already. I still think it’s a bit too early to be announcing the painful death of each of those social networking environments. Let’s not forget how long it took both Facebook and Twitter to become mainstream and reach that tipping point of no return, of rampant progress, of gaining enough relevance and importance to stick around for a while, in short, of having enough global impact that almost everyone has heard, or knows about them. G+ still needs to reach that level. I do know though it will reach it eventually, perhaps even sooner than anyone else!, but what I am rather surprised about is the fact that hardly anyone has talked or blogged about the fact that Plus does present a real threat to the king of communications, collaboration and knowledge sharing: email! And here is why.

I know, and I do realise, I am very much due a couple of posts on this blog around the progress reports from my long standing initiative about living “A World Without Email“; it’s been a good few months since the last time I published such reports and I am sure folks would be curious to know how things have been going all along since the last one, so I have already started to draft those posts, which are going to be a bit massive, by the way, since they will contain lots of interesting reading materials on the whole topic of ditching corporate email. Thus stay tuned for them coming up shortly! However, I thought I would perhaps give you a tease with this blog post here today to share some further insights on why I *do* believe that Google Plus poses a potential real threat to email.

But before I go ahead and do that, I would strongly encourage you all to have a look into a rather interesting, and great read by Matt Hames in a recent blog entry titled “Google+ is not taking on Facebook, it is taking on e-mail” where he exposes some of the issues, or problems, email has been having for decades, and how Google Plus, once again, would apply that aspirin and vitamin effect to address those pain points and fix them all. Here is a noteworthy quote from his article:

Yes, e-mail is a simple way to share some interesting learning. Think about how many e-mails you get with NY Times articles, or mashable articles, sent to a dozen or so people, with no context just “hey, read this”. The “hey, read this” is often written as – FYI.

Worse still, e-mail is a black hole for knowledge. Once in yesterday’s e-mail, its destined to be ignored and eventually deleted. Even if it is thoughtfully placed in a folder, e-mail search isn’t great. And e-mail conversations are the worst. People end up blaming the original e-mail for all the subsequent ones. And someone coming in late won’t be able to follow the conversation.” [Emphasis mine]

I would strongly recommend you to read the rest of it; it will be worth while your time in setting up the stage on why G+ may well be marking the end of email as we know it over the course of time, which is something that I am sure most of us would find rather ironic seeing what a strong player GMail is, for instance, at the moment. But it could surely happen! In fact, it’s already happening!

Yes, that’s right. As most of you folks know already, I have been using Google Plus for a little bit over a month already, and during the course of that time I have noticed a drastic decrease on the number of inbound corporate emails, as well as external, personal ones over the course of time. So in the last 4 weeks, and what I have got this week so far, I have received an average of 9 emails per day, compared to 15 received last year over the same period of time, or compared to the 33 I received in 2008, when I was first getting things started. So right there, you can see a decrease of nearly 60% of emails for that 4 to 5 week period of time, in the 4th year of tracking progress from the previous year, which is a rather substantial reduction on my inbound email count, compared to previous years. Not sure what you would think about it, but I am finding it rather remarkable and mind-blowing to finally have an external social networking site that can help me tame the email beast, even further, onto becoming unnoticeable altogether, pretty much like IBM Connections does for me today behind the firewall with corporate email.

So, at this point in time, I am sure you may be wondering what kinds of interactions that I used to have through those few inbound emails are now coming through Google Plus. Well, here is a short list of the most frequent ones:

  • Questions & Answers (Whether public or private): the fact you can post a question to a circle, or to one or more individuals from the same single interface, along with your various Stream(s) is priceless! Specially, when you can aggregate all of those responses in a single thread altogether as well without going insane trying to make some sense into it!
  • Information Sharing: Along the lines of sharing links to interesting Web sites, blog posts, etc. etc. publicly or through your circles. What Matt mentions as one of the strongest selling points from G+ … sharing! And no longer just a social networking activity per se, necessarily, on its own. In Google Plus we don’t facebook, nor tweet, we just basically share. Something that everyone can relate to without using foreign language terms to most folks, just like “I will email it to you“. 
  • Customer Interactions: This has been one of the most refreshing interactions I have been welcoming to G+ right from the start. Most of the customers I interact with are already heavy, active users of Plus; we started interacting through Twitter, LinkedIn and through blogs, and, lately, I am finding out how those interactions are happening on G+ alone and no-one seems to be complaining about it. In fact, long standing issues from other SNS are a thing of the past. There is now a flow, a tracking record, an opportunity to share publicly or privately without having that worry whether the system will mess up or not, or whether unwanted parties would have access to those private exchanges or not. Sharing just happens naturally and in meaningful way: a conversation. The way it was always meant to be. Remember blogging back in the day? 
  • Discussion / Conversation: What before used to take place as a back and forth “Reply” or “Reply to All” it’s now finally finding a place where that clutter to carry on a longer, deeper conversation is no longer there and instead Plus has taken over by allowing interactions to take place for as long as they would need to, that is, for the entire life of the dialogue itself, without the frustration of having to struggle resurfacing the conversation, i.e. re-finding that email, or the entire string of emails exchanged. Priceless, if you just want to focus on the conversation without having to worry about the technology. Plus makes that worry rather redundant, which is a nice refreshing change.
  • Social Capital: Every so often, I used to receive emails from fellow colleagues, customers, business partners, friends and other external parties just “to keep in touch”, to find out how things were going, whether things were all right, about how work is progressing, personal related stuff, etc. etc. Basically, social capital related interactions of people genuinely interested in keeping in touch for the sake of cultivating and nurturing long lasting relationships. Never before has sharing of pictures, video clips, music, general interest topics become so relevant and part of those daily interactions. It’s my daily dose of caring to improve those social capital skills with others, but with plenty of ease of use altogether.
  • And, finally, Business: Yes, indeed! Interestingly enough Google Plus has already started to morph a good bunch of the conversations talking about Plus itself and how it works to conduct business, in the most general sense, whether personal or work related and since a few folks have asked me about this one already, I think I’ll develop it further on a separate blog entry where I will reflect on whether G+ is ready for the Enterprise. Or not. A quick hint… it’s getting there! And pretty fast, too!

So will Google Plus manage to kill email altogether, or reduce it by large numbers, or, at least, help us all reduce our current dependency on it? Well, if I judge things based on my first month of interactions with it, I can probably vouch that Yes!, it will do and sooner than we expect, as more and more people start making their way into it and find out how much more different it is interacting through it than through other social networking sites, where headaches and increasing frustration are no longer there. The challenge will remain whether Google itself would want G+ to be more successful than what GMail is today and how is that going to put things together in the near future. Remember Google Wave? They all said that it was going to redefine the way we do email today. Yet it didn’t deliver, although it was a great solution. No doubt! Well, this time around I think Google Plus is still a great solution and will probably manage to help us all free ourselves from the email yoke! And I may be able to add… about time, too!

Mind you, like I have been saying all along since February 2008, I still see plenty of really good use cases for which email is probably the best tool out there, specially, for 1:1 private, confidential, rather sensitive exchanges or for calendaring and scheduling. I also realise that some professions would consider email an essential tool to live by, specially, for auditing and tracking purposes, but for the rest of us there is a window of opportunity to reduce our addiction to it and we should not let it go this time around, like we have done with a bunch of others … Have you started to notice a decrease on the amount of emails you have been receiving since starting to use Google Plus yourself? Drop a comment and let us know…

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