(WARNING: I do realise that I have already included a warning and word of caution throughout this article about the length of it, but I thought I would let folks know as well how if you would just want to check out the yearly progress report you would just need to read the first section and move on to other things. While putting this blog entry together, maybe the longest article I have ever written anywhere, I now realise that the main purpose of why I wrote in its entirety in the first place was more than anything else as an exercise for yours truly to go down the memory lane and see what happened during the course of 2011 in this area. That’s why I’m including this entry as part of the “Reflections from 2011″ series. Please do not feel obliged to read through it all, if you wouldn’t want to. Perhaps the best option would be to read each section every other day. I thought initially about splitting it up in multiple parts, but I wasn’t convinced by the end result, so eventually decided to leave it all as one piece. Hope folks enjoy it just as much as I did putting it together and bringing up some great memories from last year! Yes, after this one I’ll be taking a short break… to give you all a breather … Don’t worry hehe)
It looks like the series of blog posts on the “Reflections from 2011” meme that I have been putting together over here in the last few days keeps moving further along nicely to the next take with an article that I do realise is very much long overdue not just by weeks, but by months altogether! Goodness, if I go back to the last blog entry I published on this very same subject, it was almost a year ago: “A World Without Email – Year 3, Weeks 29 to 51 (The Email Starvation Continues…)“. Yes, indeed, nearly 12 months ago was the last time that I shared over here further insights on how that initiative of mine around living “A World Without Email” was coming along and report on due progress. Yet, for one reason or another, it didn’t happen. I mean, the progress report, because the initiative itself has been working wonderfully all right all along. So I guess it’s probably a good time now to finally provide folks with an opportunity to find out what’s happened in the last year of #lawwe. Are you ready? Let’s go! Let’s do it!
Ok, before I get started with that progress report, a word of caution though, I am actually going to do something different this time around. Not only am I going to provide an account on what’s happened in the last few months of living “A World Without Email“, but also I am going to be sharing a good number of insights on what’s happened around me, out there on the Social Web, and how other folks have been thinking, and taking action, too!, about living their own “worlds without email“. As such, this blog post will be a rather massive one, perhaps the longest I have ever written, so I have decided as well to split it up in sections; that way it would be much easier to consume, but please do allow me to warn you ahead of time that this post will try to summarise nearly one year of what I would call now a world wide trend to continue Thinking Outside the Inbox.
A World Without Email – The Progress Report
To get us started I thought it would be a good entry point to refer folks to the last article I published on this topic over here in this blog, where I covered the latest progress report up to Year 3, Week #51. And what a better way of finishing that year end report than sharing with you all the last week, i.e. week #52, along with the overall yearly report itself. All in a single place so that you can take a look into how things developed further during the course of 2010. I know, a long time ago, but still worth while sharing across before we catch up with 2011′s, don’t you think? Here it goes:
As you would be able to see from the above screen shot, for week #52 I received 14 emails during the course of that week, to make up for a total amount of 929, coming from 1167 in 2009 and 1647 in 2008, as seen in previous reports. And that basically means that I have consistently gone down on the amount of incoming corporate emails year in year out. Starting off in 2008 with an average of 32 emails per week, to 22 emails received per week in 2009, to then, finally, 18 emails received in 2010. I am not sure what you folks would think, but that is not so bad after all considering how when I first got started with this experiment I was receiving between 30 to 40 emails per day, which sounds like a rather substantial reduction over the course of time taking place very steady and at a good pace. I am sure you may be rather intrigued by now about what happened in 2011, and till today, and whether I have been able to keep things going at such rate as well … Or not.
Before we go on to that though I thought I would also share something rather interesting that I have discovered over the course of the years and that’s how the peak days and lowest days of incoming email have been reducing its figures just as much. Going from 63 max. to 3 minimum in 2008 to 44 and 2 in 2010, respectively.
So what happened in 2011 and till last week, since the progress reports are running from February to February every year and I am still a few weeks away from that cut-over date to finish off the progress report for 2011? Not to worry I have got some pretty good news and I can share with you folks some really good statistics as to what’s happened from week #1 to week #47 of Year 4 – 2011 of living “A World Without Email“. Here’s the screen shot of the report so far:
Well, there it is. I am very pleased to let you folks know that, so far, I have received 767 incoming emails for those first 47 weeks of the year. And that, basically, means that in Year 4 of reporting progress the average of corporate email I’m receiving on a weekly basis is now down to 16 emails per week. Yes, indeed, only 16 emails per week! And still going down, judging by what’s happening this week so far with another rather low number. Ohhh, and talking about low numbers, see how the highest peak of incoming email went down from 44 to 30 emails and minimum to just 1. That’s not bad either, since that eventually means I am almost there to enjoy a full week where I won’t receive a single email at my corporate email address. Wooohooo! Yes, almost there!
I am not sure what will happen with the remaining weeks till week #52, but somehow I feel that things will continue to go down consistently, to the point where I may reach well below the #15 emails per week mark that I envisioned a few months back. And that wonderful thought implies just an average of 2.1 emails per day! Double w00t!! Needless to say that I will keep folks updated on how things are moving along, hoping that this time around I am not going to take that long to give you that particular report. Fingers crossed things will go all right and will keep those numbers going down …
Improving the Overall Email User Experience
Ok, time now to move into the second of the upcoming sections I mentioned earlier on I was going to split up this blog post on, to make it somewhat easier to digest overall. I am sure that at this point in time plenty of folks out there are wondering what my thoughts are right now with regards to corporate email and to venture to state whether it’s got its days numbered, or whether we are going to have email lingering around for a long while. Well, 4 years ago if people would have asked me that very same question, I would have probably said that email would be dying a very painful and slow death over the course of time, as the Social Web and Enterprise Social Software tools continue to take by storm the corporate world as the preferred methods for knowledge sharing and collaboration.
Yet, first hand experience, and a few years later, have shown me that we may not be there just yet. Email is not dead right now, and it won’t be for a good number of years. At least, not yet. Like I have been saying in a good number of occasions, there are a couple of incredibly good use cases for corporate email to still survive nice and dandy: 1) Managing Calendaring & Scheduling events and 2) Hosting 1:1 confidential, or rather sensitive, conversations in a private manner. For the rest, there is no reason why we couldn’t have the vast majority of those email driven conversations hosted elsewhere, which is essentially what’s been happening in the last few months.
What we are seeing then is how email is morphing, and moving away, from being the King of Communication and therefore a rather powerless content repository (with a good number of issues I’m sure we are all rather familiar with – i.e. mail jail, finding missing content, losing email archives, mail quotas exceeded, attachments, Reply to All, etc. etc.) into an incredibly powerful social messaging and notification system of content that’s stored elsewhere, i.e. social networking, collaborative and knowledge sharing tools eventually.
What’s rather interesting from this transformation is how, nearly 40 years later, email is just going back to basics, and in full force! And what’s even more exciting is that it’s starting to happen at the right time, for once, because over the course of the last few months we have been exposed to a good number of different relevant reads as to why plenty of knowledge workers keep considering corporate email a time waster, a hindrance of one’s own productivity, or rather costly to the business, not to mention the potential security issues incurred or a rather growing issue of email overload altogether.
But, like I said, and perhaps worth while repeating over here as well, once again, email, per se, as a communication system is not that bad; it’s actually a rather effective tool overall. What’s been happening though all along is how we have consistently abused it ourselves, left and right!, to adjust its way of working to our very own way of working (i.e. secretive, private, opaque, political and power struggles, cover your a**e, proof of work, etc. etc.). So if there is something out there that it’s killing our very own productivity, it’s not email itself, but our abuse of it that’s killing such productivity. Why? Well, because we don’t know how to properly make use of it. Hold on, let me correct that, yes, we do know how to properly use it, it’s just that we don’t do it any longer, because we have grown rather comfortable living with the current status-quo it provides: a corporate weapon for delegating work on to someone else, just as much as that full inbox of to-dos from people’s work and no longer your own. So perhaps we do deserve that misuse of email, since we don’t seem to want to break the chain and starting using email smarter, not necessarily harder.
The good thing is though that we are making progress. We have finally understood and came to terms with the fact that we could no longer sustain that method of working in an environment where we now know there are much much better collaborative and knowledge sharing tools out there with social software. We are finally embracing that notion that we need to smarten up in our very own use of email, even if that implies playing games, and start considering how email is no longer the king and master of the corporate world, but just another useful tool for certain types of interactions where it is rather suited for the job.
That’s why over the course of the last few months we have seen a rather large, and growing number, of really interesting, relevant and worth while reading articles that can certainly help folks tame the email beast even more, so that we can fine tune not only the amount of time that we spend processing our daily work email, but also how we can find that sweet spot that email needs to land on in that complex collaborative environment with the emergence and adoption of social tools within the corporate environment. So plenty of the links I am referencing in this particular section of this article deal exclusively with various different hints & tips, productivity hacks, tools to use where appropriate, new intriguing and relevant initiatives and so forth. Yes, as you will be able to see, there is something out there for almost everyone and the least I could do is to share along those links that I know I, too, would have found rather useful if I were still relying somewhat heavily on corporate email. Hope folks enjoy them, too!
Research on Redefining Email AND Our Use
But it doesn’t end up there just sharing those good practices, productivity tips and whatever other hacks on making the most out of email. Over the course of the last few months we have witnessed how something is happening with email. After several decades of very little research on our user patterns, as well as some more research on redefining how we could best improve the overall email experience, we are starting to see various different studies, initiatives and some additional piece of research that are starting to gather around some pretty interesting data and key findings that I am sure over the course of the next few weeks, perhaps months, we are going to see how not only are they going to shape up our very own use of email, but also the various different email systems that we are currently using at the moment, and which, you would all agree with me, we could do plenty more innovation on that space alone!
I know how at this point in time you may be wondering whether I would believe, or not, if email could turn all around and become a whole lot more social. Well, I’m going to reserve the answer to that question for a little bit later on in this article, but I can certainly anticipate that Yes! we will, finally, see that full transformation from email into social email, although I can tell you, right now!, how we are no longer going to call it email, but something different… Keep reading till we reach that final conclusion on what it would be like …
The Naysayers & Denialists
Back in February 2008, and throughout the whole year, since I started this initiative on living “A World Without Email“, it never ceased to amaze me how very little email was questioned about whether it was still the king of corporate communication and collaboration. Or not. It was a given. No-one even dared to bring that up as a topic, and if you would do that people would think you would be crazy! (Like I was told several times …). How could we survive within the corporate environment not using work email to stay in touch, to keep in the know, to communicate, collaborate and share our knowledge across, store our very own content, etc. etc? How could we do things without email? That must not be possible! It cannot be. There cannot be any other way out there, for sure!, I was told time and time again … And fast forward 3 years, into 2011, and the number of articles, blog posts and whatever other publications trying to defend email from not falling off its corporate pedestal has been quite an amazing experience watching it through all along!
Notice how I am putting together this section over here, on purpose, before anything that will come later on to provide that counterpoint, but I have always thought that if you feel threatened enough to write about advocating for something else that is coming your way in full force, it’s probably because there may well be a few good reasons for you to worry, or, at least, to start thinking about it. You know how it goes, right? Where there is plenty of smoke out there, there’s gotta be fire somewhere! And that’s exactly what has happened during the course of 2011 at such a rampant pace that it’s been rather difficult, and quite tough, just to keep up with those writings from various publications, blog posts, industry analysts, power users, corporate thought leaders and a rather long etc., advocating for how essential and critical email continues to be within the corporate world and how we are going to have it for plenty more decades! Regardless of the huge, and rather disruptive, impact from corporate social networking. Goodness, like I said, where there’s smoke … Otherwise why would you feel threatened for that change in the first place and feel you need to defend the indefensible? Plenty of food for thought right there, don’t you think?
To The Crazy Ones, The Misfits, The Rebels, The Trouble-Makers … The Brave Ones
Yet we all know that “Email is where knowledge goes to die“. By the way, that quote I have borrowed for over the course of the last couple of years is not mine, contrary to a few people’s tweets I have bumped into over the course of time, but from Bill French himself, who coined it a whopping 13 years ago, back in 1999, and still is as relevant as ever. So during the course of 2011 we have seen how I am no longer alone on this crazy endeavour of wanting to ditch corporate email for good, at least, for the vast majority of internal, behind the firewall, interactions and instead make a progression, or a transition rather, towards embracing and making the most out of Enterprise Social Software tools. No, once again, I am not saying that we should be kissing good-bye to work email altogether, since I still see a couple of good use cases for it, but I am really glad that a good amount of folks are starting to see the light acknowledging that, certainly, there are better tools out there that help knowledge workers become more effective and efficient at what they already do with regards to being in the know, collaborating, sharing their knowledge across and helping their organisations understand new key concepts like openness, publicy or transparency, amongst several others like being more networked, interconnected, nimble, trustworthy, committed or even more motivated towards wanting to participate further out in the open in (knowledge) communities to keep up with the learning curve(s) and what’s happening around them. Regardless of whatever those may well be eventually.
So this section is dedicated to what I would call from now onwards, The Brave Ones. Those folks who, over the course of 2011, have been capable of challenging the status-quo of corporate email to the point where they have been rather successful in their efforts of starting to move away, rather progressively, from email itself and, instead, move to more powerful collaborative and knowledge sharing tools. This section is dedicated to those Brave Ones who make me feel right back at home, because I no longer feel like a weirdo within the corporate world trying to abandon what I feel is no longer a productive tool. They are the ones who keep inspiring me to push the limits on to the next level, even after 4 years of living “A World Without Email”. They are the ones who are, rather strongly, showing the way of how it is possible to live a work life, after all, without email as the main ruling tool available to them.
But who are those Brave Ones, you may be wondering, right? Well, here are a few of them and some of their rather interesting, thought-provoking and inspiring writings they have put together over the course of the last few months and still going strong!
Starting with “We Quit Email“; a rather fascinating initiative launched by Kim Spinder in The Netherlands and which is getting some lovely traction with plenty of advocates who have started their journey to move away from work email and who are making some really good progress altogether. Check out their Facebook Page for more details on how they are getting along and how you, too, could join them! We have also seen how some large cloud email providers like Cisco are moving away from providing that online service any longer and I would venture to state that we all probably know why that is happening…
Then we have got my good friend Prof. Paul Jones, at UNC-Chapel Hill; one of the smartest people I know in the Academia world, and in general, for sure, and whom I continue to have the great pleasure of interacting extensively over the course of months during 2011 through various social networking sites sharing plenty of really good insights about his bold move of giving up on work email and instead making use of social tools. Now, one of the reasons why I have enjoyed the vast majority of those interactions is because Paul has taken the opportunity to blog extensively about what’s meant for him to ditch work email and, instead, rely more on social networking tools to connect, reach out and collaborate with his peers and students. And he has been getting lots of great press altogether over the course of time, too! Amazingly inspiring stories that you folks can follow up on, and I strongly suggest you do!, throughout the various links I have been putting together over here, just to give you a glimpse of how he has been doing and how he, too!, has proved, and rather extensively, how you can live “A World Without Email” even in the Academia world, perhaps one of the most traditional environments where you could say email rules just as much as in the corporate world. Time and time again he has proved that it is possible to make it happen and perhaps a good introduction to find out more about how he does it is this wonderful Prezi presentation that he put together not long ago where he talks extensively about it, and, most importantly, what it’s meant for him and for those around him. Strongly recommended read, for sure!
Of course, we have got a few more examples of those “Brave Ones“; Geoff Kim would be another one of them. Check out this blog post where he announced a while ago that he, too, would be moving off away from work email and still going strong at it, judging from his Twitter bio. MG Siegler (@parislemon) has been sharing plenty of interesting thoughts about his recent move of giving up on work email as well, and has been getting some rather interesting follow-up conversations as a result of it. We have also seen how incredibly talented and smart folks like Chris Anderson are finding it rather cumbersome and challenging to deal with email altogether, so he, too, decided to challenge its status-quo introducing the Email Charter, a rather interesting initiative, for those folks still relying quite heavily on email, as their preferred method of communication and collaboration, to save their own inboxes, and which over the course of time got a whole bunch of relevant press and follow-up and which perhaps I will discuss some more about it on a separate blog post in its due time. But surely worth while checking out, no doubt! Specially, if you are still planning to continue making use of email …
And we have got more “Brave Ones” out there, folks! You see? This is exactly what I meant when I stated above that it’s a really really nice feeling when you are no longer alone doing something and people start joining you on their efforts on an initiative that they, too, feel is worth while pursuing further along, just because they would want to improve things on how we connect, communicate and collaborate onwards. And if there is someone out there who has made quite a difference as well with regards to this whole initiative of abandoning email that would be my good friend Paul Lancaster, over in the UK, who, back then, had the absolutely brilliant and unique idea of have a “No Email Day” on a date rather difficult to forget: 11th of November 2011 (In short, 11/11/11).
The initiative was rather simple and easy to follow: not to send a single email for an entire day on 11/11/11 and see whether folks would succeed, or not, and then share further insights about it on what the experience was like. He put together a rather fascinating “No Email Day” Manifesto over at Slideshare that you folks can still go out there and read further on. It’s a highly recommended read that surely captures the spirit of this No Email Day initiative with lots of really interesting and relevant points as to why email is no longer the kind of communication and collaboration, amongst several other types of interactions. He also published a Twitter report with the outcomes of the initiative that’s worth while skimming through to find plenty of really worth while digesting reads on how other folks across the globe joined the movement and enjoyed a email-less day at work. Fascinating to say the least!
The whole idea got plenty of attention and traction on both the social networking world, as well as traditional news mainstream resources. And Paul is already buzzing around on to the next thing! As he recently announced over on Twitter:
Ok, here we go. We’re officially declaring 12/12/12 as #noemailday No.2. Just under 12 months to take (back) control of your Inbox!
— NO EMAIL DAY (@NoEmailDayHQ) December 30, 2011
Yes, indeed! Mark your calendars, folks, for December 12th 2012 (12/12/12, for short), because we will be having the second “No Email Day” in a row and that, basically, means that we have got less than 12 months to take back control of our inboxes and start thinking outside the inbox a bit more! Oh, boy, I just can’t wait for that date to come along! Ohhh, and I am sure you may be wondering what my 11/11/11 was like, right, as an experiment. Well, of course, I didn’t send a single email; in fact, I haven’t sent emails in a long while! But it looks like folks around me were not very successful about it because I got one of the highest incoming numbers of email for the entire month!! Ironic, to be honest! But plenty of work ahead still if I would want to revert that trend for 12/12/12… And I am ready for the challenge! Will you be joining us as well?!?! We surely hope so!
So far this section has been about “The Brave Ones”, as people, as knowledge workers out there who have successfully challenged that status-quo that email has been providing for most of us within the corporate world for a good number of decades, but the really exciting thing from 2011 and with which I would want to close off this section is the fact that not only knowledge workers, but also different businesses and organisations are starting to consider, slowly, but rather steadily and progressively, and to a certain degree perhaps a bit too aggressive as well, transitioning away from corporate email into social networking tools, specially, for internal, behind the firewall conversations happening amongst employees.
Thus over the course of last year we have seen how companies like Intel, Deloitte, Lanvin, Klick, Notebooks & Gottabemobile, Nozbe or even Volkswagen (with a rather good press coverage as well altogether, by the way) have already started to make their move into a corporate environment where email is no longer as relevant as it used to be, or come to the point where it is no longer in use for internal interactions like for Klick, Notebooks & Gottabemobile, as well as Nozbe. Whoaaahhh! Who would have thought about that, right? They are surely leading the way, but if there is one other company out there that has been both the traditional media and social media darling with regards to their quest of ditching corporate email for its entirety over the course of three years that would be the French IT firm Atos Origin who earlier on this year made a very clear statement, a new mission, a new goal altogether: stop using email for internal interactions in three years.
At the beginning of the year, around February 2011, we saw the first announcement from Atos’ CEO Thierry Breton, explaining and sharing further details, about what their company will be doing in the next 3 years to ditch corporate email. Slowly, but steadily, move away from it, specially, for internal collaboration amongst employees and, instead, rely on both social networking and real-time collaborative tools, like blogs, wikis, microblogs, instant messaging, emeetings, etc. etc. in order to slow down, quite drastically, their reliance on email as a productivity tool to get the job done, because it was no longer happening and people were spending far too much time just processing those emails. It was no longer effective enough.
Needless to say that such a bold move provoked an unprecedented amount of very vibrant reactions of all sorts (Positive and negative), across multiple publications, newspapers, radio shows and caused quite a stir within the social networking realm, specially, since it was coming from such a large IT firm, with a top down corporate mandate inspired by Thierry himself, and which a good number of folks had plenty of concerns that it would eventually work out as announced. But they kept going and a few months later they came back for more! And if initially the whole announcement caused quite a commotion all over the place, their follow-up even more! Why? Well, because they were starting to prove they were walking the talk and got embarked on gradually moving away from corporate email and successfully continue to make use of social tools. Of course, there were a whole bunch of rather interesting follow-up conversations, blog posts, articles and whatever else with people starting to take sides. Those who feel they won’t make it, because email will always be there, and those of us who feel they would eventually be making it across because it’s all not just about abandoning email but inspiring an entirely new corporate culture where openness, trust, publicy, transparency and connectedness will rule instead.
Yes, indeed, I believe they won’t be capable of ditching corporate email on its entirety for 100% of the internal interactions, but if they succeed with going all the way up to 99%, or 95%, or even 98%, which is what I am currently living myself, it should still be considered a huge success and another leading model to follow. You may be wondering why I am changing my perception and opinion from a recent article I published on the NYTimes where I stated how even then I would still envision a couple of use cases for email, as mentioned above on this article, but then while reflecting further along on it, if we take corporate mandates as what they are, game changers, and if we give them enough time to make it happen (3 years) and help knowledge workers to adjust properly to new ways of thinking and working, there is no reason why it wouldn’t be taking place altogether! And that’s why I am very excited to keep learning more about the progress they are making, because 18 months down the line, the news we are getting as a result of that blunt move, are very very encouraging altogether. Can you imagine if they eventually manage to pull it off?!?! What will be our excuse not to follow suit? … Plenty of food for thought in that regard, I would think … Specially, as bold moves like that one help redefine the corporate world of the 21st century. Something that you would agree with me is rather needed at the moment …
Musings About (Our Use And Abuse Of) Email
We are now approaching the end of this rather long blog entry. I do appreciate the continued patience and interest in reading this far, and I thought I would start working my way to the conclusion by sharing with you folks a good bunch of rather amusing, and equally inspiring, funny at times, too!, links to blog posts, tweets, Web sites that have been musing extensively about the whole topic of email and how it’s been dominating the way we collaborate, communicate and share knowledge across the corporate world. So we have seen Dilbert at its best, or xkcd (Twice!) bringing up a touch of hilariousness to the whole mess email has provoked over the course of time. The Oatmeal has done a pretty good job at it, too!, with some funnies that I am sure we could all relate to. We have been exposed to some brilliant email closing lines, rather clever Out Of Office messages, comics, other interesting initiatives and lots and lots of witty remarks of the pros and cons of work email. And I am sure you would all have plenty more favourites out there… Care to share them along as comments to this blog entry? Would love to read them as a lovely trip down the memory lane for what we experienced during the course of 2011 and perhaps still into 2012! Don’t be shy… Share away!!
Perhaps my old time favourite musing about this whole thing about email though is the absolutely hilarious blog post that my good friend, Dan Pontefract, put together earlier on in the year under the suggestive title “Email, A Love Story“. I would strongly encourage you all to go and read it if you would want to laugh really hard and fall off your chair! But please try to avoid having a drink while in front of the computer, because otherwise it will get messy and we certainly wouldn’t want that! But I can tell you, it won’t leave you indifferent! Thanks much, Dan, for the link love, too! (Pun intended!)
Towards A Social Messaging and Notification System
Almost there, folks! Almost done with perhaps the longest blog post I have ever written in my entire 9 years of blogging. Goodness! Who would have thought about that as I was getting started with the few paragraphs a while ago? Phew! Hang in there for a little longer! So, after having put together that particular yearly progress report on living “A World Without Email“, you may be wondering whether do I see email myself in the next few years, right? Well, back in February 2008 I would have probably told you that email would no longer exist within the following 5 to 7 years. But then again, like I have mentioned above already, first hand experience and lots and lots of conversations with hundreds, if no thousands of people sharing and exchanging insights on this subject, have taught that perhaps we are not going to see email go away in its entirety any time soon! We are certainly going to have it, but perhaps in a different shape and form. It’s not going to be like regular post, or telegrams, or even faxes, where we hardly use them anymore. All of those “systems” failed to reinvent themselves successfully and accommodate into a new space where they would fit in with a large complex environment of communication systems. That’s probably why we hardly use them anymore. Yet, they are still very much there!
However, email is not going to suffer from that same fate. For the first time in decades, email is starting to feel threaten by that complex collaborative, knowledge sharing and social networking environment and, as such, it’s starting to help re-define itself into the next wave of email. Funny enough, Google Wave was a pretty good representation from that re-encarnation, but it’s probably too bad that it never delivered, for whatever the reason. Perhaps one day I will share my ¢2 on why I feel it failed eventually, when I thought it was the closest we have probably ever had to move away effectively from email altogether!
Anyway, what I am trying to say over here is that I feel that email will successfully reinvent itself before we ditch it completely within the corporate world. It’s morphing already. If you look into what a good number of email system vendors are doing at the moment, they are not sitting back waiting for it to die. They, too, see the need to reinvent what they have been providing for a good number of years. It’s a big, fat cash cow that no-one wants to see going away far too soon. And that’s probably why we are seeing lots of interesting articles and publications that are covering its evolution into what may become over the course of time, making that massive transition from what I call a pure content repository tool, to a social messaging and notification system of content that’s stored elsewhere, which is just too funny, and perhaps ironic, too!, because that was exactly the main purpose behind email when it was first invented over 40 years ago! What comes around, goes around, I guess …
Living A World Without Email – The Documentary
Well, I suppose we would have to wait and watch attentively to see what happens eventually and see whether email will finally reinvent itself, or not, into accommodating a new set of needs where it would need to find its sweet spot and consider itself part of a bundle, a set of options, in a new, much more complex collaborative environment, where social collaboration consoles will rule; where it’s just one more of the mix, one more of the potential solutions for very specific use cases and from there onwards we would have to watch and see how it will decide to blend in. Because whether it would like it or not, if it doesn’t, I can surely guarantee you it would have its days numbered within the next year or two! Yes, that soon! Remember, the social transformation is already happening and email has got two choices at the moment: 1) Join the party and jump into the bandwagon and continue to live on merging into the new space filling in the gaps of what social tools don’t provide just yet (Standards, universal access, as good starting points!) & 2) Move on to die a rather slow, but painful death where hardly anyone will use it any more, like we are doing with faxes, telegrams, or postal letters nowadays (How many Christmas Cards did you send again this year, by the way? To me, the star, by far, of these Festive Holidays was something I was totally not expecting at all: WhatsApp. See what I mean?).
Thus where does that leave me then? That optimist, outrageous, heretic, free radical, potential trouble-maker, a true rebel at work, basically, who back in February 2008 decided to challenge the status-quo of the corporate world and undermine it big time by Living “A World Without Email” ever since. And not looking back! What happened to me during 2011 then? How did things go eventually for yours truly as I keep reflecting on everything I have been involved, or exposed to or immersed in? There are probably lots of different things that I could say to describe it, but I guess the one that would come the closest to accurate state what it was like was probably using the analogy of riding a roller-coaster non-stop! What an exhilarating, exciting, mind-blowing, rather hectic journey altogether! Being featured on a German IT Magazine as Menschen 2.0 is not such a bad thing to finish off the year, don’t you think? Well, there is more!
A whole bunch of good and very dear friends have helped me, over the course of months, spread the message about Thinking Outside the Inbox and start working your own magic to detox yourself from your email diet once and for all. They have also been rather instrumental in helping understand the new kind of leadership that’s emerging with social networking, the Future of Collaborative Enterprise and its rather complex environment and how we all start to fit in together in such ever changing landscape of Social Business. And for all of that, and so much more!!, I will always be ever so thankful! Without their unconditional support, their insights and extended views they have always been very willing to exchange with yours truly to keep learning more about this subject and all things social in general, without their true admiration which has always been mutual, helping out and rather often going the extra mile, #lawwe would have never happened.
So to all of you, you know who you are!, who have been sticking around through thick and thin over the course of the year(s) and, specially, in helping get the word out on “A World Without Email”, I would like to take this opportunity to thank you all for quite an amazing experience and a large token of gratitude for walking along with me on this rather exciting journey. It surely has been a blast and I am so looking forward to plenty more in 2012!
But before I would let you all go away and take a good rest from having read through this blog post on its entirety, which I do really appreciate, I would love to conclude this article, this yearly progress report, with what perhaps has been the most amazing experience for yours truly throughout 2011 and in this whole space of “A World Without Email”. No, it wasn’t just the couple of times I have participated in podcasting episodes from The Taking Notes Podcast, or This Week in Lotus podcast or from the delightful CBC Podcasting series (Or being featured on another BBC podcast or The Sunday Times as well, thanks to Paul Lancaster). It wasn’t just being a speaker at various different conference events where I talked about this very same subject, amongst several others related to all things Social, including The Social Enterprise theme, with perhaps #JamCamp being one of the most inspiring altogether!, or being featured in a recent NYTimes article over at Room For Debate with a bunch of really smart folks, under the title “Should Workplaces Curtail E-Mail?” and which Prof. Paul Jones captured its true essence beautifully on this blog post.
No, it wasn’t all of that, which I know would be more than enough on its own! (Phew!), and something that I would always be rather grateful for to even not forget about it. It was actually having that unique and once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to shoot a short documentary that my fellow colleagues from IBM Benelux decided to offer me, along with the fine folks from Ogilvy, as part of a Social Business campaign (#outsidetheinbox) that launched towards the end of last year and which, over the course of 4 minutes, describes pretty much who I am, what I do for a living, where I live, and, most importantly, how I continue to live day in day out a true life on “A World Without Email”. I am not sure whether you may have seen the video documentary already, or not, but, just in case, here is the embedded code of the clip (There are other versions of the documentary with subtitles in English, French) that has been making the rounds quite a bit over the course of the last few weeks and still going … so that you can watch it through…
Yes, that pretty much describes who I am, who @elsua is, what he does, what he believes in truly, and what he has been trying to do over the course of the last few years and which right now seeing how 2012 is presenting itself would, finally, become a global trend to follow. And, of course, I will be more than happy to keep up with these posts of progress reports, so that folks out there would be able to find out some more on how things are going. But for now, for me, that concludes this massive yearly progress report “A World Without Email“. I would want to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has managed to read it through in one single go. Hope it’s proved useful to you, just as much as it has for me as a remembering exercise of what’s happened in the last twelve months in this space… Stay tuned for more! And keep living those worlds without email!!
PS. Ohhh, before I let you all go now, for real, I promise, let me finish off this rather long and extensive entry with one of the experiences I’m the most excited about for 2012 and beyond (Probably for the next 100 years!). An experience that has totally made my 10 years of working as a social computing evangelist at IBM very much worth it all along! Earlier on this week, I got a bit too emotional and a bit too over-excited, when, while I am still on holidays, one of my colleagues, and good friends at IBM, sent me a quick message through Words With Friends sharing along how our new CEO, Ginni Rometty, put together the first blog post ever (In a community space above all that everyone is welcome to join!!) from any IBM CEO in our internal IBM Connections deployment with a short 3.30 minutes long video clip, with full text transcript and English subtitles as well, to greet all IBMers in the new year in her new role. And the most amazing thing is that, as Bob McMillan reported earlier on over at Wired, she did that without broadcasting it out there sending a single email altogether! Just put it out there and wait … Within a matter of hours it went viral throughout our Social Intranet to the point where it’s now the single blog post with the highest number of page views, comments and ratings altogether! Some whopping statistics for those folks who may be interested: 127k page views, over 560 comments and 108 ratings in just 3 days and counting! Bob is also commenting how she is not out there just yet on the Social Web, and he brings up a very good point, but, to be honest, she is already microblogging internally with a superb outreach and noticing how she has also got a Twitter ID I wouldn’t be surprise she will jump outside, too, soon enough! I guess my job is now done and complete. Probably a good time to start thinking about moving on to other things … If she has managed to make the time to write that blog post, put together the video clip and share it along, as our new CEO in a rather exciting and challenging new year, what’s our excuse? Or, even better, what’s your excuse? Live Social. Do Business.
Happy Epiphany everyone!
One more week to go and I am done with another year of living “A World Without Email“; the third one in a row and still going rather strong at it, despite the numerous feedback I have been receiving from people over the last few months on whether I have given up on it altogether, since they didn’t hear much from me in that respect and thought I had quietly given up on giving up corporate email altogether and didn’t say much about it. So I thought I would go ahead and spend a few minutes today sharing plenty of the good progress I have made over the last five and a half months, since the last update. Yes, indeed, the conclusion so far is that it *is* possible to live a corporate life without using work email! So far I am down to 17 emails received per week! Yes, that’s a reduction of over 95% in my email traffic over the last three years!
Thus what has happened in the last five and a half months, since I published the last progress report, you may be wondering, right? Well, I will tell you shortly what has happened with my progress, but it looks like elsewhere things are looking very good for everyone else to start thinking they, too, can re-purpose how they process and work through their overblown mail inboxes and find better ways of connecting, communicating, collaborating and sharing their knowledge. And that’s an even better news! Even Dilbert has been having a go in describing, very accurately, the state of email, just as the priceless Oatmeal brilliantly did not long ago as well.
Just recently we have seen a good number of studies and research done that demonstrates consistently the full power of social networking and social software tools in helping, successfully, reduce the amount of traffic generated by knowledge workers, which in some cases has been accounted as much as 28% and 27% in email traffic reduction altogether! And that’s just huge, if you ask me! Imagine now when people start relying more and more on these social tools and they reach similar levels to the ones I have been enjoying myself for the last few months. Totally insane is a word that comes to mind!
At the same time the amount of interesting and relevant reading materials covering not just productivity tips, but also mistakes, and lessons learned from managing your Inbox better and much more effectively keep coming out at a more rampant pace than ever before, which, to me, seems to clearly indicate how plenty of people are starting to question, and re-think!, the way they take advantage and benefit from their email systems and to some extent those hints and tips, and great insights, help alleviate some of the issues email currently has as a powerful collaboration and knowledge sharing tool. But not all, as a few folks have already ventured to state. Perhaps the most intriguing reading you will bump into out there in this regard is that absolutely wonderful blog post put together by my good friend Stowe Boyd under “Liquid Email“, which tries to re-define email within the current context of the flow from the Social Web. Very relevant to start thinking how we are going to re-purpose what we know is not going to disappear any time soon, and, instead, get the most out of it in a new form / shape reflecting our current needs, not those from 10 or 20 years ago!
Now, not to worry, I am not ready just yet to declare, in full force and rather out loud, that email is dead, because it is not! By far, as plenty of folks have been highlighting over the course of the last few weeks; but what I can certainly state, based on my own experiences, and the various links I have been including in this blog post as reference materials (Lots of great insights in each and everyone of them!), is that email has got its days numbered … as we have been using it all along in the last few decades. We are finally seeing the light and acknowledging that what once was the king of communication, collaboration and knowledge sharing is no longer the case in today’s world with the Social Web having a much more relevant and purposeful set of intentions that are driving how we connect, share and innovate with our peers, but also with our customers and business partners. So, email is just one more of the options we have got available out there. Not the only one, as we seemed to have claimed for a while now. It’s time for us to understand how there are, after all, better tools out there to help us get the job done much more effectively and efficiently altogether.
And that’s essentially what I have been trying to prove for the last three years of living “A World Without Email“; that you can be as productive as ever, if not more!, that you can connect effectively across not just with your team, but with the entire corporation, your clients and other fellow peers, that you can eventually regain back your own productivity and help enhance that one of others by making extensive use of social tools as well and not just email. Thus, without much further ado, I think it’s a good time to go ahead now and share with you folks the weekly progress report of the last 22 weeks, from week #29 till week #51, so you can have a look into how I have been coping with that email reduction all along for the last few months (Yes, I know I am a little bit late sharing that status report… it’s been rather hectic all over the place! hehe), but also how you can find some interesting data that still gives me the impression there is still plenty of work ahead of us for that even more substantial email decrease!
As you would be able to see, the numbers have remained rather steady on the low side, which means that throughout all of those months, and eventually, for the whole year, I have managed to stay well under the mark of 20 emails received per week, which I think is a pretty nice achievement for the the third year in a row I have been doing this experiment. You may have noticed as well how during those few weeks I have been having a peak with the highest number of emails received in a single week with 44 (Last year I had one of 47 and the previous one of 60, so even those peaks are decreasing as well!), and also a couple of instances where I have reached single digit figures for that week, which is really nice, because that, eventually, is my final goal!
However, one other interesting tidbit, as you may have seen from the progress report, the last three weeks the number of emails received per week has gone up, compared to previous weeks and it looks like it continues to keep the momentum going. Well, that’s about to drop off this week, because we are in Lotusphere 2011 week! Yes, that’s right, when analysing those email stats I realise that most of that traffic was Lotusphere related; you know, preparing logistics, setting up meetings with customers and business partners, arranging last minute tasks and todos, etc. etc. And, if I look at previous years, during the week of the event, and right after, the numbers will drop even further down than what they have so far!
You see? This is what I mean when I mentioned I still have got plenty of work to do, helping my own organisation make the switch and rely much heavily on social tools than email. If you would remember, back in the day, it was three years ago, nearly, that I decided to carry out this experiment and one of the many reasons was actually coming back from Lotusphere and finding myself with hundreds of emails to process and myself reaching the point of declaring enough is enough! I need to regain my long time ago lost productivity! Well, as I am about to enter the 4th consecutive year of giving up on corporate email, what a better way of closing this blog entry with a quote from Stowe himself once again from another recent article which I think summarises quite nicely the very fate of email in the next few months…
“So we are slowly starving email, relegating it to a shorter and short list of appropriate uses. In time, it will fall off the edge, like fax is now that we can scan and send attachments more easily than using dedicated fax machines. We will find that email will be left with a short list of uses, like monthly mailing from the bank, or travel itineraries from Expedia. These relative impersonal communications with companies will be the final resting ground for email, and then, even that will wink out when a better metaphor for social interaction with companies becomes dominant“
Well, let the email starvation continue for another year! I won’t be missing it either when it is gone!
Long live “A World Without Email“!
Over the last couple of months I have been participating on a number of different podcasting episodes, (Internet) TV interviews, news articles and a whole bunch of other kinds of rich media publications talking, most of the time, around the topics of Enterprise 2.0, internal social software adoption and 2.0 evangelism, and, lately, the new social term that seems to be en vogue nowadays: social business. I originally had planned to share a few insights about the most interesting ones and point folks to the original resource to watch or read through them, but then I realised that there are out there far too many to mention in a single blog post, more than anything else, because some of the conversations have been substantially different from one another. So I thought that perhaps I would drop by over here, every now and then, and point folks to the odd one or two, so you could have a look into some of them, if you would be interested, but always being conscious of trying to strike a balance on not sharing them all one right after the other. That’s why I have decided as well that I will be splitting them up half in half and share some other pointers over at my Posterous site, which would also give me an opportunity to keep things going over there as well, as I keep making a much heavier use of it from here onwards…
Thus, what a better way of kicking things off than sharing with you folks a recent podcasting episode that I participated in with the wonderful folks from The Taking Notes podcast, Bruce Elgort and Julian Robichaux. That’s right, back in November, Bruce invited me to participate in their #126 episode and talk with them about the topic of “Social Business”. Now, you may have noticed already, how for the last few weeks, probably since right after the Enterprise 2.0 conference event in Santa Clara, there seems to be a growing trend of switching away from the Enterprise 2.0 concept into that one of Social Business. Even in Twitter itself it is starting to happen… I wouldn’t be surprised if in 2011, as we get to wrap up things with this year, we would see an increase in the number of conversations around social business vs. purely Enterprise 2.0. Starting by confirming whether it does provide value or not… In fact, that dialogue has already started with a good bunch of folks chiming in already in this space. Even IBM has been coming along and jumped into the bandwagon as well…
Now, I do realise how I have shared above a whole bunch of rather interesting and insightful blog links on this very same topic, which some folks have been calling even a debate, but I would surely like to recommend you go through each of them and read them through to get some additional context of what I feel is going to be one of the main themes in the next few months, if not already. Then at a later time and, as we move forward, I will be coming back to some of those blog entries hoping to add some further insights on to the overall conversations…
To get things started with those reflections on what social business is all about from my own perspective, I think The Taking Notes podcast with both Bruce and Julian would probably be a good start, since we had a rather interesting and enlightening discussion on what social business could mean for any business out there. If you go into the original blog post you will be able to see the various show notes of all of the subjects we touched base on. I thought I would also include them over here to give you a quick glimpse of what you can expect from that podcasting episode:
- “Social software evangelism inside of IBM, and the group of 1,600+ BlueIQ Ambassadors within the company
- How you can possibly live without e-mail for over 2 years (a question Luis has probably answered hundreds of times before, and he graciously answered again)
- The difference between social networks on the Internet and social networks behind the corporate firewall
- The future of social software, and what technologies will be used to make it work across networks and vendors
- Luis’ recent Enterprise 2.0 Evangelist of the Year Award“
The podcast lasts for about 48 minutes and in it you would be able to find out plenty more what my ¢2 are about social business in general, what it is like, and how a company might be capable of reaching out that status over the course of time through a direct influence from Enterprise 2.0, etc. etc.. Interestingly enough, and as a teaser, my opinion comes pretty close to that one shared by Jevon McDonald not long ago in another blog post under the title “E20 vs Social Business?“: Social Business = People + Process + Technology (Enterprise 2.0), which, if you have been reading this blog for a little while now, you would see how it resembles, pretty close, something else, much larger, that’s been there with us for over 15 years… But I won’t spoil anymore the surprise field that we discussed for much of the duration of the podcast…
Over the course of that long conversation we also touched based on a good number of different topics, including some of my favourite ones, like the BlueIQ program (And its BlueIQ Ambassadors community) I have been part of over the last three years as part of IBM’s internal social software adoption strategy, as well as my long time running experiment of living “A World Without Email” (Whose update, I realise now, is very much long overdue!), and the future of social software in general…
And, finally, something that I will be talking about more in a separate blog post, but which has been one of the major highlights for yours truly for 2010; the nomination and award from the 2.0 Adoption Council group as Internal Evangelist of the Year 2010, taking the baton from the always inspiring Claire Flanagan who won it last year. What a true honour, indeed!! But, like I said, I will be talking about that one at a later time as I get to wrap up a post on some highlights for 2010. For now, I just hope you enjoy the podcasting episode with the Taking Notes folks, just as much as I did recording it with them! I surely had a blast!
From here onwards I just want to take this opportunity to share across a big special Thanks!! with both Bruce and Julian for having me on their show and for always making it so much fun and dynamic to participate in it! Thanks ever so much, guys! Looking forward to the next one!