in defence of #email

While I’ve been an enthusiastic adopter of social platforms I’ve never once felt the need to ditch my old and trustworthy friend email. Sure I’ve been down on email before as I wrote here, but I’ve never called for the end as discussed on this article. The commentors on that post highlight some valid reasons that email is not going away anytime soon but the fact that ‘everyone uses it’ is not what keeps me wired into my inbox. In fact most people I communicate with regularly have social profiles, mobile devices and various other means of communication that we all use regularly.

Even with my closest colleagues on a typical day we will communicate using some or all of the following methods; telephone, instant messaging, desktop sharing, micro-blogs, task management system, blogs, wikis and of course email.

No, the main reason I still use email is that I simply haven’t found anything else that fills that space. In fact I would argue that email isn’t social and that’s why nothing has been developed to replace it and why no social media platform signals the death knell for it. Email is private, it can be open, but that’s a conscious choice, in the same way that a private direct message on twitter is a conscious break from the intended use of the platform.

Email is not a stream that you dip in and out of as you please, it’s a point-to-point communication method. Emails don’t disappear off the bottom of the stream to be forgotten about forever, they sit and wait until they have been dealt with. Whether that is through deletion or being opened and read is a choice made by the recipient and no one else.

But for me, the most valuable aspect of email is it allows me to think. My preferred learning style is reading and writing. Often when an idea hits me it’s impossible for me to explain to someone else exactly what it is straight away. I still feel that moment of excitement that I simply must communicate to anyone who is interested. If the idea is related to the current project I’m working on then the only people that need to hear it are those associated with the project. Composing an email, for me, is the only way to really understand the thoughts that are flying around my head. To put enough words down, in my own time, that allows me to explain it to a colleague. If I can explain it in a single email, with a small number of clarifications, then I know I’m on to something.


3 thoughts on “in defence of #email

  1. Hi Craig, good points. I am in agreement that neither file-sharing, social messages or blogs with subscriptions do not provide the same level of collaboration that email does. The main reason for email is that it works with everyone and that all my information goes to one place. But in reality it already goes to at least three places (three email accounts) and the information that is passed by it is neither well organized nor secure nor original. If I copy three people I have now three originals that each can in the worst case change as desired. Yes, typical TODO or TASK organizers also don’t fill that space well enough.

    I see however one key aspect that is missed by email and by all other forms of collaboration and that is goal-orientation. All units-of-work and all work resources must be aligned with a goal. At least when we discuss it in a business sense. If you do it all for yourself then there is no need for that because you have that goal in your mind. No need to document it.

    In a business sense (which does purposeful collaboration) that is however the essential difference. Email as a work organizer in business is a mess. One object type is used to describe all possible types of objects and the description is in free-text format that has to be interpreted by the receiver who possibly has no information about why and what and when outside what he/she find in the emai. Often these informations are hidden in various or multiple attached documents or resources, alternatively as hyperlinks (as mostly in social networks) where there is little or no security at all. Putting the resources into a hyperlink is cumbersome to say the least.

    Therefore businesses need a system (such as ACM) that enables:
    1) work to be organized in tasks or checklists around well-defined goals,
    2) supports embedded and natively usable data and content objects,
    3) links to business systems,
    4) enables email and social to be used as communication means,
    5) provides the ability to constrain work for compliance,
    6) validates user authentication and authority,
    7) allows the reuse of goal-oriented work in future, and
    8) can be used in Cloud and Mobile environments.

    I do admit that it will be necessary that such a sytem becomes as user-friendly and simple as email. That is actually the hardest part, because email is so simple because it does not do anything than sending raw text and attachements to an unverified recipient.

    User will need to perceive such a system as so easy to use and to beneficial to their work that they won’t do without it. It helps if it is cool and looks cool.

    So while nothing can replace email so far, we really need to get to the point where we can. it is a major reason for corporate inefficiency. The one that will not solve this problem is flow-charted BPM with or without Ad-Hoc tasks. It misses most of the above.

  2. It amazes me that people use email as the focus (planning/management) of their work and a sophisticated, yet easy to use, system needs to replace that use case. Is ACM the answer to this? Possibly, what you guys are doing certainly looks pretty exciting.

    I still don’t believe this will be an email killer the use case is too narrowly focused to challenge email’s hegemony as a communication medium.

    As for BPM, well I wouldn’t know about that anymore! 🙂

    • Craig, ACM might only reduce email use for project and process management. Outside that it will be reduced by the social networks, but overall I do agree with you that email will remain with us due to its ubiquitous nature.

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