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Email is not dying

Den Howlett Profile picture for user gonzodaddy May 20, 2013
There's many a rumor that email is dead. Nothing could be further from the truth. But is there a good way to collaborate with team members while not sacrificing the utility of email? Right now that seems much harder than it looks.

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This from had my head spinning:

Warwick Business School associate professor John Baptista, who is a digital communication expert, added: "Email is slow and old and dying, so just being an email services provider is not sustainable for Yahoo. Google has had some success with Google+ and this looks like Yahoo is trying to replicate that with Tumblr.

This was in the context of a larger story but the point about email 'dying' seems remarkably ill-informed.

Luis Suarez of IBM has been on a multi-year personal crusade to rid himself of corporate email. He reports:

If you remember, in the last blog entry on the topic I mentioned, for the previous year, how the average of incoming emails I had over the course of the whole year was down to 16 emails per week, which is roughly about 2 emails per day. So, as you can see, I wasn’t capable of killing email per se as most folks have been saying all along, specially, when I am being introduced at a public speaking event. However, if I look into what I used to have before I started this initiative there has been a decrease of up to 98% of the total volume of inbound email, which I guess it’s just not too shabby when thinking about how 5 years ago I received a total amount of 1647 incoming emails and last year only 798.

...and here comes the punchline:

No, that’s right. eMail is not dead and it’s far from being dead, despite what some other folks may have been claiming all along. This is something that I have been saying all along myself, too! eMail still has got its place in the corporate world. More specifically in three different contexts or, as I call them, use cases. To name:

  1. Universal Identifier (For whenever you need to sign up for a new service)
  2. Calendaring and Scheduling of events in your agenda (Most of those meetings, appointments seem to come through email still).
  3. 1:1 Confidential, sensitive exchanges (HR, Legal, Financial matters would be prime examples for this use case. Notice how I mention 1:1 and not 1:many confidential emails, by the way, more than anything else, because as soon as you include more than one person it’s no longer confidential. You never know where it will go next and who may leak the information across)

Luis goes on to argue that apart from these use cases:

There isn’t an excuse anymore to move the vast majority of our interactions into more open social, collaborative, knowledge sharing spaces: digital tools.

I would so much like to agree with him but sadly cannot. At least not yet. From my own experience and among the team here at diginomica, it is nigh on impossible to rid ourselves of email and little incentive to use digital tools. That might sound counter intuitive. Here is why, even though we are a brand new business that could set its own rules:

  • Almost all our external communications are via email and collectively we get a LOT of that 'stuff.' Shutting it down is not an option.
  • We can easily use filters to reduce the amount of time spent dealing with things that don't matter. that's just good practice. Modern email systems provide that facility as standard.
  • There is no obvious rationale in splitting our communications into separate paths when one system - in this case email - is already the de facto standard. If anything, dividing time places a greater strain on work as it requires the remembering of additional systems.

Others will argue that this last point is wrong because collaboration is much easier inside social and socialised tools. Again, I would love to agree but in my experience,  the collaborative tools that exist are just not that good and/or are much harder to make stick than seems likely at first blush. This seems especially true in highly distributed environments - like ours.

Twitter? 140 characters is useless for anything other than drive by comments.

Google Chat - that can work for ad hoc needs but where's my archive? And oh heck - it's just morphed to Hangouts. something else to learn? Chatter? Nope - we don't have a account and in any event from what I've seen, it is very easy for important stuff to get lost in a miasma of topics.

Yammer? Well, I'm giving that a go and we'll see how it pans out.

In the meantime, I'm going back to email but here's my little secret. I have an iPad mini with a Gmail notifier sat next to my main machine. It beeps each time there is an inbound email. I can glance at it and decide whether there is something that needs my immediate attention. Time lost? Top side, one second. With the amount of email I get per day that amounts to around three minutes.

What do you all think? Is there anything we could do better? Are we just too lazy to be disciplined?

Featured image credit: © ra2 studio -

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