Dec 08

What’s Wrong With Email?

Twitter, Facebook, wikis, blogs, and a smattering of other web 2.0 companies are being used for business.  Yammer, specifically, caught my eye recently.  It’s described as Twitter for business.  But why?  What gap is it filling?  For me, the question is, what’s wrong with email?

Managing (if that’s possible) email is a full time job, at least at my company.  With a Blackberry in hand there is an expectation that you will read, and sometimes reply to, emails as you receive them.  If we could make money, as a company, reading and responding to emails, this might be okay.  There’s probably a startup idea there.  Regardless, that can’t be the only thing wrong with email.

The magnitude of emails can be troublesome, especially with the implicit expecation of response.  The problem, however, is predicated on the push nature of the medium.  If you take a random 10 emails from your inbox (or wherever your last 10 are), you’ll probably have a few that you wanted to receive — and in fact, are later arriving than you hoped (you have that same expectation of response for people you send emails to).  But, there are probably a few that are just important enough that you have to read, and maybe doing something with, just not as you read them.  And finally, you’ve got ones that are just cluttering your inbox.  These are probably the easiest to deal with.  The thing is, you don’t control what gets to your inbox in the first place.

Then there’s a matter of the content.  Forget the continuing degredation (or increasing efficiency?) of the resolution of language.  I’m concentrating here on the facts, requests, attachments, etc, that come along with emails.  When you combine the magnitude of emails with their walled content obsured behind time, sender, and title, you get the inability to extract value from within your email program.  All these other bits need to be removed from email and used somewhere else — in another program, in a contract, in a request, etc.

And a chain reaction from the previous problem?  The group feature of email is lost after the first email.  Meaning, if I send an email to 5 people, they all get the information inside.  But what happens when one person replies?  If we all wait to reply, in some predetermined order, there isn’t a problem.  In reality, however, people respond (go back to the first problem) and sometimes a barrage of multiple responses flood the cc’s of the email in a disjointed mess.  Further, if the intention is to progress on some file within the email, each of the recipients must open the attachment, make changes, and then hope to reassemble all of the simultaneous edits people are making.

This is just a start to some of what’s wrong with email as a corporate communication tool.  I want to lay out this initial list and see how far it gets when I start talking about the solutions to email, including Yammer.