A column by IBMer Luis Suarez appears in today's New York Times concludes with a rather provocative position:

E-mail can become extinct, if not repurposed altogether, even at big companies like I.B.M. An e-mail in-box no longer needs to be like Pandora's box.
Let me quickly say that I completely agree with the second sentence, but entirely disagree with the words (though, perhaps, not the spirit) in the first.

Luis writes further:
I stopped using e-mail most of the time. I quickly realized that the more messages you answer, the more messages you generate in return. It becomes a vicious cycle. By trying hard to stop the cycle, I cut the number of e-mails that I receive by 80 percent in a single week.

It's not that I stopped communicating; I just communicated in different and more productive ways. Instead of responding individually to messages that arrived in my in-box, I started to use more social networking tools, like instant messaging, blogs and wikis, among many others. I also started to use the telephone much more than I did before, which has the added advantage of being a more personal form of interaction. ....

THINK about whether my experience could work for you. Think about how to use social networking tools to eliminate spam and to avoid repeatedly answering the same question from many different people. These tools can also save you from an accumulation of online newsletters that never get read, and from those incessant project status reports that clutter many in-boxes.
For the most part, Luis is expressing what most of us in the collaboration space have been saying for the last ten years.  Collaborative software empowers people to share information and be more productive in more ways than ever before  However, i completely disagree that it renders e-mail to dinosaur status, though that has been predicted in various forms for nearly ten years.

If you have seen me present recently, you've seen me get to a slide like #18 from my recent ILUG/DNUG presentation and talk to this -- how many of you get 100+ e-mails a day?  Lots of hands.  How many of you are seeing your e-mail volume decrease?  Far fewer.  

Personal experience -- even though my responsibilities have increased, my e-mail volume is, for the most part, declining slowly over the last 12 months.

Image:New York Times: I Freed Myself From E-Mail’s Grip

That slide has a key phrase -- Your in-box is a catalyst for productivity.  Even if you move all of your collaboration to other tools, there still needs to be a prompt, a push, a tickle, an alert ... something that draws you into the collaboration.  For as much as this industry has driven towards contextual collaboration -- and I believe that Notes 8 delivers on that far better than any other tool in the market -- it is still the ultimate challenge to draw users into the collaborative realm.

For example, in a strange-but-true aspect of my job at IBM, few of the people I work with on a daily basis read my weblog.  I completely agree with Luis that blogging has a significant benefit in that it helps you "avoid repeatedly answering the same question from many different people".  But in my world, that has only been a reduction, not an elimination.  I can't choose how you as customers, partners, colleagues, or industry figures choose to obtain information about Lotus Notes.  

If I blog about something, it will definitely reach a segment of my "customer" base.  But many key IBMers will never see it (even if I started cross-posting to my internal w3 weblog, which is time-consuming), and that leads to e-mails, instant messages, phone calls, discussion forum postings,and all other manner of information-seeking.  Thus, while I applaud and am proud of Luis's thought leadership, I know that it is far easier to give up e-mail in a role such as his.  In my role, my customers determine the method, urgency, and bandwidth of our communication.

Ruth Kaufman left a really insightful comment on my twitter stream and on this blog last week.  In many organizations, there are impediments to e-mail as a productivity tool.  Compliance, security, "mail jail", all of these get in the way.  In some companies, such as a customer I met last year, that has lead users to find their own tools -- they don' have to worry about a 200 MB mailbox quota if they are using Google groups or a public wiki.  However, there are a heck of a lot of risks -- and definitely some organizational knowledge loss -- when going outside the firewall.

Thus, for me at least, the right direction forward is a model that brings together all of my collaborative tools.  A way in which I can work with things like instant messaging, discussions, activities, shared spaces, and external tools like web content, Twitter, RSS feeds, and widgets.  If all of that comes together in an "inbox", and contains one-to-one or one-to-group asynchronous communication, too, then I can dig it.  It doesn't necessarily have to be something separate (as was discussed a few weeks ago on Jive CMO Sam Lawrence's blog)... in fact, I think I already have a tool that does all of the above.  Does it sound familiar?

Link: New York Times: I Freed Myself From E-Mail's Grip >

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