Revisited: The shape of email to come

Early in 2009 I blogged about The Shape of Email to Come, which was about the changing nature of how people use email and what that meant for the design and function of the inbox of the future.  I predicted that it would be Google that innovated in this space, and with the newly redesigned Gmail inbox rolling out today, it looks like I might have actually been right about that.  Though I’ll admit, I didn’t think it’d take 4+ years to see it happen.  🙂

My original site crashed, but it was saved thanks to the Internet Archive.  The original post linked above as well as re-posted below.  Looking back at the generalizations I made about my inbox then, I think those same rough percentages for the type of emails received still hold up.  I suppose I might have been the oddball out 4 years ago, but for Google to make this change, they must know that more and more the inbox is shifting from the primary communication tool for most people, to being more of a filing and organization tool that integrates messages, alerts, and notifications from the web outside our inbox.

I have some thoughts about the next phase of the inbox, but I think I’ll save that post for next week.  In the meantime, I’d be interested to learn how the email habits have changed (if at all) for other folks in the past 5 years…

The shape of email to come

This is an interesting article from the Chicago Tribune discussing Nielsen research:

Here’s today’s big news in fewer than 140 characters: Social networking is now more popular than e-mail.

That’s the official word from a new round of Nielsen research, which shows “member communities” such as Twitter and Facebook have overtaken personal e-mail to become the fourth-most-popular way people spend time online (after search, portals and software applications).

This made me think about my own use of email outside of work. Just taking a quick scan of my email I can make the following generalizations:

  • 5% – Email conversations that couldn’t (yet) be done via a different medium (e.g., Dissertation work, emails from family and friends not using social networking sites)
  • 10% – Automated billing confirmations, Amazon/eBay/iTunes “Thank you for buying” emails
  • 85% – Notifications from Facebook, LinkedIn and other social networking websites

Interestingly, almost all of the online conversations that I have now happen within the confines of these social networking sites. And it’s no wonder. Using Facebook as an example, all of those conversations are much more contextual than email. Conversations happen around groups, events, photos, posted items, etc. It’s a much richer user experience than email and there really hasn’t been any added complexity with the increase in functionality we see with most things in our lives these days.

Looking at my own emailing behaviors, and that of my peers, I have to wonder – what does the future hold for email? I find myself using it less and less for personal communications (that 5% figure above), and increasingly as a collection point for the myriad of notifications that I receive (95%). If I were to look back in time 3-5 years, these numbers would be drastically different. Looking at the Nielsen summary, it’s safe to say this trend is likely to continue.

So what then for email? My guess would be that there will be less time focused on refining authoring tools for users, and more attention given to the integration, classification, storage and findability of notifications/alerts. Whatever the trend is, I’ll wager that we’ll see it in Google Labs before too long…

March 17, 2009 | Filed Under Email, Social Networking

15 critical success factors for ESN success


I recently contributed a piece to the latest Ark-group KM report, “Collaborative Knowledge Networks.”  In it I identify what I’ve found to be the most common critical success factors (CSFs) for active and valuable enterprise social networks (ESNs).  This is derived from my experience, conversations with others in this space, and is also informed by my doctoral research on CSFs for KM.  In this framework of CSFs for an ESN, I classify the 15 CSFs into five factor groups:

1) Factors related to the ESN initiative

  • Link to corporate/business strategy
  • Measurement
  • Training & Education
  • ESN Champions

2) Factors related to the organization

  • Top management/leadership support
  • Organizational culture
  • Technology infrastructure

3) Factors related to the ESN manager

  • Change management skills
  • Commitment
  • Relevant past experience

4) Factors related to the ESN team

  • Full-time/dedicated staff
  • Commitment

5) Factors related to the external environment

  • Competition
  • Markets
  • Technology

Check out the full article (linked below) for more information on the framework and definitions for each CSF identified.  I also highly recommend the full report, which contains fantastic information for anyone working in the ESN/community space.

Intranet design: Lessons from MythBusters and Batman

What can Adam Savage (cohost of Discovery Channel’s MythBusters) teach us about intranet design?  Plenty, it turns out.

Before MythBusters, Savage was a professional model-maker, working on everything from Star Wars to The Matrix Reloaded (highly underrated, IMO).  In this  article he discusses how critical the design of his toolbox was in his effectiveness and creativity.  The toolbox he created allowed him to pull any tool that was needed with one hand, without the need to first move anything else out of his way.  He calls this organizing metric first-order retrievability – likening it to Batman’s utility belt.

So, what does first-order retrievability have to do with intranet design? 

One of the most commonly heard intranet design rules is the Three Click Rule – dictating that nothing on the intranet should take more than 3-clicks to find.  Coincidentally, James Robertson busts this myth, stating that:

“While the three clicks rule may be a myth, the common sense principle of bringing more frequently used content towards the top of the site still holds.  While users may not dislike clicking, there is no reason to make them work harder than they need to. Effort should be applied to identify common or important content, and to make sure this can be easily and quickly found on the site.”

While the three click rule is a myth, designing an intranet so that the most important applications and content are easily and quickly within reach should be a top priority for intranet managers.  Designing solutions with first-order retrievability in mind should ultimately result in a more efficient and useful intranet.  After all, what user wouldn’t want their intranet to be as handy and cool as Batman’s utility belt?

Community Success Factors

On October 16th I co-presented to the Systems Integration Knowledge Management (SIKM) Leaders community on the subject of Community Leadership.  For my part of the topic, I focused on the community success factors/community health report that we had developed for the Deloitte consulting communities program.  The 2nd part of this deck speaks to that, as well as some of the recommendations we make to communities looking to improve their health.

Welcoming community members

When creating enterprise communities, it’s important to welcome each new community member that joins. Generally, it’s important to share with them information about what they can expect from the community, how they can interact with other members, the resources available to them, and what (if any) action items you’d like to request that they take immediately (e.g., set up email alerts, introduce themselves to the community).

The method that this message is delivered will vary, given differences in technology and resources. While it would be ideal to get to know each community member individually with a welcome conversation (rather than message), that often isn’t as feasible internally as it is in external communities (given time restrictions for both parties). So, most enterprise communities tend to rely on an automated message after a member joins, or manually copying/pasting a welcome message template and sending this to each new member. This is fine; however, what often happens is that community managers get bogged down with the other details and demands of managing their community, so this message (often drafted when the community was first developed) gets stale.

To keep your welcome message fresh, consider:

 1) Keep it short, keep it simple

Nothing will make your members hit delete on your welcome message quicker than a wall of text – especially if it even has a whiff of being outdated.

 2) Update quarterly, include key dates

Try updating your message quarterly, and even including a brief message about recent community successes or upcoming community events/plans for the current quarter. Members want to know how your community will be relevant to them now. Tell them.

3) Action items, less is more

When asking your new member to do something additional after joining, be considerate of their time. Focus on asking for only what is most important to you, and let them know why you’re asking them to take an additional step. If you want them to sign up for email alerts to your collaborative tools, tell them what benefit that will give them. If you’re asking them to take a survey to collect demographic information on your members, explain how you’ll use that information and what’s in it for them.

4) Personal follow-up

Especially if your welcome message is generated from a generic community mailbox (or worse yet, a no-reply email), consider sending each new member a quick, personal follow-up. Even if it is just a one sentence, “thanks for joining, look around and let me know if I can help” email, that makes a world of difference between your member being onboarded to your community vs. being welcomed to it.

Photo via Flickr

Enterprise collaboration hitting its stride

Luis Suarez has a great post on social business as an accelerant to increasing the connectedness, engagement, and productivity of remote workers. It is a great summary of a lot of research and articles that have been getting attention recently. I connected particularly with this thought:

Work happens, indeed, wherever you are, whenever you need, with whatever the tools you have at your disposal, with whoever the connections you may collaborate with in getting the job done. Never before have we been capable of realising that dream of the fully empowered knowledge worker to work virtually in a more than ever distributed world than thanks to the emergence of all of these social networking tools.

Having spent most of my professional life working remotely, either from home, or in an office where all or most of my colleagues and clients are elsewhere, I can say that I’ve definitely felt this shift in connectedness happening. Tools like video conferencing, instant messaging, and team sites have always helped to make working together easier and bridge the distance, but it’s only been recently, with the rapid growth and adoption of enterprise collaboration tools, that I’ve felt a shift in connectedness.

This growing connectedness hasn’t just been with close colleagues either – it’s been across the entire organization, and has really helped to make connections with others that you couldn’t previously collaborate with easily (or even know about their existence, for that matter!). And unlike many KM tools of the past, these new breeds of enterprise collaboration tools don’t require extensive training, or a big sales job of why the end user should participate. They’re intuitive to use out of the gate, and there are many examples that we can point to in order to demonstrate the value that people can immediately start getting from them.  That’s pretty exciting.

Image via Flickr

Dissertation defense

After successfully defending my dissertation this past week, I can’t help but recall one of my favorite lines from the movie Tommy Boy:

Tommy: “Did you hear I finally graduated?”
Richard: “Yeah, just a shade under a decade too, all right…”
Tommy: “You know a lot of people go to college for 7 years.”
Richard: “I know, they’re called doctors.”

I started my doctoral program in January of ’06, working on my dissertation off and on since that time, and made the final “push” to finish things up this year. While there isn’t a summer graduation at NIU, I think that having time on the weekends again to golf and enjoy the summer will be more than reward enough for me. I’ve shared the deck I used for my defense presentation below, for those interested.

My topic examined critical success factors (CSFs) for KM, and the major product of the research is a framework of CSFs for KM that (I believe) should be contribute to both research and practice. I have a few journals in mind I’d like to publish this in, and I’ll be making a less-academic version of this presentation to share soon as well.

Until then, I’ll be enjoying this long Independence Day weekend technology-free (well, the Kindle won’t be hooked up to wifi, anyway…). Have a great holiday weekend everyone!

unGeeked e’lite summary

Last week I attended the unGeeked e’lite retreat in Chicago. It was an excellent event and I appreciate getting the opportunity to meet a lot of great people face-to-face that I’ve followed on twitter, blogs, etc. for some time now. Additionally, there were fantastic discussions all three days of the retreat – not just in person, but on twitter as well. It was the first time I’ve attended an event that was so heavily discussed simultaneously in person and online.

Rather that post a summary of rather dull bullet points, I’ve tried to capture what I felt were some of the key points discussed by myself and others captured in tweet form.

unGeeked Elite conference/retreat

unGeeked Elite is a conference/retreat that will be coming to Chicago May 12-14th.  It sounds like it should be pretty interesting since there will be a good variety of topics discussed, and I like the intent behind limiting attendance to 125 people.

This allows attendees more of an opportunity to create a real dialogue between themselves and the discussion leader. unGeeked’s format fosters more learning, greater bonds, creates new alliances and provides value to both you and your company.

I hadn’t heard of this conference before, but the discussions cover a lot of subjects that I’m interested in.  It’s always nice to try new formats and attend conferences without the same cast of speakers, so I’m definitly looking forward to attending this one.

A Structure and Strategy for Subscribing to RSS Feeds

At the most recent KM Chicago meeting a familiar subject came up during our discussion – what KM blogs do you follow?  What feed aggregator do you recommend?  Given that I hear this question frequently, and I think that I have a pretty good system going, I thought I would share some of my own tips and tricks for following many blogs.

It’s not all or nothing

One of the biggest excuses I hear for not subscribing to RSS feeds, or even for using Twitter is the idea that, “I can’t read all of that information.” – but really, no one can, and you’re not supposed to read it all!  Just like you don’t avoid a buffet because you can’t eat it all, you shouldn’t avoid following many sources because you can’t read them all. So, how do you manage the glut of information out there?

Folder structure is key

I use Google Reader as my feed aggregator – not because it’s the best one out there, but because it’s easy to use, and integrates will all of my other Google services.  Any aggregator should work with the approach I describe.

My approach for following a number of blogs is totally dependent on my use of a tiered folder structure.  For demonstration purposes, lets say I follow 100 KM blogs.  15 of those are probably ones that I find really insightful, another 30 or so I enjoy reading on a pretty regular basis, and the rest I tend to read when I can.  So in Google Reader, I have three folders set up that reflect this:

  • KM1
  • KM2
  • KM3
When I go to read my feeds, I’ll read everything in KM1 – this allows me to read all of my favorites.  If I have time, I’ll see what is in KM2, and then maybe even KM3 if I get the chance.  But, generally, I have to say I never get to that third level down.  Then why bother following them at all?  I’ll get to that in a minute.  But first, how do I decided which blogs get added to which folder?

Finding blogs, rating blogs

Now that you have a structure ready to go, you need to find good KM blogs to fill them with.  Normally this is where I would point you to my repository of KM sources, but as I recently mentioned, my web server had a hiccup and I lost all of my information.  I’ll get this rebuilt, but in the meantime check out Stan Garfield’s listing of KM Blogs – it’s comprehensive and is a great source to being with.

Now, I know it’s a lot, but trust me, subscribe to all of the feeds listed.  Then, start reading through them when you get the opportunity.  Fairly quickly you’ll get a sense of the blogs you really like, the ones that are good, and the others that just might not be crucial reading for you.  Once you do, start assigning each feed to a folder.  It won’t take long to get the basic structure in place.  You’ll continue to adjust the settings over time, but I’ve had this setup going since about 2006 and it has been very sustainable for me.  I don’t read everything, but I don’t have to.  I used to be concerned I would be missing something interesting in the KM3 folder that I would rarely get to, but the odds are if it’s something that is really interesting, it would eventually be covered by one of the blogs in my KM1 or KM2 folders.

So like you may have asked earlier – why bother subscribing to the other blogs at all then?

Personalized KM searches

The value in subscribing to a number of feeds does not always lie in discovering something new and interesting, but often it is in the ability to query this information for a specific reason later on.  As I mentioned, I’ve been using the setup since 2006 and have subscribed to a number of KM blogs – most of which I don’t actually read on a regular basis.  But when doing research on something KM related, I’m more likely to begin my query here than going to Google.

A real life example I can share is when I recently began to do research into expertise location tools, techniques, and examples.  Rather than going to Google, where I would get a mix of good information, outdated information and ads, I used the search functionality within Google Reader.  Here, the benefits of subscribing to a number of KM sources is very helpful:

  • It allows for a focused search from sources I already trust and am familiar with
  • Adopting a tiered folder structure allows me to essentially sort my results by trustworthiness and familiarity
  • Being populated with just KM blogs automatically weeds out a number of irrelevant hits I would have received doing a standard search on Google
  • If I have questions about the material presented, it is easy to reach out and ask for more details because I’m usually familiar with the author by having followed them for a period of time
In this case I was able to find a number of good examples and case studies – many of which came from the KM3 folder.  So although I rarely read the feeds in this folder, they is a great deal of value that comes from subscribing to them.

In summary

  • Find a folder structure that works for you
  • Subscribe to as many feeds as you can, sort and cull the list over time
  • Read what you can, query the rest when you need it