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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

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

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.

No backup for you

As the single lone post on my site may indicate, I’ve recently lost all of my site content that I’ve been writing and storing since 2005-ish (I know, ouch).  Turns out, user error was to blame (mine – shock).  About two years ago I switched from Joomla to WordPress, at which point I must have tinkered unnecessarily with my backup settings.  Fast forward to last month, in the process of upgrading to the latest version of WordPress I managed to completely delete everything.  Oops.  Like I say after every visit to IKEA – maybe I’ll read the instructions next time.


But, the good news is this will allow me to refocus.  I’ve made the mistake before of trying to predict what I’ll write about, but my intentions never manage to mesh up exactly with whatever it is that I find interesting or inspiring at the time.  So, without being too prescriptive, I’ve tended to write about knowledge management, communities of practice, learning, collaboration and social media in the past.  I’ll likely continue to do so, but I may broaden what I discuss here a bit more than that.  Time will tell.


All in all, looking forward to sharing again.

Boom Crash Thud

If you’re coming to my site and seeing things are rather blank, it appears as if both my site and backup tools have experienced a fatal error of some kind.  I’m working with my host to see if there is any way to restore my content.  In the meantime, apologies if you’ve come here via a now broken link.