December 13, 2011

The End of Email

Much was made recently of the announcement by French CEO, Thierry Breton, that he would phase out his large company’s use of email over the next 18 months (Forbes article, e.g., here). He pointed out that only about 20% of received emails  are useful, and that simply managing one’s email can be a significant drag on productivity.

With the emergence of environments where an effective internal social network carries virtually all communication, the idea of phasing out email is actually plausible. At Scrybe, where we obviously use Convofy, we observe that internal emails have been reduced by 90% or more. The result has been salutary: there is greater clarity in communications, it is easier to find information, and less time is spent “managing” information.

The big difference is subtle but important. Email is a “push” model: that is, you push content to specific people or mailing lists. This means two things:

  1. By default, people are excluded from access, and you have to explicitly grant them access by including them in the To or Cc line.
  2. The information shared by email is subsequently stored in personal repositories – Inboxes or other mail folders – which is inaccessible to others.

Internal social networks offer the opposite orientation, which is closer to a “subscribe” model. Messages, documents, links, etc. can be posted without a specific audience in mind. In many cases, social networks change the mindset of the sharer from “who needs to know this” to “whoever needs this can find it.” This represents a significant change not only in attitude but in accessibility of information, much of which should be treated as an organizational asset, not the personal, private and sequestered nuggets that get buried in email.

Of course, email isn’t really going away. Ever. Or at least, not until there is some other universal messaging and information exchange service that can span across diverse organizations.

In the meantime, especially for internal use, it’s plausible that email will be increasingly constrained to things like private messaging and notifications (though texting will supersede in both cases, except perhaps for longer messages). And won’t that be a good day, when the information that we need for our organization isn’t buried in Inboxes, but accessible to the appropriate people whenever they need it?

Which junk mail delivery service will fade to extinction first, email or the Postal Service?

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