Ok, maybe that’s a bit harsh…or is it? We can’t live without email, just like we couldn’t live without telephones even when all we had was rotary dials. Who wouldn’t say “rotary dial sucks!” today? We’re dependent on email and drowning in email at the same time.
Look, email, in some form, will not get replaced completely. Just like TV didn’t completely replace radio. But following are just some of the reasons why we are way overdue for a change.
1. Knowledge Silos
Email is a poor (and that’s being polite) information sharing repository. When sending an email, the sender must know who needs the info now. A colleague who could benefit from the emailed information tomorrow, will never know the info even exists.
Since each email inbox is completely private, stored content can not be shared without explicitly and actively forwarding the content. This a) requires time to forward those requesting it, and b) creates duplicate copies of the content.
2. Delete Dilemma
I’ve dedicated another entire blog post to email’s “Delete Dilemma” because I believe it is so important and I don’t recall ever seeing anyone previously identify this issue. Basically, because an email includes both content and the notification of that content, recipients can not delete the notification if they feel they might need the content again later. And the expectation of others is that if they emailed you some info, you’re responsible for remembering it. The result is keeping “everything”, relying on unread marks, manual flagging and labeling.
3. No Priority Hierarchy
The email inbox is more or less a flat list of stuff. Sure, the sender can set a low/medium/high priority, but who does? And is the sender’s high priority necessarily yours? You can also try building some crude rules in Outlook to change colors of emails based on sender. Gmail even tries to do this for you. But is every email from your boss or mother really your top priority?
4. Lack of Context
What’s been the latest big innovation in email? Threading! Ooooh. Email threading is nothing more than a rough attempt to automatically group emails by their explicit Subject. Yes, this is helpful, like…spitting on a fire to put it out. How often do email threads take tangents that have nothing to do with the original subject? And how many people just reply to an old email (even keeping the old subject) as an easier way to address a new email? (It’s easier than trying to figure out which is current of the multiple emails addresses suggested by your email program.)
When you think about it, the email sender already has the context of the message. Instead, we leave it to the recipient to figure out the context and organize (tag, label, file in folder, etc.). With the increasing volume, organizing received emails usually just does not happen any more. Instead, we rely solely on sort and search…or probably more prevalent than we’d like to admit, we just ask people again for answers we already have buried in our email inboxes.
5. Distributed Mess
- According to Microsoft, “more than 97% of all e-mails sent over the net are unwanted.“
- An email sender can never be 100% sure when or even if all intended recipients will receive their email.
- And even with “standards”, many deal with incompatibilities on a regular basis. Anyone seen “winmail.dat” attached to an empty message? Or incompatible formatting? Or ever try to send meeting invitations including different recipients using MS Outlook, GMail, and Lotus Notes?
6. No Data Life Cycle Management
Email data management has long been a concern for IT and more recently for Compliance. IT sets crude storage quotas to manage costs (email proliferates unnecessary duplicate copies of files and data). But data archiving, regulatory compliance, legal holds, etc. are a nightmare. With email’s store & forward architecture and increasing mobile device adoption and diversity, IT demands security features like remote wipe so an employee can’t just walk away with critical corporate data.
7. Ambiguous Etiquette
Some people ignore emails if they’re only included in the “cc” or “bcc” list. For example, when introductions are made, often the match-maker is stuck left in the thread, cc’d in all the subsequent emails. So does cc equate with fyi? When multiple people are included in SendTo, who’s responsible for responding? With email lists and listserves, this gets compounded. Do you reply to the group or just the sender? Do you then cc the group? ReplyAll as become ubiquitous with internal spamming. Inevitably, someone seems compelled to ReplyAll to explain why ReplyAll should not be used.
Let’s face it. Most of us have a Love/Hate relationship with email. When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. We use email for “everything” collaborative. In email, we share and co-author documents, discuss, announce, invite, schedule, flame, update, etc. The “Least Common Denominator” functionality of email provides flexibility but also creates inefficiencies for certain tasks where a more appropriate collaboration tool would be better.
But we’ve lived with the pains of email so long we don’t even notice them. Today, imagine getting rid of your cell phones to carry coins around for pay phones. Ridiculous now, right? No one thought so before cell phones.
Shouldn’t we be able to: Subscribe to what we want? Decide how/when we get notified? Discover useful info we didn’t know existed? That’s where “Social Collaboration” comes in…for the first time, Social Collaboration offers a supplement, if not a real alternative to email.