Showing 21 posts tagged email

Google Unveils Three Pane Gmail Interface


I started using Sparrow this week — a Mac OS X lightweight email client — partly to get a three pane email view.

Then today, I read that Google announced a three pane display on Gmail, similar to what they did on the iPad.

So, I am out the $9.99 for Sparrow, I guess.

Sparrow is a reasonably good email client, but I was a bit misled by the positioning as a ‘social email client’. What’s the social part? It’s just email in a slightly more fluid UX.

There is a place for social email — as I wrote about in Liquid Email in July — but Sparrow isn’t it. And neither is Gmail.

So I’ll go back to Gmail. mostly because I can have a more-or-less similar experience on all platforms I use.

Looking Ahead Into The Past

I am pulling my thoughts together for tonight’s panel at The Podio Store, on the topic of Tools For Work. I will be on the panel with Eugene Kim, David Skult, and Jon Froda, and we’ll be talking about works tools of the past.

We can learn a lot about email and its impacts on work. Most today don’t recall the time prior to widespread email adoption in business, or the transitions involved. We have internalized email to such an extent that for many it is impossible to envision business without it.

One thing we DID learn through the adoption of email is the underestimation of the costs of transition, and the enormous impact of second order effects once the technology has been ubiquitously adopted. Most large businesses required a return on investment analysis to demonstrate direct cost savings prior to adoption of email; in over 70% of the time, no subsequent analysis was performed to see if the expected efficiencies had been achieved. Insteda, the second order effects took over, and companies realized that their businesses had changed so fundamentally post-email that there was no practical way to remove email even if it in fact cost more and led to inefficiencies.

We can anticipate that the same second order effects (as identified by Sproull and Kiesler in Connections) are at work in other techonologies like instant messaging and the streaming collaboration tools that are emerging today, like Podio.

Stowe Boyd, The Business Case For Streams versus Email

How Is This Different From Email, And Does That Matter?

Email is not predicated on social networks, except to the extent that the users of email are networked. The premise is that there is a universe of individuals (and perhaps named groups) to who messages can be directed. And they can send messages to you, if they know your email address.

Like streams, email has sending and receiving contexts, but there is no notion of writing an email message without addressing it to a specific list of people.

Email is addressed, stream posts are released.

Email is private, and the distribution of messages is determined by the author at the time of writing. Individuals may decide to block my messages, but they can’t opt to see all of them. This means that the effective use of the information in the message is based on the premise that the author knows who should read it.

Streams are public (within some defined ‘public’), and the distribution of messages is determined by the actions of all the members of that public. Individuals decide who they will follow, and the collective streaming of information is the result of the affiliation of all the members of the public.

In the context of business, this means that email is selective: the author selects who should read the message. Streams are elective: the eventual recipients of messages elect to receive them. And this election is principally based on the individual, not the topic, per se, although different tools may implment that very differently.

Relative to email’s selection orientation, streaming is based on the premise that individuals might be more effective if they can elect to receive information flows that are potentially useful to them, and therefore, they should be able to make the determination for themselves as to what are the best sources of information.

Looking at this as a ‘wisdom of the crowds’ sort of issue, it is more likely that information will be best distributed within any given group if each person can decide what information sources are likely to provide good information for themself, rather than leaving it up to the sources of information to decide who should have access to it. This is the argument for openness in open societies, as well, and it has an immediate and obvious analog in the workplace.

So, whenever the discussion comes around (once again) about how we already have email, and that all this streaming malarcky is nothing new, please remember that the models are quite different, and at least in some ways are an inversion of each other. Email is inherently more centralized and top-down, while streaming is inherently more distributed and bottom-up.

When we hear arguments against streaming in the business context they are often the same arguments that are made against distribution of decision-making and the value of top-down controls. I won’t go into the counter to these arguments here — they are out of scope — except to point out that bottom-up and distributed business organization is often linked to agile and resilient businesses, ones that are more likely to thrive in challenging and fast-changing circumstances.

Last Thoughts: What We Can Learn From Corporate Email

We are at a juncture in the rise of streams which is similar to the rise of corporate email. People today don’t recall the controversy about adopting corporate email in the ’70s and ’80s, and then again, web-based email in the ’90s.

One lesson to learn is that ROI studies will be asked for prior to roll-out. However, later on, when the entire company and then the world has shifted to email, senior management will realize that there is no return to a pre-email or pre-stream world, and therefore most companies will simply opt not to calculate whether the return was realized. It will be moot. (See Lee and Sproul, Connections, for a detailed examination of this around corporate email.)

The second lesson is interoperability and standards. Corporate email led to a a Cambrian explosion of email products that were largely non-interoperable. It took years to get different systems to intercommunicate, so large companies often had three or more unintegrated email solutions, based on acquisitions, or different groups in different countries making differently local decisions.

We need to start thinking about interoperable streams, from the outset. For example, I have been advocating interoperability of the tumble blog model for some time, which is a specific subset of the more general streams model. Since we have some much innovation going on, this is likely to turn out to be like the SQL standard, which was the intersection of the leading implementations of the SQL model of databases. At any rate, businesses looking to roll out streams in their companies should definitely put pressure on the vendors to commit to interoperability in the next few years, before this gets away from us.

More Data On Teen Email Use

My recent post on teen email use (see Teens Hate Email) led to a wave of Twitter and Disqus comments, some of which are simply answered by a relatively recent — Apr 20 2010 — report from the Pew Internet folks. When looking into teen mobile use, they determined that teens are moving away from email use:

by Amanda Lenhart, Rich Ling, Scott Campbell, and Kristen Purcell, Teens And Mobile Phones

Email: The least likely to be used by teens.

Email is the least used of the communication forms examined. When compared with use in 2006, daily email use has declined slightly from 15% of internet users to 11% of internet users in 2009. Fully 41% of all teens say that they never use email when communicating with their peers outside of school. While not used often for informal peer interactions, email is used in more formal situations such as in school and by parents and other adults. This does not mean that it is seen in a positive light.

Interviewer: Do people still use email? 

Group: Yes, yes all the time.

High School Boy 1: Yeah, the teachers do! The teachers are like ridiculous with that especially if they have your parents’ email.

The researchers were asked abou these findings:

Samantha Murphy, Teens Lead the Way in Shift Away from Email

Only 11% of teens use email to communicate with friends each day, according to the Pew report. “Email doesn’t support real-time, flexible contact with others,” Scott Campbell, co-author of the Pew report, told TechNewsDaily. “You have to log in and also be online. Teens carry their phones with them anywhere and they can text their friends without stopping everything to respond. Teens do email, but not as much as they communicate in other ways.”

Campbell, who is an assistant professor of communication studies at University of Michigan, believes that once teens go to college and begin networking and job searching, email will become a more important way for them to communicate.

“Many teens consider email to be a more adult way of communicating,” he continued. “They aren’t in the stage of their lives when email serves a real purpose of staying in touch with people.”

Texting will continue to play a heavy role in their lives until their mid-20s, Campbell said. As they begin to settle down “and start new families of their own, they will rely less on their peers for a constant stream of communication through texts,” he said. “They won’t grow out of texting, but they will likely grow out of sending an enormous amount of them each day.”

Barrett agrees: “It will be interesting to see if teens start utilizing their personal email addresses more once they graduate from college and begin frequently using their work accounts,” he said. “There could be a small shift in professional communication as the younger demographic takes over, but you won’t see corporate executives using social networking as their main way of communicating.”

Email is not the only medium that has taken a hit from the expansion of text messaging and social networking.

“Teenagers are now overlooking the landline phone,” Campbell said. “Texting or going on Facebook via mobile devices allows teens to stay in touch with their friends anytime, anywhere. Landline phones confine teens to a certain space, and this is inconvenient for them.”

So, teen email use is falling steadily, and that is likely to continue on as a trend even after they enter the workforce.

I completely disagree with Barrett’s contention that ‘you won’t see corporate executives using social networking as their main way of communicating.’ My qualification is that today’s senior executives won’t use today’s social networks as their main way of communicating, but tomorrow’s senior executives will use tomorrow’s social networks as their main way of communicating. 

There was a time when senior executives rejected email use as being too informal, and relied on old-school letters and memos. Zoom ahead a decade and letter writing in business is functionally extinct.

You must be very cautious when a researcher tells you that some trend line will never reach its logical end because of some extrinsic factor, like cultural norms that seem inviolable at the time of the statement, but which seem ludicrous a decade later. It’s like reading science fiction of long ago, where people are flying to the moon in a supposed future, but the women still leave the room when the men light up their cigars. Even the most avid futurologist can’t see past all their conceptual blinders.

The kids today are being raised in a context of intense real-time connectivity, via texting, social networks, and mobile internet. They are not going to willingly slow down and do email in order to make older email-oriented work contacts happy. They will expect others to adopt newer, faster, and lower-overhead modes of communication, and at some point, those that think email is the only appropriate way to do x-y-z in a business setting will have retired.

Teens Hate Email

The Comscore 2010 US Digital Year In Review demonstrates one fact very clearly: email is doomed.

Taking as a given that what the kids and young adults are rejecting today will die off quickly, it’s fairly clear that email is on a steep trajectory and will crash in the next decade.

I recall being almost ripped to shreds back at a 2005 Supernova event, when I predicted that email would rapidly die off as soon as texting-like social network-based communications were adopted by young people. A lot of the graybeards there (now in the older two segments of the graph) suggested that I was a lunatic, and should never be asked back. Now, just over 5 years later, the handwriting is on the wall.

Many of the 18-24 year olds are in high school and college, where email is a necessity, so that data point is an anomaly. Otherwise the graph would be linear, showing a clear age-based demographic line.

And for all of those that said spam was email’s biggest challenge, I’ll just say look at the graph. What will it look like in 5 years? 10?

I still maintain that there is a fusion product waiting to be built — one with aspects of email and social network-based messaging. However, Buzz wasn’t it. I will keep hoping for liquid email, though.

(h/t Alexia Tsotsis)

The Death Of Email: What Does Dead Mean, Exactly?

[reblogged from Enterprise 2.0 blog, originally published 16 October 2009.]

There has been a great deal of discussion about email recently. I think the proximate cause is the arrival of Google Wave, which is being heralded like the coronation of royalty. (I will leave a review of Wave to another venue, since the introductory video from Google is 85 minutes.) But the rise of tools like Twitter have also raised questions about the future state for email.

A few years ago, in 2004 or 2005, I was chairing a panel at Supernova on ‘The Future Of Email’. JP Rangaswami was there, as was a fellow from some email spam prevention company. I got in hot water immediately buy making the following arguments:

  1. Email is not really well-designed relative to its ostensible purpose — which is to support communication between people that are well-known to each other, and have an on-going relationship, for example working on a project together within a company.
  2. Email is very good at things that seem like spam: sending unsolicited and perhaps unwanted messages to people that are unknown aside from their email address. The basic protocols of store-and-forwarding of email means that email can be filtered into spam folders, but it basically has to be delivered.
  3. The adoption of instant messaging and chat products in business have been shown to decrease email and telephone communications by a sizable extent, sometimes as much as 30% or more. This suggest that features of these technologies — like persistent chat rooms, and instant message presence — offer real benefits that can’t be supported by telephone and email communication.
  4. Lastly, there is a strong generational gradient away from email: teenagers and young people dislike it, and view it as a corporate tool that they only use to talk to companies, and never with their friends, with whom they are most likely to text or talk on the phone.

I suggested that the logical outcome of these trends was the eventual death of email, which would like follow some sort of S-curve, as people began to defect from it, and transition onto existing and as-then-unknown alternatives.

I was almost tarred and feathered. People were literally yelling at me, saying I was an idiot. Esther Dyson shook her head at me from the front row. Amy Wohl asked if I was unaware that email was the killer app of the Internet. Someone demanded his money back for the confernece, since he was interested in hearing of the future of email, not about some future in which email was no more.

But, now years later, with the aging of the boomers who consider email as an integral and eternal part of the web, the increased use of text, instant messaging, VoIP, and now microstreaming solutions like Twitter, my five year old pronouncements look like something from the sunday supplement of a newspaper. Like the recent piece in the WSJ by Jessica Vascellaro called Why Email No Longer Rules….

Vascellaro gets off to a good start:

Email has had a good run as king of communications. But its reign is over.

In its place, a new generation of services is starting to take hold—services like Twitter and Facebook and countless others vying for a piece of the new world. And just as email did more than a decade ago, this shift promises to profoundly rewrite the way we communicate—in ways we can only begin to imagine.

We all still use email, of course. But email was better suited to the way we used to use the Internet—logging off and on, checking our messages in bursts. Now, we are always connected, whether we are sitting at a desk or on a mobile phone. The always-on connection, in turn, has created a host of new ways to communicate that are much faster than email, and more fun.

But she stumbles and falls when she reverts to industrial era notions about personal productivity as the rationale for why we select different media to communicate, with the unexamined premise that we always choose what we do in order to be more productive:

You can argue that because we have more ways to send more messages, we spend more time doing it. That may make us more productive, but it may not. We get lured into wasting time, telling our bosses we are looking into something, instead of just doing it, for example. And we will no doubt waste time communicating stuff that isn’t meaningful, maybe at the expense of more meaningful communication. Such as, say, talking to somebody in person.

So, five years after a time when talking about the death of email was seen as a subversive act, something like burning the flag, Vascellano fails to actually connect the real dots here. She holds to an old yardstick, where productivity trumps everything. However, in the new world of social tools connecting us, being connected to others trumps everything.

So we are slowly starving email, relegating it to a shorter and short list of appropriate uses. In time, it will fall off the edge, like fax is now that we can scan and send attachments more easily than using dedicated fax machines. We will find that email will be left with a short list of uses, like monthly mailing from the bank, or travel itineraries from Expedia. These relative impersonal communications with companies will be the final resting ground for email, and then, even that will wink out when a better metaphor for social interaction with companies becomes dominant.

And I doubt that we will miss it when it’s gone, either.

Mr. Katz, the Rutgers professor, said texting and social networks better approximated how people communicated in person — in short snippets where niceties did not matter. Over time, he said, e-mail will continue to give way to faster-twitch formats, even among older people.

The changing trends have even some people in their 20s feeling old and slightly out of touch, or at least caught in the middle.

Adam Horowitz, 23, who works as a technology consultant for a major accounting firm in New York, spends all day on e-mail at his office. When he leaves it behind, he picks up his phone and communicates with friends almost entirely via texts.

Yet he sometimes feels caught between the two, as when he texts with his younger brothers, ages 12 and 19, who tend to send even shorter, faster messages.

“When they text me, it comes across in broken English. I have no idea what they’re saying,” said Mr. Horowitz. “I may not text in full sentences, but at least there’s punctuation to get my point across.”

“I guess I’m old school.”

- Matt Richtel, E-Mail Use Falls as Young Chat and Text

There is still an opportunity for hybrid private/public replacement for email that integrates with text. Gmail hasn’t cracked that nut yet.

Billy Pilgrim Has Come Unstuck In Email

I had been using Google’s Gmail for years until quite recently. Among other things, it offered high speed access to a large store of email, until earlier this year when it seemed to start slowing down. And, as I had transitioned to iPhone, it seemed increasingly unintegrated with how I was living.

A few weeks ago, after downloading the iPhone 4 OS for my old iPhone 3Gs, I noticed that Apple had announced a beta of a new version of their MobileMe Calendar:

It looked so good that I had to take a closer look at the entire MobileMe suite of tools. I signed up for a MobileMe account (which is not cheap: $86/year), and hooked things up, and tried to walk away from Gmail and Google Calendar for awhile. The results are interesting.

First, I started using the MobileMe apps via browser, but these sync with Apple’s desktop apps, like Mail and Calendar, as well as the apps on my iPhone (now my new iPhone 4). U haven’t been traveling since this experiment started, so my experience has been principally around the desktop and browser.

MobileMe Mail. I tweaked things so that my Gmail account is being pulled into MobileMe Mail. I like the interface and user experience, especially because of the endless ‘loading’ I seem to be experiencing on Gmail, but even without that it is cleaner and easier to read:

It’s not just the lack of ads in the emails, either. Gmail’s UI is kind of ugly by comparison.

MobileMe mail lacks the integration with Google services that Gmail touts, but I didn’t use many, except for the erratically implemented tasks and calendar integration. So moving over I simply decided to start with the minimum and see what was possible.

Relatively quickly, I noticed that my Gmail Notifier — a tiny app that runs in the background on my Mac — was no longer helpful. It still sent Growl alerts, but they were attached to Gmail, not to MobileMe. I found Vibealicious’ Notify as a replacement, and that has dramatically skewed my experience of MobileMe.

Basically, Notify is a lightweight but nearly complete email client on its own. It is extremely well integrated with MobileMe Mail, so much so that I can read and file mail into MobileMe folders, and even reply to, create, and send messages.

This has led me to become unstuck in email. (Extra points for the literary reference alluded to in the title: anyone?)

In the past, I would open my gmail, and my calendar, and keep them basically open all day.

Now, I do the opposite. I open Notify because of seeing an alert, or noting that I have a certain number of unread emails, and I glance through them, filing some, deleting others, and occasionally sending a brief response. For more in depth emails, I will click through which brings up MobileMe in a browser window. After finishing that email, though, I close the window. And email doesn’t seem to dominate the landscape on my screen like it used to.

MobileMe Calendar.  It’s pretty clear that the Calendar beta is what I want: calendar sharing, invitations, etc.

The current Calendar (I don’t have access to the beta yet) doesn’t allow me to import external calendars, like my travel schedule from TripIt, so I have actually been using the desktop Mac Calendar and the Calendar app on my iPhone. I find that I am leaving my iPhone Calendar open — it does show all subscribed calendar feeds, like the desktop Calendar.

This also includes a simple task list, which I have adopted. But I think I will reserve my judgment about calendaring. Those who have played with the beta say that tasks will be supported in the browser version, and sychronized with the desktop Calendar, but not available on iPad or iPhone. I bet they will rethink that in subsequent releases, but not a real factor for me at present since I don’t have an iPad and I schlep my 13” laptop around nearly everywhere.

Tentative Conclusions

I am still sending email from my Gmail account, and using it as a store — I have to go back for old threads and email addresses — but I can envision slowly transitioning to MobileMe permantently, so long as the beta turns out as advertised.

The biggest change has really been the sense of becoming unstuck, of treating email more like text messaging, and less like email. Partly that is because of the lightweight UX of MobileMe Mail, and partly the use of Notify. And I like that feeling a lot.

(Again — Extra points for the literary reference alluded to in the title: anyone?)

From Email Culture To Stream Culture: Out Of The Inbox

In recent weeks, my work on the Open Enterprise 2009 study has led to many conversations where practitioners and other researchers have mentioned the movement away from email culture to more open models of interaction.

Here’s one way to characterize that movement, which at the highest level is from closed to open forms of communication, or as I characterized it in a presentation I am giving tomorrow in Hamburg at Next09, the movement from Hiding to Sharing.

Hiding To Sharing: Tempo, originally uploaded by Stowe Boyd.

First, let’s look at the transition from asynchronous to synchronous communication, as the Web sped up to the point where it was possible. Email is very much a store-and-forward, batch mode sort of beast, while IM and Microblogging (or Streaming) ar synchronous at the most basic level.

Hiding To Sharing: Access, originally uploaded by Stowe Boyd.

Second, I have borrowed the secret, private, public concept from Gabriel García Márquez (“Everyone has three lives: a public life, a private life, and a secret life.”) to differentiate the levels of access we provide to those we interact with in these different media.

Email is principally secret: you have to go to great and explicit lengths to break out of the default, closed, 1:1 communication channel in email. (I particularly love the poetic and ultra-secretive ‘blind cc’, which feels like witetapping.)

IM is principally private — providing more access to others, like presence info — but the controls are oriented toward restriction of access.

Microblogging (like Twitter) is based on a public model. Unless explicitly access is restricted, or communication placed in direct messages, microblogging follows an open follow model, where anyone can elect to see what I am posting.

Hiding To Sharing: Comntext, originally uploaded by Stowe Boyd.

Third, the context where the user ‘lives in’ while using the communication media changes.

Using email, I feel like I am trapped in the inbox, reading and writing email. It does not feel like you are conversing, but reading and writing.

IM feels like I am in a chat room, with other users around, posting presence information, and occasionally starting or continuing conversations with one or more others.

When microblogging, I experience a stream of updates from all those that I follow, as well as public and private messages directed to me from others, some who may be total strangers. This is the largest shift of all involved, and as a result, microblogging — of the three — is the only medium that is social and open, based on the principles of web sharing.

I gleaned some of this from my discussions from others in recent weeks, but I think this is the first time I have seen this distinction characterized this way, using these three dimensions.

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