I wrote a post recently, The Surprising Truth: Technology Is Aging in Reverse, that explored some thoughts from Nassim Taleb about how older technology is likely to be with us a long time, because it gets entrenched in our use cases. I made the fairly obvious argument that email is such a technology, and that it’s likely to be with us for a long time.
Sameer Patel of SAP had some thoughts on that, starting with Alan Lepofsky’s argument that using social networks as alternatives to email doesn’t really move the needle: they can just amplify things by creating email notifications themselves.
Sameer Patel, Social’s Tussle with Email
Look, information overload is absolutely a huge problem. But enterprise social networking isn’t the obvious solution. What’s needed is what Stowe describes as “new communication technologies have to be a full order of magnitude better that those that came earlier”. That full order of magnitude won’t come from just shifting notifications from Outlook to social network feeds. Rather, it will come from making it exponentially more efficient to message, to collaborate and to share in radically different ways where the outcome is 5-10-50 times better. And one of those ways is to infuse:
- Comprehensive people discovery based on new identity paradigms, and
- Collaboration into core business activities and tasks and in a way that implicitly shows how collaboration capabilities available at whatever point of action — a business event like discussing an invoice exception, or facilitating sales budgeting within your Finance ERP application, or dispute resolution with a supplier — making it far more effective to drive execution and decisions than anything that your zero-IQ email inbox can even dream of handling.
Nassim points a new headache: regardless of your good intentions to kill email, the odd are against you. Moving from one dumb messaging paradigm like email to another dumb messaging paradigm like stand-alone social networking won’t cut it.
But in actuality, the stakes are really high. On one hand, most core business activities have a huge unstructured component that happens outside transaction systems such as CRM, Talent Management or Supply Chain. But we have a way to go when it comes to leveraging social tools to facilitate this change. On the other hand, none of us need statistics to really convince ourselves that email bankruptcy is a fact of working life for almost all of us. So clearly the opportunity to show a better approach is ripe.
Sameer is making several points here:
- Work media (enterprise social networks) have the promise of breaking open the closed communication models of email’s ‘dumb messaging paradigm’, but are actually relatively closed themselves. For example, most of these solutions don’t implement anything like the open follower model of Twitter and Tumblr. Work media is very bound to a 1990s’ project mentality, where people are invited to projects and that’s the information that flows into their activity streams.
- Yes, a great deal of the richness of business collaboration, communication, and coordination takes place outside of transactional systems and communication tools. We can hope that new tools will show up to capture more of what’s going on.
- Email is still with us, because social tools haven’t gone far enough to make email obsolete, they haven’t come close to the order of magnitude improvement I suggested was necessary to jettison email altogether.