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Friday, 11 February 2011

And . . . relax

We find ourselves at Friday, and the usual form is for me to tell you about the up-coming weekend.  I may do that, but more importantly right now is a burning need to respond to Golfy's recent blog.  I this he expounds a theory I have heard a couple of times recently about the use of email, or more precisely, stopping the use of email.  The article to which Golfy links sounds like it was written by a Starfleet trooper, and talks about how this person has stopped using email, using social networking tools instead.

The other article I read was about a sometimes competitor of Starfleet who is planning to be email-free in three years, and again plans to fill the void with social networking tools.  Now this is bold stuff, and I absolutely support the boldness, but I struggle to support the logic.  Here's my view.

To start with, I should say that I sit firmly in the middle ground between early adopter and late adopter when it comes to technology.  There is some wizzo stuff out there, and there is stuff where the Scobi jury is out at the moment.

So the main thrust of the argument is that email has become so ubiquitous and so over-used, it consumes way too much of a chap's working day being serviced.  It is also not the best tool to enable remote teams to collaborate and communicate.  The answer is social networking tools, in all their various guises.  So, here is the Scobi guide to some of them (and don't forget I am a middle-ground kind of chap, so this may be a bit basic).

Instant Messaging - this is a killer app.  Anyone who does not use it could not possibly understand why it is so good.  All you need to do is use it in an environment where everyone uses it, and you realise how cool it really is.  It is great for quick, off-the-cuff communications, and you can send files and screen grabs, have multi-person chats and even make voice calls over it.  What it is not so good for is collaborative working on projects, documents, presentations etc.  This works for me when used in the right way.

Screen sharing - not so new or clever, but a fantastic tool for two or maybe three people to talk on the phone whilst sharing one of their screens to review and collaboratively work on a document.  This works for me also.

Wikis - let's not get too carried away, this is a web page with knobs on, and is no better and no worse than a web page.  i.e. it tends to be static, has nothing on it I want to read, and, in Starfleet, is so buttock-clenchingly slow that it will never rock my boat.  When I am enthusiastically informed of another wiki or workgroup or connections has been setup to aid me in my work, my life-expectancy does reduce by a few minutes.  We simply have too many to follow, with too little information to be useful.  These do not work for me.

Teamrooms and other shared web spaces - I read the marketing blurb, and it sounds good.  However when I try to use them, they tend to inhibit rather than improve my working experience.  These may have a very good use, but I have yet to find it.

Customers - oh yes, I remember them.  They are the ones that have different ideas to me, and still want face to face meetings, use faxes, and want to use email for general communications.  Until we can get these folks on to our new social networking bandwagon, we are doomed with any plans to remove email from our toolkit.

None of this is to say that I support email.  It is a burden.  I really cannot keep up with every email on which I am cc'd "just in case I need to know about it" and sometimes I do miss something that is important because something I needed to do or know was in a note right at the end of such an email.  However, with all the volumes coming to my inbox, I do at least have a local copy of it and control over where I file it and if I am organised, I am able to find something at a later date I have filed.

Email is, in my view, a necessary evil, and I am also not convinced that an hour I save on email servicing would not instead be turned in to an hour and a half trawling round the seven hundred and fourteen wikis, shared spaces, archived IM chats and public discussion forums in search of the information I need.

My sense is that the day I am convinced social networking is a good thing as a business tool is the day that it really takes off.

As for Golfy's comments on the commuter laptop brigade, I concur with all he says, and at the same time confess that I was one of those for six months.  The train became the only place to get some quiet time to write that report or read that document.  Oh, and to sort out my inbox.

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