E-mail Is Not the Only Communication Tool

November 7, 2007 at 12:09 pm | Posted in Attention Management, communication | Leave a comment

Argh!  I just got back from speaking yesterday at the Shared Insight (now IIR) conference on Portals, Collaboration & Content about how to pick the right tool for the job when trying to communicate, collaborate, or post content. So I get my Wall St. Journal today and it has an article by Lee Gomes (11/7/07, page B1) called “Email Is Letter-Size In a Big-Parcel World, But Help Is Coming” (available online here). In it he attempts to tackle the problem of users trying to email large files by recommending solutions that enable sending of large files.   As he puts it “A number of companies, with all manner of business plans and technology models, are in the business of being for email what UPS is for regular mail.”

But why is the assumption being made that email is the right way to be exchanging these large files?  And that if email isn’t working, one should look for a tweak that is very similar that gets around the problem?  It apparently took him 2 hours to email a 600 megabyte picture (I can’t imagine what kind of resolution and pixel depth this reporter is playing with. He must be designing billboards on the side). He is trying to pound a nail in with a chicken and, when that doesn’t work, is trying an armadillo instead. What is needed isn’t equivalent to “what UPS is to regular mail.”  Maybe what’s needed is what a storage locker with multiple keys is to mail.  Or what an a passenger airline is to mail.  Or what a bulletin board is to mail.  Or a newspaper …

Mr. Gomes says that Will Kennedy, general manager for the Outlook team, promises new versions of Outlook and Exchange will make this easier.  But why not talk to Derek Burney over in the SharePoint group who could easily describe how to create a space to post up files of any size for public or private use.  And you could actually collaborate back and forth on the document, maintain versions, and store discussions about it too while you’re there.

One of the biggest problems with e-mail is that users are so comfortable with it that even when dozens of other tools exist to do better handle what they want to do (such as document libraries, portals, RSS feeds, web content management, instant messaging, blogs, wikis, discussion forums, the telephone, face-to-face interaction, etc.) they try to shoehorn everything into e-mail.  In January we published a document by Karen Hobert entitled “Enterprise Messaging: E-mail’s Evolving Role in Optimizing Communication and Coordination” (client access only).  In this document, Karen said it best:

Enterprise messaging does not have to be a bad experience for users or enterprises. E-mail can be purpose-focused, coordinated communication that plays a pivotal role in the broader communication/collaboration landscape. This can be accomplished as long as organizations stop trying to use e-mail for activities that it is not designed to do and provide users with complementary communication and collaboration solutions that support the activities that they turn to e-mail to complete.


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