Email, the lonely medium

Lee Bryant is co-founder of Headshift, the world’s biggest social business consultancy. He believes email’s dominance over business communications is coming to an end.

“When email was first developed it was an excellent point-to-point communication tool when nothing else existed,” says Mr Bryant.

“I think we’ve reached the stage where email as means of communicating is overloaded. I think we will see what happens on email today transitioning towards various kinds of both internal and consumer facing social tools.”

These are “flow-based” tools such as wikis, micro-blogging and internal social networks, according to Mr Bryant.

“I think fundamentally one of the biggest problems is that social tools communicate slightly more in the open, they create ambient knowledge and ambient awareness for others who are not even in the conversation,” says Mr Bryant.

“Email doesn’t do that, it’s quite a lonely medium.

Lee isn’t saying email (or email like) communication is dead, but that it is being pushed out of the way by more appropriate styles of open and flow-based communication tools.

Nathaniel Borenstein, co-creator of the Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions (MIME) protocol, was also interviewed for this article – I do agree with his comment that the universal addressing that modern email support is a good thing, but that this is “not a definition of email.”

Unfortunately, we don’t yet have true universal addressing across social tools (even with OpenID, I’m sure most users will have identified themselves somewhere via an email account) and email continues to play a role as a personal identifier for using social tools. Similarly, into systems like CoachSurfing, use a physical snail-mail postcard as part of their user verification system.

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One thought on “Email, the lonely medium

  1. Unfortunately, the vast majority of end users are ludites and barely comprehend email, let alone “open and flow-based communication tools.”. Just look at how google wave fared. The broader problem is that these new tools work best as non-hierarchical democratic processes, which is why people like them, because they feel engaged. But business is fiercely hierarchical, and while we can appease the statists with moderators and user privileges, doing so undermines the openess of the medium and restricts the flow. I don’t actually think universal addressing is a good thing, all of these “single sign on solutions” remove the single most powerful force which has shaped the internet, anonymity. If I had to tell you who I was, i would never have posted this reply. It is the very same thing which keeps me from actually using any corporate social tools, they are too restrictive, too little room for creativity and experimentation. I will not be nearly so candid or honest when my name is indelibly attached to something for all history. Moreover, I would never connect my home social networks with my work network, that is just asking for trouble. Whenever i see someone suggesting “sign in with facebook”, on a work site, I have a nearly irresistible urge to slap them. The internet produces some amazing things, but in nearly every case its because the users don’t have their name and jobs on the line with every comment. An exec might *think* their business is cutting edge and open minded, but they REALLY don’t want to hear what my militant-vegan-lesbian-on-acid friends have to say about hollow soulless corporate “social” engagement.

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