Email and the future of conversations

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By Tom Baeyens

Adding context to online collaboration

Killing email has to be the ambition of every collaboration product on the internet. Why? We all run all day with our email-inbox at hand (the hammer). So for each collaboration challenge we face, we automatically start typing an email (aka e-nail). Email is overused.  For many situations there are better alternatives available.

Over the next years, we’ll see even more mainstream collaboration and communication services that will become an alternative for email. But the online and mobile communication is still growing fast so email will not really go away. We just will have to learn how to deal with many different communication channels.

Killing email is ‘hard’

Since the beginning, email is the least common denominator. It’s the only tool we can be sure of that everyone else has and regularly checks. This is the perpetuum mobile that keeps email in its dominant position.

Over the last decade, there have been numerous attempts to kill email. The first wave was inspired by Facebook. Products like Yammer, Huddle, Salesforce Chatter and so on were aimed to copy the facebook success and apply it to enterprise collaboration.

The ‘newest’ and ‘hypest’ aiming to kill email is surely Slack, an IRC client acting as a unified inbox.

Conversation is the missing piece

My take is that Facebook’s timeline is not a crucial missing piece in enterprise collaboration, nor the Slack chatroom. The conversation is the missing piece.

There other solutions like Asana, Basecamp, Trello, Wunderlist, Flow and so on that put tasks at the center.  These products all show the a rich conversation pattern that contains:

  • A group of people
  • One topic
  • A discussion
  • Links to related content

Sometimes the topic is a ‘thing’ like a file, task or project. In fact most of the ‘things’ you work with in an application can benefit from a rich conversation.

If you compare this, it’s actually an improved version of an email conversation. You have the list of all the recipients, the subject, the quoted messages. And the messages can contain links and attachments.

Email is surprisingly clumsy

For this purpose of a conversation, email is extremely cumbersome because, you have to rely on the fact that everyone keeps hitting “Reply all” and not “Reply”. Often people don’t quote the full history so if you involve someone later in the conversation, they only have bits and pieces. And email clients don’t have direct integration with other systems to include links to related content. So you always have to open up a browser, log in, find and copy the links in manually.

The future of conversations

Effektif has a central notion of a case, which is a rich conversation as described above. In case all people involved are on Effektif, we offer a much better way to collaborate. Each time a workflow is executed, a case is created. It’s a central place to collaborate around that workflow instance. And the case offers the ability to link to other content in the form of links or attachments.

Despite all these shortcomings, still people often revert to email. Amazing! But there is hope. More and more companies adopt products that include the notion of a case or conversation. Adopting this internally makes a very big difference because all internal conversations can benefit. Email will remain the least common denominator. But for conversations inside a company, look for a product with a functional conversation or case.