Email: The heart of communications

Email is not dead. Email is not dying. Email is alive and well, and will be with us all for many, many years to come.

Email is your friend. Say it after me: “Email is my friend!”

There, now you are ready to read on.

“Why the global chanting,” I hear you ask.

Today’s blog post is about making your life easier, taking away some of the hassles which your computer chucks at you day-in day-out. It’s about a revolution in the workplace, and it’s about how email is at the heart of it.

I have a dream. Yes, race equality, sex equality, the end of poverty and hunger and global tolerance of individual expression. But more than that, I dream – daydream, I’m not completely mental – about an inbox which presents me with everything I need to see, every scrap of information I need to absorb, and ensures that I see it.

What is email? People think it’s a “thing” because it uses common protocols like POP, IMAP and SMTP and messages can be sent to one or more people and received and read in something most people would call an email application. But actually, email isn’t tightly defined at all – if email can be defined, it’s as the sending and receiving of communications using the internet (or some other network, but these days are there still other networks?). Define it like that, and it’s an awfully big pond.

And I think that we should define it like that, because – at least to me – that simple definition allows a radical change in our work life without making giant leaps like shunning “email” in favour of a “social collaboration tool”. It steers away from fuzzy buzzwords and anchors us firmly in reality. I hate fuzzy buzzwords. I especially dislike the term “social media” and its near neighbours. I know, I’m weird.

My vision is of a tool which combines my email, calendar, IM, SMS, RSS feeds, forums, blogs, wikis and other such “social media” malarky into one thing – basically a “To Do” list. What I want to do is sit down at my desk and crash through things that I really need to do, leaving me with more time to do what I really want to do (which, despite my earlier words, isn’t sitting at my desk at all).

An email message is, after all, a nicely packaged item on a todo list. Depending upon the subject, author, time/date sent etc it can be given a level of importance and presented as such. Instead of an inbox in date order, I want a todo list in importance order. OK, it may not be an exact science but I’m pretty sure that, if it was given the logic to do so, Thunderbird could quickly realise which emails I delete without reading and which I spend hours crafting responses to. Applying that logic to new email is not, as the saying goes, rocket science.

When I’ve five minutes to go before a conference call, the item on the top of my todo list won’t be an urgent but lengthy email from a customer. It will be a trip to the toilet and a dash to the kitchen to make a cup of tea. When I’ve 2 hours to go before a meeting in London, and I’m sitting at my desk in Brackley, the item on the top of my todo list won’t be a relaxing cuppa it will be getting into the car and on my way to the station. Why is it that my calendar can’t automatically schedule in travel time based on where I am and where I need to be? I have no idea, but it doesn’t and it should.

Maybe my todo list can also realise that meetings occasionally need prep time – based on learned behaviour or configured settings, or both – and schedule that in for me too. And put it to the top of the list when the time is right.

When I’m low on important customer emails and conference calls, full of tea and with an empty bladder there may be a spare moment to further my knowledge in other ways. Top of the list (above the corporate “all employee” news messages, sorry) will go the latest news from the BBC, Engadget, Android Forums or wherever else I go for information. But only the news I’m interested in – more learned behaviour.

Do I care that the message currently presented to me as top of the todo queue has been delivered via IMAP, via RSS or via something else? Of course not. I suggest, though, that the end result is not far different from the inbox of today’s email client – just a lot, lot smarter. “Stuff” comes in, is assessed, and each item becomes  a todo item. Nothing is ever lost, but it may become increasingly unimportant – or, of course, increasingly important. Even those corporate broadcasts may come to the top when the time is right – based upon content and timeliness, not upon the opinions of the sender.

Maybe it sounds like a scary move towards a Big Brother society. Maybe it is, because I rather see Google and companies like it as being fairly central to this kind of tool – somehow it has “cloud” written all over it, though it needn’t. It does appear like my computer is taking control of my life.

But that’s just an illusion. It’s me taking back control of my own life. That’s the dream, anyway.

About mikbarne
I'm a writer and freelance communications and collaboration consultant with nearly 20 years experience in UK telecommunications, specialising in VoIP, Unified Communications and Collaboration, and building effective communications architectures. Visit my Google+ Profile

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