Luis Suarez, IBM thought leader has a very strong opinion on email in general. He wants to ditch it completely. And he is not the only one (Atos Origin). In my opinion there is a purpose for email, but it is mainly the one it was invented for: one-to-one communication. I agree about the vast misuse. The misuse that has arisen from using email for communication formats that it wasn’t invented for: Many-to-many and one-to-many communication.
Whoever got himself into the quicksand of a many-to-many email conversation (reply to all “please stop using ‘reply to all!’”), knows what I am talking about, best if you even work – or try to work collaboratively on a joint document via email. Many-to-many communication is exactly what Social Media have been invented for.It is a no brainer and belongs more to a future blog post on how corporates get stuck in irrational behaviour.
The one-to-many scenario is a bit more complex one, and – although a similar argument might be applied – I would like to make my point from a different angle. The failure hides behind what at a first glance looks like a success: the distribution list. The distribution list makes email look like well suited for one-to-many mode, but whoever had the fun to create a huge distribution list by hand, and had administrated it, knows in fact it is not. But most of the time someone else has created it, and we are happy to misuse it. What is a purpose of a predefined distribution list? To ease your collaboration with a defined group of people on a regular basis on a defined purpose – the defined group goes together with the defined purpose – otherwise you couldn’t define the set of people for the distribution list; and if it is only for one email, you wouldn’t really take the efforts. It is a classical collaboration scenario – collaboration tools are invented for scenarios like this – email has not.
No, although true, the reply about collaboration sites popping up like mushrooms is not an argument in favour of email, but only observes that we not yet have learnt to work with collaboration sites in the most efficient way.
Back to the distribution list: There is one very specific one-to-many communication mode using often distribution lists – the newsletter. Would you say that newsletters use the distribution list for collaboration? Rather seldom, usually a newsletter is not asking for collaboration, usually a newsletter is not asking at all! Usually those newsletters are created based on the interests and needs of the editorial teams, who think they know better what their readers would need. The underlying concept is a one-way push mode deployed based on a hirarchical knowledge understanding. This hirarchical knowledge understanding is however a model that is close to end-of-life; this is Why it is not enough to be a Knowledge Worker. No surprise that newsletters more and more lack the impact, the format is offensive for a Knowledge Citizen, as it is not creating the peer-to-peer dialogue. You cannot promote the empowered employee and expect them to deploy collective leadership and at the same time send out newsletters.
That is an anachronism.
An anachronism? If it works, so what? It is perhaps not the only one: How social are Social Media?
So it is not shooting the winning horse, but explaining why the horse not moving anymore might be dead.