Email vs. social networking in your workplace
December 14, 2010
You must have seen the Dec 6 article in the SF Chronicle entitled “Transformation of e-mail is under way“, talking about Facebook’s move into email. The last few paragraphs of the article really summarize the message:
That consumer-driven demand is part of the reason Facebook’s first stab at a unified messaging system is noteworthy, said analyst Rob Koplowitz of Forrester Research Inc. Facebook has more than 500 million users, and they are increasingly bringing social networking into the workplace, a trend that has accelerated in the past five years.
With a business communications system built around a social network rather than just e-mail, employees can learn about projects their co-workers are doing or check profiles to find who might have the expertise they seek.
“It’s surprising how much we can share that we don’t share today,” he said. “The tools we have were all designed to think security first, share later.”
The need for e-mail, though, won’t go away, but a program that just does e-mail may not be around in 10 years, he said.
“You’ll still have a messaging engine, but that engine will probably be wrapped around other communication and collaboration technologies,” he said.
This and other articles often talk about email, that as a messaging system it may not survive. I think these articles are really talking about email applications (email clients) that are indeed quite obsolete (MS Outlook, Thunderbird, KMail, Yahoo Mail, take any of them …). Although you probably wont say that about GMail, on the contrary, it is quite refreshing – email threads presented almost as chats to encourage dialogs. I am actually very surprised that Google killed its project Wave which was taking GMail even further in the direction of email integrated with work place social environment.
Anyway, those are mostly email clients that are being blamed for their non-social implementations. And quite understandably, as most of them are >10yr old now. BUT the underlying email messaging system and infrastructure (as described by such protocols as RFC822, RFC2821 (smtp), RFC2045 (mime), RFC3501 (imap), …) are very solid, in my opinion. Many probably don’t realize that the whole web world has pretty much adopted MIME for content definitions, which was originally a standard for email message bodies. And what about the message transmission infrastructure, millions of SMTP servers across the Internet facilitating mail delivery, built to work around line failures and offline situations? I can’t believe we want to scratch all that.
As far as the email client apps go I definitely agree that they need to be updated and re-designed to accommodate new social collaboration needs, we are even building one app like that ourselves at Yoxel. But I am very intrigued with the question of the underlying infrastructure. It is basically the question of “de-centralization” vs “centralization” . Do you like the idea of being locked in their cloud (Facebook, Twitter, Google, …) for all your messaging and collaboration needs or would you prefer a little more democracy and freedom where you continue to rely on the SMTP based Internet infrastructure not controlled by any one big company allowing a choice of alternative UI solutions (desktop and web-based)?
PS: For those who read the whole SF Gate article: It seems the Bugzilla bug-trackers I used in the past were a new generation social email apps because they sent email notifications inviting me to login and collaborate so I can easily say that they “layer enterprise social-networking on top of e-mail”.