The Real Paul Jones

Accept no substitutes

Category: General (page 3 of 134)

Red Sky Vision explains #noemail for Biz

One of the many great things that David Christopher brought to my attention is this video on social media for business done by Red Sky Vision of UK which begins with the premise: “There is disconnect between how immersed and digitally connected employees are outside of the workplace, and how their internal communications are being delivered. On the ground, employees are still posting printed communications on the water cooler when they can be engaged, led and informed via the latest digital channel.”.

“Technology has somehow skipped the organization.” More deeply it’s about taking social to the C-Suite (as the Brits call the housing for the CxO level execs). It’s a convincing piece of work, beautiful and well-produced. Part a pitch for and to effective Internal Communicators, part a backhanded compliment to services like Yammer.

Social Media @ Work from Red Sky Vision on Vimeo.

At about 12 minutes in: “By 2013, we will not be doing email in this organization anymore; we’ll be doing all of this with social networks.”

#noemail on WRAL, G+ as email killer, email dead by 2018

Brian Shrader of WRAL shot some footage for a #noemail story a few weeks back. He had the story ready before Google Plus was announced, so it may seem a little dated instead of forward looking. Nonetheless he did a great job including digging up some ancient email footage which some old time computer geeks will appreciate. Last night the story ran on the 6 pm news as “UNC professor tries to go email free”.

At PC World, Mike Elgan writes about “How Google+ Ends Social Networking Fatigue.” The money quote for me is: “Google+ is the first email replacement I’ve ever seen that’s actually better than email.” I completely agree. Mike also points back to his 2010 Computer World article, “How to kill e-mail (before it kills you)” which suggests doing a lot of what I started doing with the #noemail project. (Thanks to Shannon Turlington for the alert on this good article).

David Christopher started even earlier. In 2008, David predicted the dead of email by 2018 at Stop!ThinkSocial. He reminds us of this as he revisits that post this past week in “The Death Of Email By 2018”. David also provides an javascript countdown clock marking the time to email’s end. He writes whistfully: “I spend more time on email than I do with my family.”

#noemail in light of Google+

Two different former students from two different decades asked recently, “When you started #noemail, did you know that Google was going to release Plus? And how did you know what Plus would do?” Somewhere embedded in the questions is: “Did Google give you some kind of head’s up about Plus?”

My guess was that someone would do something serious to work on messaging and radically reduce the centricity of email. I knew that Facebook and Google both had projects aiming at changing the way social and messaging work. Of course, there were and are several other players working in the same areas. When I started thinking about #noemail seriously last summer just before hearing of Sheryl Sandberg’s talk at the Nielsen conference, I had already seen the software infrastructure in place or ready to be put into place with projects mentioned in this blog in the early parts of the #noemail category and in interviews with and HTML5 + JSON were just too powerful and too promising to anyone interested in integrating activity streams and changing messaging.

Then as you noticed in my classes especially the one in Fall 2009, I’ve been very interested in an emerging literacy powered by vernacular video. Google+ out Skyped Skype on that — leaving out the shared screen and telephone Skype-out parts, but doing a better job of group chats and video sharing.

All this said, Google+ is only in limited field trial and will be changing as the Googlers see how we use it, how we work around the constraints, and how we define the communities and communications uses.

I expect to see something like visible Circles or cooperatively managed Circles or something to help groups communicate better — perhaps an integration of Reader+Groups with a Plus and Circles spin to it. Services to Groups (of the Facebook type rather than the Google Groups type) missing now and was done as a hack early on in Friendster, then in MySpace, then in Facebook, before each added the feature belatedly. Integration and/or a refinement of Google Groups would be one way to get there pretty quickly.

The most pressing question for me is: can we run a class in the fall using Google+ instead of other services? Groups of some sort would help on that a lot.

What Google+ has done for or to me after 5 weeks of #noemail is to answer a lot of the questions that I was trying to raise. I already am enjoying the aspects of Plus enough that I’m not upset about the learning curve and the advent of a new service.

No, I’m not returning to email as a result of Plus. Just to opposite. I may never use email again.

Horses in a Time of Cars; Email in a Time of #noemail

I’m quoted about #noemail at in the Triangle Business Journal. The article by Olivia Barrow talks about “[College and University – pj] Administrators embracing social media to reach out.” As you’ll see, I try to push the idea of interactivity rather than broadcast and of social media over email. No surprised here. I wish I could read the article but it requires a subscription and is mostly behind a paywall.

In case you have a subscription or would like to start one here’s the link to the article.

A friend sends this snipet:

Paul Jones, a UNC journalism professor, says that although many university departments use social media, they do not put a lot of energy into having interactions with their audiences.
“The real question about whether it’s social or not is whether there’s any interaction that happens, either with them or as a result of what you put out,” Jones says.
For Jones, who wrote the code for UNC’s email service [more correctly good parts of good parts of some email services – pj], social media is the next step in the evolution of communication.
“I think university email has been obsolete,” he says. Jones no longer communicates via email. Send him an email, and an automatic reply will point you to 14 different social media sites as ways to get in touch with him.
“Tech has moved on,” he says. “It’s like horses — this is a world better built for cars. This is a world that works much better for other varieties of social interaction.”

How developers get social with #noemail

Developers, sysadmins, coders and other members of my Geek tribe, especially open source coding geeks, get their social interactions in the process of writing code and sharing in that environment where they are much less private than in their personal lives. “Here’s my code. Judge me on that. I’ll keep my birthdate to myself.” Nothing wrong with that.

We’re all, or have been in my case, on some IRC channel, in some chatroom, using github or sourceforge or launchpad as our places for social connections and fulfillment. But more often than not, we don’t recognize that those places are our own kind of Facebook, Twitter or other services that many Geeks avoid, disparage, or completely ignore.

It seems so obvious when I say this, but you wouldn’t believe how many conversations start: “I hate email too. I only use it to communicate with [my clients, my boss, my salesforce]. But I don’t need that kind of idle talk that they have on [Facebook, Twitter, Quora, Hunch, LinkedIn, etc]. Who has time to be social?”

Then a conversation will drift to say, where to go for lunch. I get: “Jim says this new place is great! Let’s try it.” “Isn’t Jim in San Jose?” “Yeah, but when he was here last he liked this one. We were just talking about that this morning while we worked on Project X.”

My point here is that small talk, important small talk, is going on in a lot of different environments. It’s as common as breathing. So common that like breathing, we don’t pay serious attention to it until there’s some serious problem. But that common talk enriches our lives and deepens our engagement with our co-workers and the world.

Consequential Strangers

Consequential Strangers

Melinda Blau and Karen Fingerman devote an entire rich book on our casual almost invisible relationships — with our bus driver, barrista, the wait at our favorite restaurant, etc. Her Consequential Strangers could easily be extended to the shifting teams of problem solvers and co-workers that we geeks interact with on a daily and nightly basis.

We, on IRC, are as social as our mothers are as they play Farmville on Facebook. We’re playing a slightly different game — and in general, we’re better paid for it. We’re social but in a more hidden way. So hidden we often don’t see that ourselves.

Just to end on a #noemail note. Have you ever send email to a developer, sysadmin, coder? Did they respond? Usually we don’t. We let it sit there aging like fine wine to be appreciated later. Maybe your problem will fix itself. Maybe you’ll ask someone nearby. Maybe you’ll take some initiative and fix it yourself. You didn’t want to talk to the Sysadmin from Hell (BOFH) anyway. We’ve always practiced #noemail but in a passive aggressive way — accent on aggressive.

[group hug]

Before it all went wrong – Did Errol Morris’ brother invent email? #noemail

Film maker Errol Morris discovers that his brother Noel may have been, along with Tom Van Vleck, one of the first implementers of a mail command in 1965.

Among the many nice touches associated with the article is an interactive feature that allows you to send mail as if you were using the MIT CTSS system from a Selectric Typewriter terminal and even do a little programming.

Morris promises that this article will be the first of a five part series. I’m looking forward to see what more he and Tom Van Vleck have to say.

The proposal for the mail command (see below) is particularly interesting in that it states a couple of uses for email. First, the system could automatically “notify a user that some of his files had been backed-up.” And second, that email could be used “for users to send authors any criticisms.” No other uses are mentioned.

One feature that has just reappeared as Google Priority Mail is URGENT MAIL. Mail from the system to “the user will always be placed in a file called URGENT MAIL.” The MAIL ME command which presents the user with the contents of her inbox “will always print the URGENT MAIL before [the more pedestrian mail file] MAIL BOX.”

There at the very beginning, email was already a box clogger, already a place where priorities needed to be established automagically for the user, and already with some guiding suggestions about use that would quickly be ignored.

mail command help

Is email more secure than #noemail?

You only think you have privacy - We have ways to see you

You only think you have privacy - We have ways to see you

One thing that I hear over and over in comments and in person is: “Man, you’re handing all your information over to {Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc}! Not me! I have email and it’s secure and mine only.” Obviously, I’m on different medication for the folks who say this. They completely ignore just how insecure and how available the information in email and the information behind that behavior is.

Back in the late 1980s, writing as Emily Postmail, I said: “Imagine leaving a postcard with your phone number and a time stamp on it at the coffee shop. That’s about how secure your email is. Be aware that anyone and everyone can read it.” And now I would add that your behavior in sending email can be traced and analyzed by someone smarter than you.

In case you secure minded emailers missed the reports of AT&T’s cooperation with NSA in domestic surveillance back in 2006, let me point you to a very good Wired article from that period “AT&T Whistle-Blower’s Evidence”.

You’ve already been watched. And The Atlantic reports that you are now being even more closely watched today in “Prepare to Have Your Email Read by the NSA”.

At least, Facebook, Twitter, etc give you some tangible improvement in services as a result of their surveillance of your behaviors. AT&T + NSA not so much.

True, you can encrypt your email messages — but who really does this? In the meantime, projects like Securebook give you a way to communicate privately, if not secretly, on Facebook. Offered in lite and for pay (99 cents) at the Android Store, Securebook promises Social Steganography which I hope is something better than the X-Ray Specs or Amazing Sea Monkeys that were sold in the back of X-men comics of my youth.

Securebook says:

Communicate with your Facebook friends securely through encrypted messages.

Securebook allows you to send hidden messages in Facebook posts, making it the first official “Social Steganography” application. By encrypting your message (cryptography) and hiding it within an seemingly normal Facebook post (steganography) you are able to add extra information to your posts that you may not wish to divulge to the world.

Use Securebook to communicate with your friends on Facebook without your parents and other relatives on Facebook knowing even if they have your password!

Use Securebook as both a viral marketing tool and a way to safely send company proprietary information through social media.

Tiger and Anthony Weiner should have used Securebook! Make sure you do!

What’s the biggest time sink Email or other social media?

What the data say - phone and email are tops

What the data say - phone and email are tops

No question about the answer. Take a look, a close look, at these findings from an commissioned survey run by uStamp (n=500). Despite the co-mingling of the results at’s own site’s cover page for the report, the survey shows there is a giant difference in the amount to time and effort wasted on email than on all other social practices on-line. also commits the sin of mislabeling online behaviors as addictive: “The increasingly common addiction to web-based activity – which psychologists call ‘online compulsive disorder’ – is pervasive in the workplace.”

Still the survey provides interesting data that tell a tale of differences in distractions and their management. Let’s sample a few from’s press release to Yahoo! Finance and elsewhere:

Users reported getting sidetracked in email processing (23%), switching windows to complete tasks (10%), personal online activities such as Facebook (9%), instant messaging (6%), text messaging (5%) and Web search (3%).

Two out of three users will interrupt a group meeting to communicate with someone else digitally, either by answering email (48%), answering a mobile phone (35%), chatting via IM (28%), updating their status on a social network (12%) or tweeting (9%).

The user’s email inbox is the #1 location searched, with 76% of respondents reporting email as the first place they look. Other locations include the desktop (69%), file server (52%), shared workspace (34%), portable storage device (18%) and/or cloud storage (9%).

The average user emails two or more documents per day to an average of five people for review, increasing email-based document volume by up to 50 documents per week. The fact that these attachments are stored on multiple local computers complicates the challenge of finding the latest document versions as well as merging feedback from multiple reviewers.

Individual users are more aggressive than even their employers in taking control of their own time and managing distractions:

68% of respondents reported that their employers have implemented policies or technologies to minimize distractions, while 73% of end users have adopted self-imposed techniques to help maintain focus.

It’s not too hard to see where the problems are. Email and worse the misuse of email for document sharing are by far the biggest waste of time and effort.

I am aware that does have a commercial interest in these results. They say of their company: “The product family brings enterprise collaboration to every business user by transforming the email client into a collaboration and social workspace, called ‘social email’.”

Fast Company features a good summary of the results — but keep in mind that the author, David Lavenda, is an executive with David clearly discloses his relationship to in the course of the article. +1

Living in a World Without Google – #noemail scheduling w/Gcal

Google Doodle for Les Paul's 96th Birthday

Google Doodle for Les Paul's 96th Birthday

Living in a World Without Google (instead of #noemail or #lwwe ): Joshua Romero swears off all things Googlish, thereby missing out on this past Thursday’s great Les Paul tribute doodle, as described at length in IEEE Spectrum called “How I Learned to Live Google-free. A quest to quit the most pervasive company on the Web” (Thanks to @shivaviad Googlization of Everything author).

IEEE Spectrum has a great special issue, “The Social Web,” (June 2011). Authors including Robin (150 friends) Dunbar, Siva (Googlization) Vaidhyanathan, Jeff Jarvis, Bob Garfield, and others look at the current state of the Social Web through the lens of Facebook vs Google for the most part.

If you like me have stuck with Google and love Google Calendar — especially as an intelligent scheduling service –, you’ll be delighted to learn that the Calendar now supports Appointment Slots, that is times when you will agree to meet with people, instead of just any open times. Now you don’t have to mark large amounts of time as “Busy” just to get some serious reading, writing, research or sleep done. You can have actual office hours!

One more nail in the email coffin. Scheduling with me; don’t send email.

Uses of Honeysuckle nectar

Best of The Triangle - 2011

Best of The Triangle - 2011

On page 59 of the Independent Weekly‘s Best of the Triangle 2011 (sharing a page with an IP3 advert “Best Place to Watch International Soccer for 6 years in a row”) is my little piece about my favorite discovery and reuse of Bill Smith’s Honeysuckle Sorbet. It’s not online yet but is out in print so here’s the text I sent in unedited:

Honeysuckle Sorbet

What invasive species and its transformation into food would give rise to my most transient Triangle experience?

No, it’s not kudzu or bamboo grass or starlings that I’m talking about but that lovely scented treat from Southern childhood – honeysuckle.

How many of us spent the first hot days of May and early June risking ticks and chiggers as we plucked honeysuckle flowers? We pinched each flower’s base and drew the anther through the blossom’s cone to reveal a sweet drop of nectar. Like bees or humming birds, we would suckle on the honey. Then–repeat.

I could and did spend hours at a mass of vine learning in the process which of the flower colors indicated the sweetest drops. (Answer: not the whitest nor the most yellow, but white going to yellow a sort of middle aged bloom is the most tasty and most reliable).

A few years back, I heard that Bill Smith at Crook’s Corner had invented a new dessert treat that captured this experience and improved on it. I rushed down to Crook’s and I wasn’t disappointed – I was taken to a special section of foodie heaven, a place where the most formative tastes of my childhood were re-presented and reformed and reimagined.

Bill had kept the distinctive honeysuckle flavor, made it both sweeter and cooler, by borrowing a cool extraction process some Persian recipes for flower nectar ices. Bill’s invention took me to the cool late May evenings spent along the vine covered hedges picking flowers but without the chiggers or ticks or – thanks Crook’s – the mosquitoes.

Since that first night at Crook’s, I’ve started making my own batches of sorbet. I returned to being food for the insect pests. I’ve been back out in the summer heat – especially this past weekend. But I can stockpile the honeysuckle flavor for a while and make some new uses of the sorbet

Since Bill was good enough to share his recipe in “Seasoned in the South,” I’ll share one innovation here.

Instead of putting the final liquid into an ice cream maker, I pour it into ice trays. Once the ice has solidly formed, serve about four cubes per chilled glass. Add two shots of good bourbon. Garnish with mint. Then as with Mint Juleps, sip slowly while holding the glass from the bottom allowing the heat of your palm to slightly warm the mixture.

Don’t hurry. In time, you will be transported and transformed.

Cracking #UNC Lyris RSS for #noemail

I finally posted this to Quora this afternoon:

As part of giving up email aka #noemail, I need to get off of a lot of email lists that are important to me.
I had, as you are about to suggest, used Gmail filters to send lists to various folders where I mostly ignored the postings unless something urgent was going on there.
But I am more diligent with my RSS reader and I can scan it more easily. I keep seeing old postings about getting RSS from various mailing list programs like Pipermail and Mailman, but they really seem dated and abandoned.
To make matters worse, several campus lists are on Lyris which doesn’t seem to have much to offer in alternative reading styles. It’s either in your inbox or through a difficult to use web archive page.

Then I started poking into the UNC Lyris documentation for help. After pointing me to an unusable URL form ( don’t even bother), I found this bit which looked promising and with a little improvisation worked! I apologize for the UNC-centric-ness of this post, but I hope it will be useful to others here in Chapel Hill.

RSS Access

ListManager’s RSS function supports authentication and authorization. The same settings controlling access to the Discussion Forum Interface controls RSS access.

RSS will only be available if your list is set to keep archives. Without archives, no messages will be displayed.

If the list allows visitors, then non-members will be able to subscribe to the list’s RSS feed without actually subscribing to the list. If not, members will need to log in to proceed to the About page and get the RSS URL. The login information will then be included in the RSS URL on the About page, and will be formatted to include your email address and password (encrypted).

Only those IP addresses granted access to the Discussion Forum Interface in Utilities: Administration: Server: Server Settings: Security: Web: TCP/IP for Discussion Forum Interface will have access to the list via RSS.

ListManager will return messages from the past 14 days, up to one hundred messages.


  1. Go to
  2. Login using the mail address to which you used to subscribe to the lists that you would like RSS feeds from.
  3. Choose “My Forums” on the right side bar
  4. Choose the listname by clicking on it under “Forum Name”
  5. You’ll see recent messages to your chosen list (aka forum)
  6. Click on “About” on the right side bar
  7. The 3rd line should read “RSS Feed: RSS 0.92”
  8. “RSS 0.92” is a link! (but notice that RSS 2.0 is the current standard. Nonetheless 0.92 will work on most readers)
  9. Copy the Link
  10. Paste the link into your RSS reader of choice adding it as you would other links

The Place of email and of #noemail

In the 70s and early 80s when I was a great email evangelist and a half-assed email application coder and a not too bad email systems admin, there were no cell phones (1983 was the first commercial cell), there were no truly mobile computers (Osbourne 1 in 1981 and Kaypro in 1982), telephone answering machine were still mostly tape decks. There were some video text projects; none really succeeded.

Portable phone of the past -- could they do email?

Portable phone of the past -- could they do email?

Now wonder email looked so fantastic!

And as a utopian popularizer, I was happy to predict that email would change everything in communications. It did and for a while was quite wonderful and even freeing and at least it enhanced productivity and even built relationships.

I was reminded of this separately by two folks who organized talks around the UNC campus to promote email, Libby Evans and Byron Howes. But as we reminisced about those heady times, I could only think of what a complete mess email has become. All that we had said email would do is better done by apps — and email never adapted to a truly mobile world.

One look at Blackberry users and their construction of use says so much to this. A special purpose device that just does constantly trickling email has had a phone stuck on it in an ungainly way, a web browser plunked on a too small of a screen for the target users, etc. It’s an email reader made worse.

Phones went through the same identity crisis — save Apple’s iPhone which has always been less phone that computer with phone back up.

Now the market is settling down on multipurpose, location aware, multimedia producing and receiving devices. And email looks even more clunky, more like a communications oddity than a solution. More like a 50s console stereo system than a 70s component or like a digital system that you carry with you and stuck in anywhere. It cannot be dressed up and taken out.

As much as I loved being a part of email’s development, evolution, adaption and acceptance, I’ve been wondering when and where to stop the madness. Not to check out as a Luddite might, nor to take an email vacation, nor to declare bankruptcy, nor to just hand it over to a secretary to do for me, but to really commit myself to seeing if the nacent concepts of activity streams, of open social, of hyper-intergration, of emerging and sinking social communications apps can do the jobs given to email and do those jobs better.

That’s the #noemail project and it begins at midnight tonight.

Farewell to email aka #noemail message retweeked

I’m giving up email beginning June 1, 2011. But f I’ll be open to
communicating through many other channels and technologies. I’m
convinced that there must be better and more effective ways for us to
communicate and to get our work done.

You will be able to reach me on
and on most socialnetworking sites as smalljones including:
and on The Real Paul Jones blog

If you’d like to schedule a meeting with me, my calendar is on Google
Calendar as You
can pick a time there and schedule your best time to meet face to

Sharing documents? Use GoogleDocs and/or DropBox – & respectively

Phone? Yes voice & txt. See FB info for my number

I’ll probably be on freenode too. More details on that later.

I’m also open to other suggestions; please feel free to send me your good ideas.

For more about the #noemail project, see

Paul Jones

LDL is the new Shhhhh!

Virginia Heffernan writing on the NYTimes Opinionator blog in an article, “The Trouble With Email,” makes a perhaps unconscious but very appropriate reference to one of my favorite Star Trek episodes “The Trouble With Tribbles.

Up to his chest in Tribbles

Too Much Tribble for Kirk

Heffernan notices that EEEEEEEK! email is discoverable, persistent, leaves a long footprint, and often embarrassing if not incriminating. The safer alternative is, ssssssh!, LDL — not as defined in the Urban Dictionary where some definitions may be NSFW nor the more common “Let’s Do Lunch,” but “Let’s Discuss Live”.

From whence comes “LDL”? According to Heffernan:

Goldman’s Jonathan Egol is the first known master. When a trader named Fabrice Tourre described a mortgage investment in e-mail as “a way to distribute junk that nobody was dumb enough to take first time around,” Egol shot back: “LDL.”

While one can wonder about the morality of Egol, Tourre, the use of LDL and even of Heffernan for spreading notice of the practice, LDL brings back one of the first email lessons that I, writing as Emily Postmail, tried to teach new users, that is, “email is not so much mail as a post card that cannot be easily retrieved or revoked or removed.” Ollie North found this out the hard way in the Iran-Contra Hearings.

This applies to most all electronic communications. But email seems more like Tribbles than most other activity streams: it seems so warm and attractive, it seems harmless but needs some attention, it needs more attention, it seems like the Tribbles to reproduce at will, but unlike the Tribbles there seems to be no end to it — no poisoned grain. No Trouble With Harry or even Trouble With Angels here.

Bones: They reproduce at will. And brother, have they got a lot of will!

Privacy vs Secrecy is another matter — this is what LDL is really about. The folks who got in trouble were mostly relaying illegal information in what they thought was a secret way. Most people are upset about violations of their privacy, their legal but none-of-your-biznez behaviors

Strong Bad’s Dream Email

I’d had a full day of meetings, Face to Face, with people yesterday and so did no email. One of my colleagues Skyped me to say let’s go to the Bull game and so I spent the evening without email as well.

Strong Bad uses technology (mostly email)

Strong Bad uses technology (mostly email)

Then I went to sleep. In my dreams, my favorite email reading entertainer appeared — Strong Bad from Homestarrunner. I can’t remember the dream, but here (sorry I can’t embed) is Strong Bad receiving his dream email.

Breaking free: Yammer announces embeddable activity streams

Stealing the headline completely from Matt Lynley of Venture Beat (and one of my former students) to point to the growth and changes in Yammer as it moves toward a comprehensive activity streams service.

Yammer is doing exactly what I’ve been talking about in moving beyond email and integrating services and activities in a more effective way. I haven’t used Yammer in a while, but it looks like time to revisit it.

One downside for me and the #noemail project is that Yammer is designed for intranets. Great for companies, as is Lotus Connections, but I want to try working in public and in the wild.

Matt writes about the new embed feature:

The feature functions similar to the way YouTube users embed videos on other websites. It’s a few lines of code that fit snugly into an HTML or JavaScript code. The site then calls out to Yammer to pick up any information about a specific feed and publishes it into a widget built into the website. The feed works both ways, too — any information entered into the widget is sent back to the main Yammer website.

Fred Wilson and Friends say email is the secret sauce, but

VC in NYC, Union Square Ventures principal Fred Wilson has some astute things to say about email and its interaction with more social — and I would say more appropriate and efficient — technologies. He even asks an expert what he thinks. The expert though is Matt Blumberg, Return Path’s founder and CEO. Return Path is a portfolio company of Union Square and according to Fred “the category creator and market leader in email deliverability.” The comments tell you why I don’t want to use email anymore — they are all from attaboy marketers talking about how they get you to read their email and accept their newsletters.

Fred Wilson

Fred Wilson

Fred ends with:

I do think the rise of alternative notification channels; sms, mobile push notifications, direct messages on twitter, facebook messaging, etc are going to move some of this kind of thing off of email over time. But today, if you want to drive retention and repeat usage, there isn’t a better way to do it than email.

Reminds me of an Emo Philips quote I love:

I used to think my brain was the most important organ in my body until I realized what was telling me this.

Don Knuth beat me to email divesting, but…

Donald E. Knuth

Donald E. Knuth

In early 1990, programming hero and influential textbook author (“The Art of Computer Programming” in more or less four volumes so far), Donald Knuth wrote:

I have been a happy man ever since January 1, 1990, when I no longer had an email address. I’d used email since about 1975, and it seems to me that 15 years of email is plenty for one lifetime.

Email is a wonderful thing for people whose role in life is to be on top of things. But not for me; my role is to be on the bottom of things. What I do takes long hours of studying and uninterruptible concentration. I try to learn certain areas of computer science exhaustively; then I try to digest that knowledge into a form that is accessible to people who don’t have time for such study.

I’ve only been using something like email since 1977, but I stayed with it longer all the time hoping for improvements. The promised improvements didn’t come from email really; more from the various email interfaces the best of which are still attempting to integrate “Activity Streams” and variously named productivity flows into the desktop in some meaningful manner. The first mistake is focusing on the desktop and on work.

Just as Xerox focused on a personal computer while — as Malcom Gladwell notices (behind a paywall at New Yorker) — Apple focused on a popular and affordable computer, email integration needs to so to where people both play and work, where they have family, friends and co-workers in some customizable way. And that means the most personal interfaces yet known — those on mobile devices.

In the meantime, I’m exploring other options with your help. When you or others contact me and where will help me decide where to put my communications energies and time.

Unlike Knuth, who handily handed off his email tasks to his secretary as he declared email abandonment, I’m divesting and looking for better, more efficient options.

IBM seeks to integrate email and social actions as “Activity Stream”

Writing on his Portals and KM blog, Bill Ives reports on IBM’s vision of making email actually useful in “IBM Covers the Transformation of Busines Email”.

A couple of key paragraphs to whet your interest:

Email is becoming more focused. Ed [Brill, IBM’s new leader for social collaboration] said that his own email volume has actually decreased in the era of other social tools. File sharing, for example, has moved to these social tools. However, the email he gets more often requires an action on his part. The concept of an activity stream is getting a lot of play these days. This capability had its origins with micro-blogging when auto-generated updates made an appearance. Email can serve this same function. Ed said that the activity stream, regardless of location, will evolve beyond simple alerts. It will allow for direct actions. For example a request for vacation can be approved right in the message with one click, rather than requiring opening another app. REST APIs allow for this capability and it will be a big productivity booster.

Ed said that IBM is working to embed these actions within email. It is also working to apply analytics to email traffic to determine what might be useful to users. For example, it could let users know who should they talk to about certain issues based on email traffic. They are also working to make the activity stream more pervasive, as well as more connected to other apps. SAP is one example, of this increased connection.

My own take on this is that the activity stream already pretty much exists in a variety of ways — all of which I’m still going to use after June 1’s divesture from email — all of which are more effective than email. Ed and Bill point to file sharing as an example. One thing that’s bigger here is that a kind of intelligent use of analytics to determine which actions are best handled where is called for or predicted or being pre-pitched. A lot of that exists already in Gmail and even iPhone mail: great spam filtering, great sensing of Priority, adding links that might be dates and so could be moved to calendars easily, gTalk and on Facebook chat and message integration, etc. Tripit can scan your inbox and build your travel itinerary — and it does a great job.

I’d like it if I never saw my inbox at all (as I plan to try out), but by analytics or by human redirection that actions, requests and services end up at the right places where they can be handled more efficiently.

Orlean’s Communications Fatigue and Bang!Bang!Bang!

The Orchid Thief
Orchid Thief author and New Yorker writer, Susan Orlean, can’t schedule a dinner with Buster and blames too many channels of communications ending with “Since when was communication so exhausting?”

I’ve got no problem with the number of choices for doing different things. I only want to divest in the least efficient and most annoying channels — starting with email.

email has always been a Rube Goldberg operation. In the early days of Usenet and UUCP — before BITNET or a well-connected ARPAnet, sysadmins had to collect and share tables not just of known hosts but also of known routes. If you didn’t know a good route to another computer on the net or had a slack sysadmin, you were stuck. If you did know and perhaps knew better than your sysadmin, you could explicitly specify the route of your mail in the address by means of Bangs! aka !. Here’s an example of such an explicit route address from Wikipedia:


In earlier days, there would be no — in fact no .com at all. Those were a simpler and for some a happier time. Not for me! I’m ready to move on from email!!! email has been too banged up for too long.

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