Business week this week has an article titled E-Mail Is So Five Minutes Ago (may require subscription) – in which they say that many people are tuning out email because of spam, and that consequently many companies are ditching email in favor of of other software tools that can function as real-time virtual workspaces – including wikis, blogs, IM, RSS and more elaborate systems like MS Sharepoint.
Maybe I am missing something, but this is not only mixing up apples and oranges its also confusing cause and effect. First off, spam is a problem that needs to be addressed and fixed, and I wish that the government would spend more time on that instead of chasing porn consumers – not the kid type, but the consenting adult type. But to mix spam and people’s resulting email blow-off factor with a move to group collaboration tools is just not a logical conclusion. Email is typically a person’s “personal workspace”, while some of the tools suggested in the article – like wikis – are clearly “group workspaces”. One will not replace the other. It’s like saying that conference rooms will replace personal office space in the physical world. – not so…
While I agree that email does not work for most group collaboration scenarios – some of the tools mentioned in the article don’t work any better. You cannot really collaborate through IM, nor can you truly collaborate through blogs. You can communicate through IM and have conversations through blogs – both of which may be components of collaboration, but clearly not the total solution. You could argue that you can collaborate through wikis, but then you’re missing some important other collaborative components. And knowing that if people have to open up multiple apps (more than two or three) to get a job done, they will revert back to the “old hacks” – telephone, email, and increasingly IM – companies need to realize that unless they have a seamlessly integrated set of tools to enable group collaboration, frustration will continue to persist around the shortcomings of any so-called collaboration tool.
I buy the article’s conclusion that “In the global race for innovation, it’s not as much about leveraging what’s inside your factories’ machines as what’s in your employees’ heads”, but not the sentence that comes right before that: “That’s why fans say the beyond-e-mail workplace will become a key competitive advantage.” Let’s not forget that successful collaboration is maybe 50% technology and 50% people (individual behavior, company culture, etc.) Even with the best of tools, many companies will never be able to achieve great collaboration, just because of their anti-collaboration policies and cultures.