5/24/12

Why Are We Still So Reliant Upon Email?

Sometimes private conversations just need to be shared. Ron Friedmann and I thought as much on some of the recent conversations we had regarding the best way to get information to people with all of the different resources now at our disposal. Of course, the first thing we asked was "how do we get everyone out of email and on to these other sources?"

So, as any blogger worth their salt would do, we figured out a way to spin this into a blog post. Ron is actually a blogger worth his weight in gold, because he suggested that we do this as a simultaneous post on his Strategic Technology Blog and my 3 Geeks and a Law Blog. That way we would expose our conversations to the different groups that follow each of us. Ron and Toby Brown did something similar a year ago on "Bet the Farm" versus "Law Factory." We are hoping to spur some additional conversations, just as Ron and Toby did.

For reference: Greg's Post; Ron's Post


RON

I am struck by how many people still rely on e-mail for news, as opposed to Twitter or RSS. When Jeff Brandt features my blog post in his daily PinHawk Legal Technology e-mail, I see a noticeable traffic spike on my blog.

That got me thinking about two ideas. First, why are so many people still so reliant on e-mail? Not sure I am up for tackling that. Second, is there a tool that turns Tweets into an e-mail. Both your Tweet feed and mine focus mainly on news items. I wonder if some folks who are not interested in Twitter would subscribe to a weekly digest of Tweets from one or more Twitters.

I was looking around for a tool and see that Twitter will soon enable sending Tweets by e-mail. What I have in mind, however, would be a bit more curated, maybe using the Twitter favorite feature to tag my own and other Tweets. Then the tool would automatically mail those weekly to subscribers. I assume Twitter API would allow this but I’m not that techie.

Do you think that would appeal to anyone? Do you know if there is such a tool?

GREG

I was just thinking last week about why we are still so reliant upon email when there are so many better options out there, especially social media tools (whether Twitter, Google+, Yammer, or the 1000's of other options.) I came to a similar conclusion of wonder if social media could somehow be embedded into the email systems and mimic email, while bringing in the best pieces of what makes social media so valuable.

My thoughts trended, however, to Twitters Direct Message option when it came to online discussions. [Tweets are public; a Twitter DM is private, to a single person.] I'd love it if I could embed a Twitter DM to a group of people, and have a structured conversation in Outlook (or gmail) and the familiarity of those interfaces, but using DMs as the conduit. I could keep the conversation short and clean, without the clutter of all the old message threads showing up in each response.

I also like the idea of a curated resource as well. People are always looking for well structured, curated information, and since we seem to be stuck in an email-centric world, this type of newsletter might be something that would appeal to those that want the benefits of a social media world, without having to actually go visit that social media world themselves.

RON

Greg, it was fun to connect with you “synchronously” after the exchange above so that we could test a Google+ Hangout. [A hangout allows real time video conferencing and text messaging among multiple people.] It’s too bad that Hangout requires video and seems inherently focused on real-time, synchronous communication. So it’s not the answer to an easy-to-use, persistent discussion area or forum.

Returning to your comments above, I have two concerns with your proposed approach. First, Twitter DM seems inherently “point to point” or “one to one”. I suspect a lot of engineering would be required to convert it to a forum or bulletin board feature. Moreover, Twitter users might be unhappy with such a change. I find an increasing number of my contacts use Twitter DM in lieu of e-mail. They probably would not want to clutter this clean, private, and uncluttered channel with discussions threads.

Second, do we want to take steps that encourage lawyers and staff to have even more reasons to stay in Outlook? I know it is the application where “lawyers live”. My hope, however, is that eventually there will be a better or different interface for working together as a group. I am not optimistic though. Even in the early 1990s, when I first evaluated discussion forums in a law firm, lawyers liked the concept but were too wed to their inboxes to use it.

We’ve now identified two unmet requirements. One is what I started with – converting Tweets (mine and those I follow) to a periodic e-mail to which non-Twitter-users could subscribe. I will leave this one to entrepreneurs in the Twitter ecosystem. The other requirement is your idea for better tools / interface for group discussion. I’m not sure I see answers. Moreover, I am not sure if the question is “do we need a new collaboration or communication tool” or “are existing tools fine, they have all the features anyone could ever want, and the question is just change management”. Your views?

GREG

Ron, I've thought about the limitations that happen when using the Twitter DM function and I was kind of hoping that the way it would show up in Outlook or gmail would be modified by an API or some type of intermediary program that would allow one-to-many communications (as long as you are connected to each of the Twitter accounts) and could go beyond the 140 character limit (although there is some benefit to keeping communications short.) Perhaps the Twitter DM function isn't really the best method, but there should be some improvements in communications beyond the awful email threads that we live with now. I have heard of firms that use Outlook's "To-Do" list, but I don't think that it really is the answer here. Google's gmail is kind of working around the problem by limiting the repeating thread information, but it is still not really as clean a communications tool as some of the social media tools are.

As for trying to move lawyers out of Outlook… that's a big shift in culture for them and won't be easy. I've mentioned that email is now the touchstone of the law firm. No longer do lawyers collaborate face-to-face (only when they have to), instead the collaboration is virtual, and unfortunately, via email chains. We all know of the problems associated with working as if Outlook is your common database. Even making the emails 'better' by shifting social media type content into email newsfeeds just reinforces the idea of Outlook being the best collaborative resource. The biggest problem is that Outlook is not a true collaborate tool, or at least not a very good one. Efforts should be made to move collaboration efforts off of Outlook, but that's obviously easier said than done. It would make for an easier transition if we could create tools that allow the lawyers to believe they are still in Outlook, but that rewards them for inefficient and potentially risky work habits. The better approach would be to wean them off of Outlook, but that's a project that would take years to accomplish.

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5 comments:

Tracy Thompson-Przylucki said...

Thanks for this post. I wanted to share a tool and a process that I use to accomplish something like the curated twitter to e-mail vision you mention. While I like twitter I realized that I won't reach the majority of my target audience relying on that channel alone, as many of them will never adopt or monitor twitter consistently enough to make it a reliable means of communicating with NELLCO members. SO I came up with an approach that lets me use twitter as a key tool for transmitting my message without relying on it as the tool for my receivers.

First, I use tweetdeck as the entry point for my tweet feed. I have the linked to FB, as well as Twitter. My tweet feed is also fed to the NELLCO homepage as another receiver point, and it has the added advantage of keeping the page looking active and current. Finally, I use paper.li to curate all tweets from @nellcoinc and present them in a newsletter format each week. Members can simply bookmark the page, dubbed the NELLCO Weekly Twitter Roundup, or they can subscribe to it. I have the roundup just capturing NELLCO tweets as it's intended to keep our members informed, but you can set it up to include multiple handles and curate more broadly. And the nice thing is that it doesn't just regurgitate your tweet, it pulls the article that your tweet is pointing to and grabs graphics if available. It makes for a really nice look. You can have it run daily or weekly, and it maintains your archived issues. It's completely automated and a sort of set it and forget it tool. It's free so you have to deal with ads, and it's a start-up so you have deal with down time (like right now apparently; they just did an 'enhancement' on 5/18 and there must be some bugs to work out), but it's been fairly robust for more than a year that I've been using it, and once they work out the current kinks I think it's worth having a look at.

Mark said...

This is such a big topic, one blog post certainly can't handle it. :)

I think it's important to differentiate between different uses for email.

For example, Ron, you mentioned that you can't believe people still rely on email for news, instead of RSS. A while back I set up an RSS reader with A LOT of feeds. But I could never keep up with it. It never became part of my regular routine (I had to GO there) and there was too much information. I find curated email services, like Pinhawk, save me time by curating the news and putting it front and center in an email. If I have too many places to check, I will give up on the extra ones. Given that news is typically unidirectional (at least for the reader), I don't think using email for news is problematic at all.

One thing to consider is that you are both very conversant and facile with technology. You love all this new stuff! But most attorneys (and other professionals) are not like you and want something that is simple and straightforward. I think the average attorney would feel overwhelmed to use on a daily basis: email, twitter, RSS and microblogging. Email fits the bill for them for 95% of their needs.

Another way that email is used by lawyers (and others) is as a system for archiving information about a given matter they are working on. (I religiously filed and organized my emails and on a daily basis would search my emails. It worked surprisingly well, but could have been better.) This is where you want to get away from email, or at least provide a way to share your emails with the rest of your team. This might involve a GOOD, intuitive email filing solution or a microblogging tool. Either allows an entire case team to share information and allows newcomers to get access to historical communications.

I don't think email is going to be replaced in our lifetimes as a business communications tool. (It's like the telephone that way.) It serves too many functions. I think we will see a combination of alternatives (twitter, rss, microblogging, the as-yet-to-be-invented technology) eating away at email around the edges and enhancements to email (email filing) that will help us communicate better.

LegalComplex said...

The answer lies in people's reaction to Google Wave: we aren't ready yet even if the alternative is far more superior.

unlicensedlibrarian said...

Thanks for yet another great post!

Like Mark my team found that the majority of Lawyers we work with don't have the time or inclination to use twitter and RSS effectively and are overwhelmed with the volume of information available in this format.

What our Lawyers want is email alerts, but this brings with it the obvious problem of inbox overload for Lawyers trying to follow multiple sources.

Our solution for now is to use web tools such as Yahoo Pipes and an externally hosted system (subscription service) to collate RSS and Twitter streams from a range of sources, filter them if necessary and deliver them as daily emails. The email content can be customised to teams or even individuals.

The main advantage is that each lawyer now only gets 1 email a day which covers all their current awareness sources. It also gives our team the opportunity to add value by tailoring and filtering the content to ensure it is relevant to the recipients.

Obviously no system is perfect. The setup takes time, and some sources still don't publish any/all their content by RSS but it's the closest we've come so far to giving our users what they need (RSS and Twitter content) as well as what they want (current awareness by email).

We did look at a number of systems similar to paper.li when we began the project, and I'll take another look having been inspired by this post to see what's new out there. I'd be really interested to hear if anyone else is using anything sinilar to aggregate and deliver RSS/Twitter content in a commercial setting.

Jay Pinkert said...

E-mail persists because 1) it's familiar, 2) it's simple and 3) it works pretty well for most use cases.

I'm not entirely comfortable with discourse that starts with the premise that potential users are somehow not "getting" a clearly superior alternative. A more constructive way to frame this discussion might be "Why aren't new communication/collaboration platforms catching on quicker?"

 

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