The Death of Corporate Email?

Entry first posted at the Future of Communities Blog. Check it out for some great community discussion in advance of the upcoming Community 2.0 conference.
+++

(Don’t you love blog entries that start of with a title so ominous, so juicy that you can’t help but read? Yeah, I know, but they’re still fun sometimes)

I was chatting with my business partner recently about email, specifically about how it’s fundamentally broken. Just a few of the reasons we both were complaining about the near uselessness of email:

  • The influx, the deluge, the sheer volume that we get. And not just with one account, no no. We both have no less than three accounts we actively use…or at least try to keep up with.
  • The horrendous search capabilities.  No matter how good the search is, we were lamenting about how we could never seem to find what we wanted with out some real work. Sure, the addition of tagging or better search engines into newer programs seem to help, but there’s a whole new set of problems.
  • Glut. I just checked one of my three active accounts and I have nearly 4,000 pieces of mail in my sent items, and this account is relatively new! I’d be willing to bet that nearly 3,000 of those pieces were back and forth discussions where a majority of the mail had little to no value.
  • Spam, which is an extension of glut. But more annoying. What percentage of all email is spam these days?
  • Perhaps most importantly, none of the knowledge I collect over time is shared; it fails the “Jake Bus Test” (i.e. if Jake ever gets hit by a bus, things continue on just fine. Morbid, but important). Sure, someone could just log into my email account if I was, in fact, hit by a bus but there’s no context to that amount of content. I worked for LEGO for 5 years and had nearly 20,000 emails when I left. Who wants to sift through that. Who even could??

As ranted about email, we started thinking…. what happens if you do away with internal corporate email all together? Ban it. This is how you would replace it (well, almost anyway):

  1. Any business related discussion happens via a wiki page.
  2. All business related emails are only allowed to be references to the wiki discussion. A link and some brief, one-time context. That’s it.
  3. Any personal communications (”Where are we going for lunch today?”, “Birthday cake in the kitchen!”) will be conducted via instant messenger.

As Sam Jackson said (in his personal voicemail message to me about Snakes on a Plane), “I know this sounds crazy, but I don’t give a damn!”

Think about a world where we’re not constantly overwhelmed with email chains that have little to nothing to do with our daily lives. Think about a world where important, relevant business discussion isn’t mixed in with unnecessary communication (and spam). Think about the kinds of internal communities that can form when information has a viable reason and proper format to exist in public, which inherently pulls in people outside your group or sphere of influence. Think about cutting out at least some of the email confusion because picking up the phone is easier than heading over to the wiki. Heck, imagine a world where wikis are easier to use for the average person.
I know, I know. This is probably too crazy, but hey we’re here to talk about the “Future of Communities”, right? So why wouldn’t this work, or perhaps more importantly: why shouldn’t this work?