RIP, traditional email. It was great knowing you. We've tried to get along, but you are a pesky, annoying nuisance. Don't hit the SMTP server on your way out, OK?
That's right: In 2015, email is taking a backseat compared to a few alternative ways to communicate more effectively--those emerging collaborative environments like Slack and apps like Knowmail and Mailbox that do a better job of weeding out the fluff.
It's about time. I started using email back in the early 90s when the term "spam" first entered the mainstream and you had to download everything into Microsoft Outlook. In recent years, there's been a steady influx of messages on services like Facebook, Twitter (as direct messages), and other social nets.
I maintain multiple email accounts for work and personal use, not to mention using apps like Campfire that look and act quite a bit like email.
As you can imagine, this has all become a hair-pulling exercise for me. Each day, I have to label messages, move them out of my inbox, and prioritize them to make sure I'm not missing anything important. It's a pain. Gmail tabs try hard to organize messages, but Google doesn't really look that closely at the content. A message from my accountant sits alongside a pitch about a new hair product in the same inbox. Google Inbox didn't help much, either. It adds some flair and color, but tends to feel like icing on the Gmail cake.
Slack is, of course, making major headlines right now (their valuation is over $2.8B). The app lets teams send messages to each other and categorize them. What's interesting about the messaging features isn''t just that that they are more searchable and they stored for future reference. I've noticed people tend to get right to the point because they know everyone can see the message and it will "live" forever. There's some peer pressure involved.
By creating circles of communication, a company is essentially eliminating all spam and any superfluous content. It's relegating email to a permanent junk mail repository, especially if you generate sales leads through other means like Facebook, a CRM portal, or text messaging. There's a shift in thinking--you view email as a dumping ground, not a communication method for things that really matter. You check your Slack first, not your email.
Knowmail is also interesting. The app uses machine learning to figure out which messages are important and tends to only put those emails in your inbox. I've been testing it for about a week, and it's too early to say if the app will seriously reduce clutter. They are also planning to make a new version. For now, it only works with Outlook and not Gmail.com, so it doesn't fit in with my normal email habits. What I've been noticing is that, just by having a separate folder (called Personal Assistant) it helps me think a bit differently about important emails, even if the add-on is not always perfect. I click there first and read the ones Knowmail thinks are important, which works most of the time.
I need to test the add-on more, but you can see where this is going. Instead of "processing" and weeding out junk, what if we all only received the important messages we need automatically? What if the app did the processing for us? I'll have a full report on Knowmail later. I predicted that some form of digital communication will turn email into a second-string option, but 2015 will also be the year it starts to shift.
Email is not the enemy of productivity. The time we spend processing it is. Time to reinvent how it works, how we use it, and how much time we spend with it. Time to create something much more collaborative and useful. Here's hoping.