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Is Your E-Mail System Broken?
The corporate potential of 'Web 2.0' tools
By: Matt Goddard
Oct. 1, 2007 02:30 AM
“The e-mail system is in a complete heap.” Those are the words of Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the man who created a little something called the World Wide Web, in reference to e-mail’s shortcomings as a communications tool. His message is that although e-mail is effective for one-on-one dialogue, it has flaws that impede the kind of knowledge gained from true team collaboration. To promote collaboration for your teams and projects in ways that e-mail cannot, the answer lies in the corporate potential of “Web 2.0” tools, such as blogs, wikis, RSS feeds, chat, and instant messaging.
The first problem with e-mail is the abysmal knowledge-to-junk ratio. Gartner Research estimates that 34 percent of your inbox is unnecessary chatter from your co-workers. For instance, you can only imagine how much server capacity in this country is dedicated to inane e-mail messages like “Thanks.” When you combine the bulk of internal noise with your run-of-the-mill spam, Gartner figures the average person needs about 49 minutes per day to manage e-mail.
Let’s consider the Web 2.0 alternative – the blog. Blogs are Web pages where users publish or “post” articles (usually opinion pieces) in reverse chronological order, with the most current article first. The articles are typically organized around dates and categories, and the content is automatically archived for easy retrieval. Blogs are superior to e-mail in that they offer a centralized location for topic-specific content from the team for a given project, separate from the disposable project correspondence that occurs between team members. Unlike e-mail, blog posts are structured so that they’re easy to follow, even with the complex interaction of team input required by long-term projects.
All of us have experienced the frustration of searching through e-mail folders for a particular message. E-mail systems have replaced the big metal filing cabinet as our master project reference system. If you have a strict IT policy governing how much space your e-mail can eat up, it can be a struggle to use your e-mail in this capacity without constant warnings from your e-mail software or a snippy IT guy. So e-mail messages get deleted, moved to folders, or are left to pile up in the inbox until you need them. That’s when you find out why e-mail wasn’t meant for this type of filing task. Even after you’ve sorted by folder, recipient, or subject line, you typically have to read a slew of messages to find the correct one, if it hasn’t been inadvertently deleted during inbox housekeeping. The blog method has several key advantages in terms of accessing project information. For starters, blog posts are searchable using categories and tags, which make posts easier to sort and retrieve. Because blog posts are archived, there is no time required for project information maintenance, as is the case with e-mail, and thus little risk of accidental information loss.
E-mail is notorious for splintered conversations. In a typical project, the “cc list” will omit key players and bombard people who aren’t involved with the project. Frequently, there will be closed e-mail conversations that should be open to the entire group, and more than one unnecessary “reply to all.” If you need to add a team member to the distribution list mid-project, that person does not have the benefit of the entire knowledge pool within the string of project e-mails prior to his or her involvement. Fortunately there is a better way, a Web 2.0 way, to keep all team members in the loop, and with equal access to the entire project.
An RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feed is an online system that allows users to subscribe to news or information they want to receive. It offers two critical components of effective team collaboration: 1) equal access to project information and 2) equal autonomy to contribute or evaluate ideas. With the RSS Feed approach to project communication, everyone receiving the feed has equal access to the entire knowledge base for a given project, even if they are introduced to the project later. The RSS Feed is a perfectly “open” system, giving everyone the ability to express their ideas and to have those ideas vetted by all members of the team.
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