IM, Email and Activities, oh and voice

Several bloggers have commented recently on IM.  The posts that caught my eyes were those by Graham and Adam.  I’d like to expand the discussion a little and focus on a wider spectrum.

IM

Well for me instant messaging doesn’t fulfill all my needs, as Graham stated in his post.  IM is not the best way for sharing files with a number of colleagues not is it a great mechanism for a high volume of information.  What IM for me is presence awareness.  Is Jim online?  No = ok I’ll email him or schedule a meeting.  Is Jim online? Yes = ok I’ll chat with him.  Its the power to let someone who may be on the telephone already tell you they are busy and will ping you back when free.  This for me is instant messaging.

Tomorrows enterprise (in my opinion!) will extend IM to make far greater use of bots and integrate the IM experience with the telephony experience.  Closely following that integration will be rich video integration when better eye contact systems are available (see previous post here).

Email

At the moment I suffer email.  I don’t enjoy the experience (and it doesn’t matter which product I use).  Email is a necessity for me but it is a limited tool.  My email is a silo for my work.  Its difficult to share information historically and add new participants to an email thread.  Threads become uncontrolled and multiple threads become commonplace from a single message.  What email is good for – and is effectively the only option for at the moment is asynchronous information sharing on a small scale.  I know there are team workspaces and peer to peer products like Groove but they don’t fill the gap I use email for.  I liken email to my television viewing.  I don’t watch much TV and when I do it is pre-recorded so I don’t watch the adverts.  Email is the same for me as I group it all up and deal with it 2-3 times per day and most email gets previewed (not fully read) and deleted.  Thats because most of the email I get isn’t directly related to me or what I’m doing – hence I haven’t the time for it.  The main reason I use email isn’t actually email – its the calendar and scheduling functionality.  I’d like a tool with a thread based view and the activities product from IBM fits that bill.

Activities

This is the product that I think will fill the gap between email , IM and workspaces.  I’ve blogged about it previously (1,2).  IBM released the product as a in the Workplace Managed Client but have since re-architected the product to integrate tightly with Notes 8 and Sametime but also have recognised the power of the product and I expect we’ll see plugins for competitor products.

So what are activities?  Well they are just things we do.

How would a user gain any benefit from them?  Well rather than start an email you simply start an activity.  You’d normally start it with some information or explanation.  Sharing it with colleagues means they see the activity in their list.  As more people are invited they too see the activity.  Activities are intended for small collaborations and sit in the middle of this IBM image:

So ok I now have a thread of information which is shared with colleagues.  The thread is timeless and isn’t destroyed when new participants join the thread.

Why is this so good? 

Well anything goes in there:

  • the useful IM chat with the boss which initiated the activity
  • that recorded audio conference brainstorming the idea
  • the presentation you want to complete as part of this activity
  • any reference documentation
  • any useful emails
  • the link to the team room should this grown into a project following your presentation to the board

Why is all this so powerful for me?

This I believe will be the turning point of email within organisations that use activities.  Email will become much more a tool for communication rather than collaboration.  Activities would allow employees to share information and work together on small items more easily.

What is missing?

Well with all these new tools we need a better information flow from technology to how to use it and in what context it should be used.  All these new tools which are 48 months off for most enterprises but the wheels turn slowly in those organisations and the shock factor of these agile tools on the way those enterprises work will be interesting to observe.  There also needs to be a hierarchy of tools and tools for purpose.  Interesting that if you were a plumber or an electrician there are obvious training courses to follow.  If you are an information worker you have little access to training to help you best use all the tools on offer or understand which tool to use best.  I think all the forms of collaboration we see today will survive, I don’t see activities replacing any of them but it will give us another tool in our box – and a very powerful tool.

5 Comments

  1. The challenge with the ‘activities’ view is that it needs to be all encompassing. It only works if all of the elements of an activity can be done within the ‘activity application’. As soon as this breaks and you have to track things outside the application the stack of cards also falls.

    I think you are right that this type of change will come, I’m not sure that Notes/Domino is the place it will end up.

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  2. One thing I didn’t see you include that I think will also help alleviate the “suffering” related to e-mail is wider adoption of RSS/syndication. Much of the clutter in my inbox is from the weekly sales manager newsletter, the weekly marketing newsletter, the regular updates on our SOA launch, etc. These are things I want to read, but are not urgent. I’d much rather get things like this via syndication, so I can go to my “Sales Newsletter” folder in my feed reader and go through them when I get a chance, rather than having to keep them in my inbox or categorize them all jumbled together in a “to be read” folder. (And I suppose I could set up mail rules in Notes to automatically move things to appropriate folders, but that’s still more of a workaround in my book.)

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  3. I worry that the activity explorer is too complex. maybe a simpler approach, such as universal search and tagging would be better. Especially if the resulting Lotus managed tags and items could be exposed via search filters to Microsoft or third party search engines.

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