Beyond the inbox my a$$

by Volker Weber

For at least a dozen years, I have been reading articles on "it's time to think beyond the inbox". They are all about the fact that people should not manage their business out of the inbox. And then there are people who want to stuff more things into the inbox. Unified communications with voice mail, chat transcripts, RSS feeds, the firehose. The new name for this is activity streams.

Let me add a few observations:

  1. People use email because it works. Create mail, insert address, add file, boom. It's the swiss army knife everybody carries.
  2. IT likes to set up closed systems, that are better than email. People just use email. GOTO 1.
  3. Pollute somebody's inbox and they will filter. It is their inbox. GOTO 1.
  4. Can't find a file you need now? Call a co-worker. "Send me this file". - "Done that already". - "Don't care, send it again". GOTO 1.
  5. Deployed a container on iPad that is so secure, that people can't run a presentation? They'll email the file to themselves, outside of your reign. GOTO 1.
People are ingenious. And they muddle through with a few trusted tools. Don't try to educate them otherwise. They will ignore you or run you over. If you want to think beyond the inbox, build a better mouse trap. A very much better mouse trap.


Yes, I've done my time of trying to convince people that email was a '20th century technology' and that the 21st had more interesting things to offer.

Regardless of Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter etc etc, the fact is that a lot of the people I deal with on an everyday basis, use their email systems as their main filing system and their main data repository, as well as a communications system. Nothing will ever persuade them to do otherwise.

Bearing which in mind, it's a great shame that so few email systems get properly backed up....

Nick Daisley, 2012-07-31 13:40

My users live in email and it would be silly to try to change that. But that doesn't mean that certain types of messaging and document storage can't be made more useful for the organization as a whole -- and for the individual if the implementation is successful -- by using a system that shares and archives, at least within the firm. The problem with email is that it's always private -- sometimes in the social era we want folks to share.

David Schaffer, 2012-07-31 14:45

How many people pushing "beyond the inbox" are NOT selling anything ? hmm... may be 1%, or rather, the other 99% of people pushing this argument, do so because they are trying to sell you a better "mouse trap".

Some of it may be worthwhile. Based on experience, it's a case-by-case basis because people work in different ways.

Giulio Campobassi, 2012-08-01 03:41

Mein Reden seit einer Weile. Solange ein Werkzeug dem Anwender nicht das Gefühl von Territiorialhoheit verleiht bleibt es bei: 'Remove the inbox? Out of my dead cold hands only'

Stephan H. Wissel, 2012-08-01 05:27

Some thoughts...

1. Facebook and Twitter have resulted in me sending far less private e-mail. Barely any at all in fact. I receive lots, mainly notifications from various subscriptions. I log in twice a week to delete them.

2. E-mail does work in the workplace, and with it being tied to calendar & scheduling it's something people can't live without. But it can be used more effectively.

3. The world is divided into a) workers who have a big enough mail quota to not worry about file attachments and b) those for whom every file attachment in an e-mail is edging them over their quota. If you're a 'b' then collaborative file-sharing is a God-send (if you can get people to use it correctly and securely). If you're an 'a' you should be using collaborative file-sharing too, it'll make you more productive even if you're not feeling the quota pain. But you need to get your search strategy right.

4. If you do use collaborative file-sharing, e-mail is a great way to notify people of uploads and changes. There's nothing wrong with e-mail doing this. You're now not shunting file attachments around by e-mail. Award yourself a gold star.

5. Unified comms integrated into e-mail is a good thing. It raises the value of the e-mail - can I reach that person easily via IM, voice, video or phone? And if you spawn an IM from an e-mail, the transcript of the chat should live as part of the same conversation (as if it were an e-mail rely), not isolated in another folder.

Darren Adams, 2012-08-01 14:37

Yes, eMail is a swiss army knife. Have you seen any professional use a swiss army knife for their main job? An electrician cutting a cable with a swiss army knife instead of a wire cutter? A surgeon using it instead of a scalpel They may carry on for the odd situation they don't have the tool they need but you won't see them using it that often.
So organizing your work around this swiss army knife could easily be seen as a sign of lack of professionalism - at least as long as you define what you do using eMail as part of your core competency.

Arnd Layer, 2012-08-02 08:51

Arnd, you found the problem. They are not professionals. Their profession is somewhere else. They use email because it always work. It may not be perfect, but that does not matter. How do you sync a phone number? One person reads it out loud, the other one punches it in. There have been numerous professional ways to do that, over IRDa, over Bluetooth, with vCards and now NFC. But what do people really do? They muddle through.

Volker Weber, 2012-08-02 08:59

My dream for the better mousetrap: right hand side of interface is private stream much like email but containing a variety of objects besides SMTP objects. Drag any firehose entity (could be an email, could be a file created on local drive, could be IM thread) from this stream to left hand side of screen, where it becomes public and goes inside a activity stream subcontainer. I am imagining this subcontainer to be be like a Facebook wall entry. Access is controlled by access to the container. Both left and right streams can be filtered by protocol, app type, user-applied prioritizations.

Harris Huckabee, 2012-08-03 03:48


Ole Kristensen, 2012-08-10 10:20

Yes, Ole. Those are the People who want to sell something better. GOTO 1.

Volker Weber, 2012-08-10 10:29

What do I do when I can't get hold of you or your document. GOTO where?

Thobias Victor, 2012-08-15 16:37

Not my problem, or is it?

Volker Weber, 2012-08-15 16:45

True, but it might be a problem for the company. Like delaying processes in a project or responsiveness to customers. Just a thought!

Thobias Victor, 2012-08-17 11:22

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