Taming email communications – part 2

slack-200x200In my last post I described the three challenges that email presents in today’s modern life. Now, I want to tell you about what is driving the desire to “kill email” and what some companies are doing about it.

The desire to “kill email”

More and more we hear of people declaring “email bankruptcy” by marking them all as read, and starting from scratch. Clearly there is a growing frustration with email. Recently, I’ve noticed the chorus of articles like this one from Fortune Magazine asking “Why can’t we kill email?” or this one from the Verge claiming “Slack is killing email.” Slack is the current darling and articles like this from the New York Times: “Slack the office messaging app that may finally sink email” are driving the “kill email” sentiment.

All this hype is generally way overblown. They claim that many new startup companies like Slack, Convo, HipChat have sprung up in recent years to openly wage war on email. With interfaces inspired by today’s social networks, their software aims to replace email, which was designed to be asynchronous, with persistent chat and real-time communication tools that can be as broad or focused as needed.

Don’t get me wrong. I do think Slack is a fantastic tool and it does reduce email in many situations. I use Slack and it has replaced email in certain scenarios but when I see headlines like this on Business Insider, “Amazing messaging tool Slack can kill 80 to 100% of work emails” I just shake my head wondering if the authors actually believe what they write. I think they are actually doing Slack a disservice by over promising in a way that the startup can only under deliver on those expectations in the real world. Sure, a 20-person greenfield startup with no legacy can probably live without substantial email but that is just not the real world.

Silicon Valley is in love with Slack

In order to try to monetize the growing dislike of email, Silicon Valley is funding companies who are all trying to “kill email” as this article in CiteWorld “Why Silicon Valley is suddenly in love with Slack” documents. CNBC claims Slack wins the “Race to $2 billion: The fastest-growing start-up” and the Verge says, “Slack is now the fastest-growing workplace software ever.”

No wonder Silicon Valley is in love with Slack!

What makes Slack different?

Slack is really a chat room for offices that allows coworkers to communicate by sending individual and group messages. The rooms are persistent so the content is always available for all to see and not locked in individuals email inboxes. This allows people to consume the content on their timeframe – not when the sender clicks send like in email. This is a huge difference!

There is an additional advantage that new colleagues can see all of the historical content that has been posted over time. This is a huge advantage over email where all that information and collaboration is locked inside people’s inboxes. So, while companies like Slack can reduce email in todays workplace they are not the total solution to people’s frustrations with email.

Why nothing will completely replace email

Reading about all these companies promising to “kill email” I just shake my head in disbelief because let’s be honest — email will never die. There are several reasons for this. Some are outlined in this article “How to kill email: Why startups will fail to displace email” but I think the biggest reason is because email is an open standard.

Email is an open standard that works on every device and is universally accessible to anyone in the world. It’s the only system in the world where a user can send a message regardless of infrastructure. Additionally, the web is addicted to email as a unique identifier for usernames. Every service on the web has some dependency on email whether it involves an account sign-up form, customer service, or some form of customer engagement.

These new tools are definitely part of the overall solution to reduce the amount of email we receive but they will never eliminate email entirely. The whole notion is just silly. The reality is that the collaboration tools of the future will need to seamlessly integrate IM, workflow, discussion, collaboration, content, phone, video, presence awareness and email too.

So, if email isn’t going away how do we tame the email beast? In my next post I’ll tell you exactly how to do it.

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About Michael Keithley
Digital Transformation CIO and Public Speaker. Previously, CIO at Creative Artists Agency

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