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Summary:

Managing the flood of electronic communication — phone, voicemail, email, SMS, IM, micro-blogging and status updates on sites like Facebook — is an increasingly difficult task. It’s being reported that Bill Gates recently left Facebook due to a surfeit of friend requests. I’ve struggled to manage […]

Managing the flood of electronic communication — phone, voicemail, email, SMS, IM, micro-blogging and status updates on sites like Facebook — is an increasingly difficult task. It’s being reported that Bill Gates recently left Facebook due to a surfeit of friend requests. I’ve struggled to manage these communications, and like most businesspeople I’ve talked to, my system is based on having different voice, email, IM and social network accounts for personal and professional uses. I can thus give real-time access to clients during business hours, while after-hours access is limited to friends, family and emergencies.

Several upcoming products (Google Wave, for example) want to make every communication channel available in one place in real time and should, in theory, help to make all these communications easier to manage. But will these apps actually make it harder to separate business and personal lives? Will real-time access to all electronic messages make it more difficult for us to provide effective customer service while maintaining personal lives? As Mashable asks: are we ready for the walls between email, messaging and related technologies to come a-tumbling down?

These products appear to be the next-generation “universal inbox,” although as Sam points out, such services have been tried before, with limited success. I wrote about a couple of message aggregators a few weeks ago, although the services I profiled aren’t real-time. At first glance, these next-generation universal inboxes appear to be good ideas — messages of any sort, using whatever channel, will go to one place, and important people can have priority visibility.

Some companies with significant clout are pushing the next-generation universal inbox. Google Wave has been extensively covered, and will be more widely available in September. Google Wave is expected to have additional capabilities, but its real-time communication features are key. Real-time communication is also included in Shareflow, which Darrell reviewed recently.

In addition, the cellphone maker HTC (previously known as manufacturer of such phones as the Android G1) is planning a major consumer push, with its own Android-basedpeople-centric” software and interfaces. In its software, you will prioritize your contacts, and the interface will display all communications from that person (whether email, SMS, IM or Facebook) in one place.

All of these products (none of which I have yet used) seem to assume that we will go to the trouble of assigning each of our contacts to one or more groups, which can then be given an appropriate level of access. This is an old idea that’s been a feature of every operating system that I know of.

But frankly, users like me, with over a thousand contacts in my address book, won’t want to individually assign people to groups. It’s much easier to give clients one email address, and friends and family another. The same is true of IM accounts and phone numbers. Similarly, some people don’t “friend” business connections on their Facebook accounts, preferring to use a site like LinkedIn instead.

I worry that the next-generation universal inbox services will require a lot of setup and maintenance, and ultimately, make it harder to carve out personal time. People are already feeling the need to check email, text and tweet at concerts and baseball games. Maybe it’s time to bring back pagers.

How will you prioritize electronic communication in the approaching era?

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  1. Can’t help but feel my communication style (& channel usage) is changing to be more convergent. The lines between work and personal have blurred considerably since having more flexible attitude to my career.

    For the most part – I find it works for me, and a tool like Goolge Wave will no doubt tie this together even further.

    That said, I feel that the you must manage people’s expectations that you are not “always on” even though work & personal blur. Easy access needn’t mean CONSTANT access.

  2. Nice article. Regarding your last point about the complexity of upcoming services, I wouldn’t think so. Simplicity has always been the key to attracting users, something which Google, Twitter etc. are always trying to accomplish.

    Great article.
    Cheers,
    Shitij
    @shitijnigam

  3. Juan Carlos Jimenez Tuesday, August 4, 2009

    Dear Charles,

    Nice and useful post.

    But people can start managing e-mail at workplace more efficiently. Here are some tips about it:

    http://emailworkplace.blogspot.com/2009/06/start-managing-e-mail-efficiently.html

    Regards,

    jucar

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