Blog Post

Is Email good enough as a collaboration tool?

Stay on Top of Emerging Technology Trends

Get updates impacting your industry from our GigaOm Research Community
Join the Community!

email iconAt Macworld, when introducing the new Mac OS X Leopard to Apple developers, maverick CEO Steve Jobs talked at length about how the was getting a big overhaul.

I send a lot of notes to myself because my inbox is really where I need to be reminded of things. There’s gotta be a better way to do this that doesn’t get lost among the others. They show up right in your inbox but there’s also a special inbox that coagulates them all together. A lot of times we want to keep a To Do list, you can select a note and say make it a To Do and they show up like this. But it’s even more powerful than this. I can take any email, any document and say make it a to do. But it’s not just Mail. Any application can tie into it and contribute To Do’s and view To Do’s. [via]

Apple’s decision to focus on the Mail InBox is actually pretty astute. I spend almost all my time in the email application, and have put together a rather but working hack using smart mailboxes, rules and other helpful tools to make sense of the daily torrent of over 500 email messages. The good (or bad) news is that many of us actually do use our “inbox” as our communication dashboard. Anne Zelenka points out that there are many reasons why email, despite its short comings has become a collaboration tool for many of us.

But there’s got to be a reason it’s held ground against allegedly more advanced tools, tools like bulletin boards and groupware in the nineties, blogs and wikis and enterprise document management now….Email suits the individual better than any collaboration software, because individuals have control over their inboxes, their archives, and who gets mail from them. In many cases, individuals can choose what software they use to access their mail and they can customize the email client with filters and rules.

There are some tips and tricks to making your email life better, writes Glenn Wolsey. I am taking this one to the heart.

Keep your inbox clear, do not be tempted to use it as a storage box. Each evening before you log off the computer make sure there is nothing left in your inbox. Go through each and every email and file it. Place it in its respective folder, or if it requires actioning put it in your Follow-Up, Interesting or To Do folders.

How do you collaborate using your email inbox?

27 Responses to “Is Email good enough as a collaboration tool?”

  1. Gil Heiman

    Email is definitely here to stay, however, I believe we will spend less time on email and prioritize our time on more pressing matters accessible via other solutions.

    More specifically, in the context of teams, where email truly lacks, solutions such as our free flagship solution, Collanos Workplace, will allow users to shift their attention and time to higher priority issues making them significantly more productive and realize the benefits of a true team collaboration solution.

    Being a P2P (peer to peer) cross-platform (Mac, Linux, Windows) application, users will have a much better experience both by having offline and online access as well as the user experience they are so familiar with from other standard applications residing on their computers.

    The more a team player you are the less time you will be spending on email and realize the benefits of a solution built for teams.

  2. I do NOT have an inbox and is my central work application. :)

    That will require a bit of explanation, I guess. I’m using a procmail rules to distribute all emails coming from one month in a dated folder on my imap account. It means that a folder hierarchy 2006/08, 2006/09, and so on.

    So everything is coming in one mailbox, the one of the month. They key of my way of working is SMART mailboxes. There are smart mailboxes for anykind of things I want to do and read, for mailing list, for people, etc. It means that an individual mail can be at different places at the same time. Because smart mailboxes are based on the data (metadata) and not about the location where the mail has been sorted out.

    Smart mailboxes have multiple criterias and you can make one with show me all mails of this person but only for the last two weeks, etc.

  3. The best I have seen recently is the Gtalk foot in Gmail: both are great, but the idea I really like is that you shoudl first who you want to contact, then have his availbilty details, and decide from there to talk, IM or mail. The guy who makes this work in a cell phone is a billionnaire — I imply that the cell phone can fill in the availabity details himself, from motion and geolocation.

  4. I agree about centralizing the emails, To-Do’s and calendar. At home, I use Outlook with the Gettng Things Done (GTD) Add-In. At work, I am stuck with Netscape email or a web based version that is not integrated with other apps like calendar or task lists. Collaborative reviews in Acrobat become hampered by an old outdated email system client.

    I have been using Gmail more and more and just started using the GTDGmail FF plug-in. This makes GMail even easier to use as a way to organize using custom labels, filters, etc.. Worth checking out if you GMail and are a disciple of David Allen’s GTD.


  5. It depends on the email program. I’ve found it very easy to collaborate on personal projects using Gmail, because of the excellent search abilities, calendar, etc. Sadly, at my own job we use Lotus Notes, and anything sent to me is as good as lost after a few days of mail builds up.

  6. Email certainly isn’t good enough when dealing with some types of attachments that require a response or comment. This is especially true in the management of marketing materials, designs and packaging…You just can’t control what your recipients will see html? text? will the attachment get blocked by their server? Email is broken for this purpose. I actually helped to start a company/application around this problem. Mostly based on the frustrations designers have with collaborating and getting decision support using email. No one has the same experience with attachments and its hard to describe visual changes to a advertising piece. With people working remotely this is almost impossible especially with non designer or tech savvy executives.You get responses like “looks good”. These people don’t need much more than a few simple extra tools. Maybe someday email will evolve to a point where you can collaborate in real-time right in your email client.

  7. I hate the idea of using multiple apps for email, note sotring, addresses, RSS etc. I prefer a one-stop suite to get all this into a single location.

    I currently use OPERA 9.01 and can honestly say its one of the BEST internet productivity suites out there. The mail folders, RSS, notes, bookmarks, widgets, panels, filters, address book and labels are ALL there in a neatly organised UI.

    Whem I’m surfing, RSS reading, emaling etc, I copy quick notes into the notes section by simply right clicking and “copying to note”. I can later choose to email the note itself or use it elsewhere.

    Labels are an added benefit…. i can label emails/notes with pre-defined titles like “important”, “todo”, “funny” etc.

    Overall….. an awesome suite for heavy duty net/email/rss work!

  8. The revolution for me in communication and collaboration has been Google’s gmail. It look’s kind of awkward at first, but once you start using it as your #1 email service and relying on it that you realize it really is a step up from everything before. With chat discussions saved and searchable, conversations grouped (this stops you in box filling up with a new line for EVERY single email; you just have a new line for each new conversation. And once you trust the search rather than worryinging about archiving, tagging, deleting and folders or other ways to desparately organise your email ( always a losing battle, like trying to create and file a note of every thought or conversation you have in a day) then you can relax finally about it. Plus the killer app for me is fantastic, fast, completely synchronised mobile access via pocket IE; add to that calendar and map integration, great handling of attachments and images, including processing word and powerpoint files into text for mobile browsing, and I have pretty much found my utimate collaboration and communication platform, finally!

    This relates to my favorite stat of all time :-) – In a study from the early days of efficiency in paper offices they found that when something is filed incorrectly the first time, it takes not twice as long to retrieve and re-file, but fully 18 times as long, as someone first has to notice it’s wrong, then check with the original filer whether it is really wrong, then go back and find where it really should be etc etc. Once the action is removed from the ‘flow-context’ it becomes a much longer process. To me that’s why we can’t ‘manage’ our email, and one reason why Gmail works so well.