Six Tools for the Post-Email Era

Amazon Web Services evangelist Jeff Barr proposes that we might move beyond email some day:

I am starting to think that there may be such a thing as a post-email era, a time when we have forgotten about the entire concept of an Inbox, when there’s no such thing as catching up, and when more of our time and energy can be used in a more productive fashion.

Could we really get beyond email? It just might happen: younger people don’t have the dedication to email that baby boomers and gen Xers do. Social media researcher danah boyd considers email dead “in the sense that it is not longer a site of deep emotional passion. People still have accounts, just like they still have mailboxes. But their place for sociable communication is elsewhere.” Elsewhere these days is often text messages or instant messaging. Though those might represent mainly social communication for people in their teens and early twenties, their passionate use is bound to change the way professional communication takes place too.

We can see hints of the post-email era in tools that are under development or available right now. Let’s let these tools suggest to us how we might move beyond email as a good enough collaboration and communication tool.

1. Twitter microblogger. The current darling of the blogosphere allows for broadcast messages to your followers in answer to the question “what are you doing right now?” You send messages from the web, SMS, IM, or a desktop client and your followers receive them in the way that suits them at that time (or not at all). Twitter can replace social email like “how are you?” and “what’s going on?” at the same time it provides detailed information about what a person is doing at a particular time. If a colleague has just twittered “surfing the web” you know it might be a good time to ping them about whatever you need to discuss with them. It makes instant messaging more convenient and effective… and instant messaging is better for collaboration than email.

2. Trillian Astra unified instant messaging or other IM aggregator. We all have buddies using different instant messaging networks so it makes sense to use a unified instant messaging client like Trillian (Windows), Gaim (Linux/Unix), Adium (Mac OS X), or Meebo (Web). Astra, the next generation of the Trillian IM aggregator now under development, will have a bunch of cool new features, including a web-based profile page that can inform everyone of where you are and what you’re up to.

3. Vox blogging. Though Vox, the latest hosted blogging service from SixApart, is aimed more at personal than professional use, the breakthrough it offers to help us move away from email is very fine-grained access control. This makes it feasible for use in sharing things like photos that you don’t want everyone to see. I get email after email with photo attachments in my personal inbox. I’m looking forward to the day when everyone has their own access-controlled blog to share their photos and thoughts.

4. Tubes. Tubes provides peer-to-peer file sharing and synchronization among groups of friends, families, or colleagues without email as an intermediary. It’s Windows only right now, so not so much a solution as the idea of one for many groups. But it could provide an alternative means to share files for people who don’t want a web page as an intermediary (as with Vox).

5. Renkoo for event planning. Renkoo uses email to drive more synchronous discussion of event plans, which could be a real boon to those who suffer from the endless back and forth about what time and where to meet. It uses Comet technology to provide an instant messaging like conversation. Plany.pus offers a similar ad hoc event planning tool.

6. GMail’s RSS feeds. For mailing lists that you rarely reply to, it makes sense to read the messages as RSS feeds. GMail makes this pretty easy because it provides feeds by label. Just set up a filter to label mailing list emails, then subscribe to the feed in a feed reader that supports authentication. Or you can put your user ID and password into the feed address… but careful that you don’t make your feed subscriptions public.

There are tons of other tools that can be used to get us out of email like wikis, online office suites, even your phone. The harder part will be convincing people to do it.

What do you think about the feasibility of a post-email era? Are you trying to move some traffic out of your inbox and into different channels and tools?

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