There’s a popular saying that goes “if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” One ‘hammer’ that professionals around the world have held on to for far too long is email. We use email for everything these days; we even email files to ourselves as a way to store them! Email remains useful, and despite the comments of the naysayers, it is going to be around for a very long time. However, there are some things that email just cannot do well. Examples include:
1. Organizing Knowledge: Picture this scenario: you need some information to get your work done, and you know that the information you seek is buried deep within emails that were sent to you a few months ago. To make things more interesting, this information was gathered at different stages of your project so the emails you need to find have different subjects. This is an example of when email falls flat on its face, and if your email client has poor searching capabilities (Lotus Notes anyone?), the situation becomes even more difficult.
2. Transparency: In our first scenario, we wanted to find information that was buried deep within our inboxes. What if that’s not the case? What if the information we seek is in someone else’s inbox? More often than not, we all find ourselves in this situation, and the only way out is to start organizing those long and boring information sharing meetings. Such meetings can be significantly shortened or even completely avoided if the knowledge we require is stored in an easily accessible location, instead of someone’s inbox.
If not email, then what? The answer lies in bringing social media into the enterprise. Companies like Socialtext and Jive have come up with social software, or Facebook-like (pun intended) platforms which can be deployed securely within the private network of an enterprise. Such platforms allow workers to effectively collaborate around knowledge that is properly organized and stored, easily retrieved, and effectively analyzed.
Open source social software like Foswiki can also serve as a good starting point for knowledge sharing and collaboration within organizations. While they may not provide as many bells and whistles as enterprise-class social software (although they sometimes do), they remain a good starting point from which we can stop this crazy obsession with our inboxes.