Facebook rebadging email?

Posted on November 12, 2010

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Facebook has just announced a new messaging service, unifying all textural communications channels email, IM SMS etc. I am further alarmed though by the detail of the proposal, which includes retaining ALL communications. The recent past has shown Facebook has an appalling and arrogant record on data compliance and privacy. Can no-one else see the prospect of having ones communications harvested for ‘value’ without little recourse to the individual? I wonder how interoperable this will be with marketing agencies and how closed it will prove to the rest of the world! But well done Facebook waking up to the world of Unified Communication’s.

Not so well done Zuckerberg insinuating the youth of today are cognitively challenged by something as basic as email. Quote “young people found email was too much of a cognitive load”.

A cheap shot from the executive seats in a transparent marketing move to try and persuade people to drop email and adopt the Facebook version of Unified Communications. I four experience offers any insight, users will still use their preferred medium and this will do little to improve efficiency or effectiveness in information exchanges.

Many times eMail has been read its obituary, but each time it has effortlessly persisted. Despite never been the most efficient of communication mediums and internal research we have conducted proves this through real efficiency losses due to inappropriate use, largely as a grossly inefficient conversational medium.

Through its adoption as the medium of choice for a broad spectrum of communication types, email is recognised in a broad spectrum of styles, from the illiterate TXT speak of the short and pugnacious, through respectful functional balanced brevity, to the weighty cudgel of the lengthy and laboured. Not to omit its giddy heights on the obesity scale of attachments that can challenge even the fastest of broadband links resulting in email client lock-up. So whilst it is time that it started in technologies terms its long walk to a final resting place, I suspect it will be a very looooong walk!

In my opinion email is an electronic form of the traditional letter and shouldering the modern mantel of an e-letter should be confined to that purpose. Instead it has been hijacked for everything from real time conversations to collaboration environments and to-do lists, and for many a get out of jail free card in sloping shoulders in the accountability of their daily responsibilities through the abuse of the cc and bcc.

Take email conversations for example. Our research has found that conversations in email can take up to 500 longer than in a voice call, and extend the decision making process over days instead of minutes. Conversations are better conducted using more appropriate mediums, reflecting on the traditional and current favourites in the following order of effectiveness and efficiency:

1. Face to face – with all the tactile and emotional feedback that sharing a common space and eye contact can deliver to fully communicate meaning and intent behind pure words. Leaving limited room for misunderstanding.

2. Video Conferencing – Fall’s short of true face to face interactions but with good quality connectivity reaches across distances well and can be cost effective.

3. Telephone – Eliminates the physical feedback loop of face to face but next best thing, for many little difference where parties have already met and have shared a face to face context.

4. Instant messaging – Good for short interactions with clear requirements that do not demand lengthy commitments of attention. For conversations, pick up the phone increases productivity and connections between the parties 100%.

5. SMS – Excellent low bandwidth and cheap connectivity medium. False belief that an SMS conversation is cost effective, a voice call can often concatenate an exchange into a more effective and rewarding experience.

But having tried to educate corporate users on the correct medium appropriate to the communication type we have found users are very robust and revert quickly to whatever their preference even in the face of more efficient conduits. The most successful being Collaboration Platforms – Switching of email attachments and pre-configuring desktop applications to save to a central resource sounds good, has proven challenging, with users quickly circumventing the system wherever they can when such environments have been poorly conceived and users not integrated into the planning or correctly trained; which regrettably seems to be a common factor inadvertently fuelling the persistence of email inefficiency.

Facebook I expect will fair little better and providing just another platform of choice, with a social convenience twist, for users to email through. Marketing hype aside, email has a long future ahead of it.

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