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The never-ending quest to dethrone email

Serdar Yegulalp | Jan. 21, 2015
Pretenders to the messaging throne have been many, but email still reigns. Here’s how that might change.

Move work out of email
Yet another let's-kill-email approach doesn't involve altering clients or protocols, but rather the work habits most commonly associated with email. This could include discussions on a given topic with coworkers, or passing files back and forth between colleagues -- activities that can be moved to venues purpose-built to host them properly.

Among the creations devised for that job is Slack (motto: "Be less busy") from Tiny Speck, which was featured recently in Bob Brown's roundup of 25 cloud, security, and mobile startups to watch. Slack comes off as a sort of chat system with multiple rooms or "channels," with all discussions searchable and synced automatically between multiple client apps. Private groups and direct messages are also part of the design. Many popular third-party applications -- Dropbox, GitHub, JIRA, and more -- have integrations ready to use, along with toolkits and an API to allow you to add your own.

Huddle, another system designed to move coworker collaboration activity away from email, uses a central dashboard metaphor to present team members with a project-centric view of their work. Projects can be created and delegated, and individuals can loop other people into their projects as needed. Files ascribed to a project are hosted within the project and are secured against unauthorized access, thereby preventing the need to mail attachments or file-share links to team members. Discussions -- the part of Huddle most designed as a replacement for email -- are reminiscent of Web forums, including discussion threading.

The main drawback with systems like these is that they don't really replace email so much as create secondary, siloed, proprietary structures alongside it. Most anyone will still need email to deal with the rest of the world, and these systems seem aware of that. Huddle, for instance, can be set to echo activity on message threads to -- you guessed it -- email.

There's a larger question of the usefulness of moving work-related processes out of email. Forrester analyst Phillip Karcher took the stance that "enterprise social," as these types of applications are called, "is a complement, not a replacement for email." He claimed that according to research, "compared to workers who don't use enterprise social, those that do actually spend more time in their typical workday looking for information." But he also noted that, in his purview, this didn't imply they were being inefficient, but were "tapping their peers and taking more time to make informed decisions."

Maybe email's here to stay after all
Given the uphill battle, it's very likely that email will remain right where it is, at the center of our working lives. Other items may evolve in parallel, but email's central position as a universal standard in business -- and as the default system of record for enterprise communications -- won't likely change.


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