E-mail became an official consumer thing in the late ’80′s. By the late ’90s, the volume of electronic traffic had already surpassed the volume of telephone traffic. Present day, social media is viewed as the next usurper, but developers haven’t quite figured out the magic combination of features to fully realize that prediction.
(Related: 3 Reasons Why E-mail Isn’t Going Anywhere – the outcome of a conversation about collaboration processes between myself and a handful of other Mindjet employees.)
In fact, social media can cause an increase in e-mail usage when platform notifications are set, as then often are, to push to inboxes. It’s a seemingly symbiotic relationship that many developers are diligently trying to pull apart, but why? When e-mail was invented, I doubt anyone was sitting in corner, rubbing their hands together and saying, Ha! This will show those phone users! (Maybe they were saying this about pen and paper letter writers, but e-mail and social platform messages are sent and received at the same speed, so, that’s irrelevant.)
If instead we zoom out and look at what these two massively successful approaches to communication — e-mail and social (primarily Facebook) — have in common, then their stickiness begins to make more sense.
E-mail is ubiquitous because it was the first tool to provide instant communication and support what have now become the basics: attachments, history, mobility, etc. Facebook is ubiquitous because it supports those same behaviors in addition to newer ones: status updates, social gaming, social sharing, networking, constant connection.
In other words, we become habituated in platforms that point to other things, not tools that aim to replace those things. Facebook Founder Mark Zuckerberg has been known to say that the future of Facebook isn’t on Facebook.com, and he was right. The Open Graph and all it connects our profiles to has proved that. But in supporting that notion rather than fighting it, he’s made his platform inextricably linked to our lives.
Much Ado About Automation
When thinking about which tools are right for your organization, it might benefit you to make a similar switch in mentality. Remember that collaboration is, at its very core, about people. And people and their processes should be supported, not replaced.
“The great opportunity and challenge of our time is what it means to have a digital society and a digital economy,” said Marc Davis, a Partner Architect at Microsoft. “What does it mean to be a person, to have data, to create property, to create groups, to work and play and love and live in a world where the Web and people are connected all the time? That is the world we’re creating…and we have real decisions to make about what that world’s going to be like.”