A couple of interesting articles on the Beeb’s news site caught my eye this week, both of which had the same basic premise… that social networking sites are overtaking e-mail as a communication tool. A couple of years there was an interesting statistic (can’t remember the source, can’t be bothered to find it) that said that the volume of instant messages has already overtaken e-mails, so it’s interesting to see that yet another medium is pushing e-mail out of the way.
The first of the Beeb’s articles reported that 67% of web users were spending time at social sites and blogs, and that in the UK one minute of every six was spent on a social site. And get this – “the fastest growing segment of users turning up and using social sites over the last year was among 35-49 year olds” – oooh, I just squeaked into that age range. Indeed, I do Twitter, I am a Facebooker, and I login into LinkedIn every now and again. I get invitations to Plaxo, but it sounds like a mouth-wash and I think three social sites is enough.
The other article suggested that “Social networks ‘are new e-mail’” and says that people are using social sites rather than actually sending e-mails (which is sort of different to the mantra of the other article). This may apply to many people, personally I’d disagree. My personal (i.e. home use) e-mail habits haven’t changed over the past couple of years. My usage of Facebook hasn’t replaced the e-mails that I send, and I wouldn’t bank on Twitter or Facebook supplying information that I wanted to ensure someone would receive. However I can see that for some groups of people it could ring true.
Also worthy of note is the fact that over the weekend Facebook has changed it’s interface to become more ‘Twitter-like’.
In the workplace we’re seeing that social solutions are of great interest, but naturally businesses are concerned about the public sites being used by the workforce. However businesses want to capitalise on the enthusiasm and possibilities of this new way of working, not to mention that fact that people coming into the workplace are very familiar and comfortable with the concept – hence IBM Lotus Connections is a great way to provide the solution with some control and focus and without the distractions of the public sites.
I don’t think that e-mail will disappear, at least not in the next ten years. I firmly believe that activity-based working (see here and here) is the way forward, and unless you’ve experienced this way of working it’s hard to believe how productive Lotus Activities can be. Too many people are reactive to their inbox – this is the way to break out and focus on your crucial tasks and share information in a controlled manner. However, not every e-mail adheres to a particular business activity – many are ad-hoc – and an e-mail which is associated to an activity you’re working on may not apply to the sender (but that’s okay, even though you receive an e-mail you can drag it into the activity). Instant messaging too will trim down on the volume of e-mail (Gartner say 40% reduction, IBM say 38%). Today people run e-mail clients – the inbox is centre-stage. But I can see a day when e-mail is pushed to the periphery – if you’re a Notes user, think of it being in the side bar while your activities and social updates come to the fore-front. Of course, that’s what’s great about Notes – it’s evolving and can consume these new capabilities and ways of collaborating. If you have something which is just an e-mail client… where’s that going to go? Time will tell….