Everybody loves to complain about email.
There are a ton of social networking services, apps, and collaboration platforms that claim (or that their users claim) can “solve” our email problems by providing an alternative communication channel.
But there are all sorts reasons why many of these alternatives are never quite as successful as promised:
- They’re not universal. You often have to have special accounts. If your company sets up an account for you, great. But what about external communication?
- None of them are ever going to be widespread as email.
- You have to figure out how to set up alerts for all these random services.
- The habit of all checking all these services is never going to be as ingrained as checking email.
- The apps for many of these services are second-class citizens in iOS. Even with the more liberal multi-tasking routines in iOS 7, downloading content while an app is closed is still not as reliable as the built-in mail app. You can get push notifications, except if you look closely, you realize that they can’t quite give as much information as the built-in mail app.
- And finally, what do all these other services to do make sure you're actually up to date? They send you an email!
I’m not saying that alternatives to email aren’t awesome. I use Facebook, Google Chat, iMessage, and Twitter every day. The BrianMadden.com team has been using Slack for the last month or so, and I love having a casual way to ask questions of everybody. But do you know how many other apps and services we’ve abandoned?
At the end of the day, there’s still no escaping email.
We could try encouraging a culture of shorter emails, but that’s a big social shift that takes time. (Hmmm... Maybe I should change my desktop Outlook email signature so that it says “Sent from my iPhone” for when I don’t want to go through unnecessary formalities?)
What we can change
There is hope for email, and in comes in the form of modern enterprise file sync and share (EFSS) and collaborative document editing. It’s great—personally, I almost never send attachments anymore.
Instead of attaching files to share content, I send Dropbox links. There are no more attachment size limits, full mailboxes, or lengthy uploads, and I don’t clog up the recipients’ inboxes, either. I'm mentioning Dropbox in this example because that's what we happen to use, but of course most other EFSS products provide similar features, with more enterprise-oriented capabilities, too. If you’re looking at EFSS to mobilize your file access, all this is an extra bonus that can make a difference everywhere—not just on mobile devices.
For collaborative document editing, we use Google Docs. No more sending back files that are named something like “Document_final_edits_version_3_Jack_edits_copy_final_final.docx.” We could just as easily do with with Office365, too. Who wouldn’t want to streamline that?
Again, much of the time I’ll still use email to send a document link or to ping a colleague to let them know that a document is ready for their edits. All this email usage isn’t going away. But EFSS and collaborative document editing can have a real chance of making it easier.