Jeff Barr's Blog

Things I Like..

Towards a Future Without Email

I am starting to think that there may be such a thing as a post-email era, a time when we have forgotten about the entire concept of an Inbox, when there’s no such thing as catching up, and when more of our time and energy can be used in a more productive fashion.

I’m going to point out some example applications below that may help us move in the right direction. Being the web services guy that I am, I know I’m supposed to think about protocols and standards, not about applications. That’s fine, and we’ll get there. Use the app, enjoy its benefits, and persuade the developer to open up.

I really like Twitter. The short message box forces me to be brief. I don’t waste time on formatting. I don’t scroll back through days of unread messages to see what my friends have been up to. I don’t catch up, I simply dip a straw into the event stream and take a sip whenever I feel like it. I’ll officially declare here that you should be able to get my attention via Twitter and that I consider it a valid form of business communication. Use the “@” convention to point out things to me that you want me to know, or send me a direct message as a last resort (those are kind of like email).

I love the concept of Renkoo. I say that I love the concept only because I have yet to use it to actually schedule an event. As they say, negotiating the when and where to meet is such as hassle. I would love to have a semi-public calendar (with internal stuff simply labeled as busy) that outside people could simply schedule against, up to some configurable percentage of my time. I’ve got multiple meeting requests in my Inbox now. For each one I have to find some open slots on my calendar, reply with some candidate times, wait for the answer, and finally add the meeting. Lots of overhead, perhaps 15 minutes of work for a 1 hour meeting. If I travel to some interesting city I would like to do the same thing — leave the basics blocked off and have the people who want to meet with me simply book it themselves. Clearly there are all sorts of logistical issues to be solved, but that’s doable. Trust me that putting the schedule together for my trip to Utah was a lot of work. I’m sure that I would end up with a very random meeting or two, but that’s ok. Again, to be explicit, please feel free to book a meeting with me using Renkoo.

Going even further in this requester-powered calendaring model is the demand system found at Eventful. I get emails all the time with topics like “When are you coming to Springfield? We’ve got a bunch of Ruby guys here and they really want to hear from you!” Why not let them simply create the demand, package it up, and then let my team and I build a trip around it using the semi-public calendar? That would be cool, and we’d know that we’re reaching the right spots. Of course, if anyone wants to create demand for a talk from an Amazon Web Services Evangelist on Eventful, please go ahead and feel free to do so. Per the above, Twitter me so that I know its up there, of course!

All of these solutions definitely require the participants to give up a bit of control and a bit of privacy. In return you presumably spend less time in your Inbox and end up spending your time in more productive ways.

I lose some control of my calendar, but presumably end up doing what the community wants me to do the most. That seems like a good tradeoff. I’m sharing a bit more of my identity and my itinerary, which could be an issue if I was a celebrity. So far I don’t have any SOAP Groupies or XML Stalkers. It seems to be that opening up in this way tells your contacts that you trust them to make good use of your time and your identity. In my experience, trust is almost always rewarded in kind, so that also seems like a good tradeoff.

Taking trust even further, what if I had a little fan club social network (hey, if I get Groupies I can have a fan club too, right?) and the fan club were overt participants in the scheduling process, with some say in the approval of proposed events and meetings? If I could trust them to look out for my best interests they would probably add some richness to the finished product, and I would do the same for them. How many times have you recounted to a friend a visit you took to a particular place and they said “If I’d known you were going I would have had you meet with my friend Krusty?” This would all be done in some lightweight, informal sort of way.

How does this sound?

As an immediate, actionable takeaway, please do consider using these new tools — Twitter, Renkoo, and Eventful — to get my attention and my time. If they don’t work as expected, please don’t hesitate to send me an email (read the Jeff Barr FAQ first, of course).