Real Time Communications Featured Article

Rebooting Business Email in RTC Rich World

March 10, 2015

I'm not yet on the "Email is dead" bandwagon, but clearly the current mechanism of electronic communications is in need of revision.   Real Time Communications (RTC) in combination with cloud storage clearly poses an alternative communications to traditional email and explains why Google, Microsoft and others have launched new style clients to cope with the glut of email many of us in the business world get on a daily basis.

Email is great. It is cheap, easy to use, and you can send anything from short messages to large documents and pictures with a click of a button.  Business users are now conditioned to look at email regularly for vital communication, giving the modern world the precursor to real-time communications (RTC) through instant messaging, chat, and presence.

However, email's advantages of being cheap and easy to use have also opened the floodgates to abuse, both benign and malicious.  Spam filters now fight a never-ending battle to keep junk mail out, while people battle daily with an information overload of internal communication, external communication, and unsolicited communication -- with the last potentially holding some value if you can filter through poorly world pitches and presentations.

RTC, by virtue of having an opt-in mechanism by adding someone to a contact list and the ability to ignore/block people, provides a built-in filter.  Individuals are able to build trusted lists of people they can communicate with in real time via instant messaging (IM), voice or video, as well as share files and conduct real time presentations via screen sharing.  

Email isn't going away any anytime soon, but it needs to evolve from the traditional inbox/task list and filtering.   Google's new inbox for email and Microsoft's new Outlook mobile email client based on Acompli both provide enhanced filtering, group-style capabilities, and tweaked user interfaces to enable people to filer and process the traditional flood of mail faster.  The downside is there's still a lot of email and important communication has a greater potential of being lost in the new age set of filters and groupings if users aren't careful.   But since this happens with regular email already, this isn't really a big concern.

Image via Shutterstock

IM has limitations, both technical and social.  People tend to be quick and concise in IM, but you can lose context and quickly offer insult. Email is a longer medium and can force people to slow down and think about what they are saying before they issue a finalized statement -- a key advantage in a Twitter-based world, where the wrong combination of 128 characters or less can cause insult and inflame opinions.   If PowerPoint is bad because it makes presentations too concise, IM is evil because it compresses discussions into quickly thrown soundbytes.

Email should serve as the intermediary form of communication in a RTC world, providing depth, thought, and context to  discussions that shouldn't be conducted in short back-and-forth chunks.  As such, the challenge is to unify email and RTC (yes, gag, another variant of Unified Communications (UC)).

A first step to email RTC unification is a smarter context filtering between RTC-based directories and email.  If someone from an IM chat list or Twitter emails you, there should be a way to reference between the two forms of communication; currently, the functions are siloed apart.  An email from a known-user RTC contact list should get filter priority over anyone while unknown/untrusted inbound email should be cross-referenced with public and internal corporate social and RTC communications.  RTC should be leveraged to provide actionable information about the email sender.

Extending beyond that, the email client can be integrated with the RTC client, enabling users to thread conversations between quick exchanges and more detailed (hopefully more thoughtful) communications to provide depth and context.  There's a place for email in an RTC world, but it is going to require more work to improve email productivity. 

Edited by Maurice Nagle

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