If it wasn't for other people, I'd get some work done

4 August 2005

Email overload is worrying a lot of people, not least the people that run Microsoft. It is even being used to drive the direction in which Office is being pushed, according to comments made at the company's recent shindig with financial analysts. At the meeting, Chris Capossela said the company is concerned about emailing eating into sleep time and that the company is doing something about it. Exactly what is unclear, but it's probably got an orange logo and is spelt R.S.S.

Having helped to make people permanently contactable, Joe Wilcox of Jupiter Research pointed out that more whizzy new communications technology is not going to solve the problem and that helping to separate work life from home life is something that companies should focus on.

I've got a great email productivity tip: don't read it. Or, if you are Bill Gates, get someone else to do the reading for you.

However, ignoring things only works for certain classes of email. If it's really important (or rather someone else thinks it's really important) whoever sent you that email is going to ring you, or IM you, or Skype you. Tomorrow they may load the personalised RSS feed they created for you with messages screaming: "WHY ARE YOU IGNORING MY EMAILS???" Changing communications formats is not going to help the situation all that much. And adding new formats is probably going to make matters worse before it gets better.

Tom Foremski pointed out that there are now too many conversations he wants to have. Blogging has meant we can talk to many people simultaneously but with none of them overhearing each other, except after the fact. And only if they go looking. So, it looks like RSS is not the weapon the email-overloaded need. It's just the CC email born again.

Last week, we saw poor Robert Scoble beating out the flames around the bush fires his spat with The Register's Andrew Orlowski ignited. Unfortunately, he seemed to be using a petrol-tipped beater as the more he pleaded his innocence of sending an email, the more some people doubted him. So, he posted more and more comments before finally taking a break and perhaps realising that possessing proof of something is not the same as being able to demonstrate it to someone else who cannot see it. It was perhaps the counter-example that his blog-book with Shel Israel, Naked Conversations needs rather than being one of the examples of how blogging can help extinguish negative publicity that the current draft contains.

Other blog-related conversations are going to be more enjoyable than Scoble's recent and unfortunate experience. But they all take up time.

In most jobs, you can't do without other people. It certainly doesn't work well for journalism. Obtaining stories does tend to involve talking to people in whatever form they like unlike you like subbing press releases. And I have yet to meet anybody who really enjoys subbing press releases. But there are going to be conversations we have to ignore, if only to make sure we get enough sleep. Holding the conversation in RSS or some other form of XML isn't going to do that job.