How Long is email Going to Continue Destroying Our Productivity?

Six years I published a short thought piece called “Is email the Killer App – or the App to Kill?).

I suggested there that:

. . . for all its ease of use and low cost, email is clearly a good news/bad news phenomenon. In many respects email creates as many problems as it solves, and it may just be the wrong model for the kind of distributed but collaborative work (and life) that most of us lead today.


The more fundamental challenge is that email really works best as a one-time point-to-point communication medium (both one-to-one and one-to-many), while most of our communications (of all kinds) are actually events with a larger stream:  part of an ongoing dialogue with one or more individuals.

I was reminded of those perspectives several times over the past week as I read about Google’s announcement of the new Wave platform – and then watched the demo from the I/O conference (caution:  the full video lasts over 120 minutes, but you can get the essence of the concept, including a very impressive demo of Wave in action, in about 15 minutes).

It’s a very impressive new product, and I’m really looking forward to getting my hands on it, as are many of my friends and professional colleagues.

I’m sure it will have its own bugs and learning curve, but I’m excited about the possibilities it suggests. The core idea isn’t new, of course; Wave follows the lead of Lotus Notes and Groove, both invented by Ray Ozzie, now at Microsoft.

The basic difference between those platforms and email was highlighted in the Wave demo and described in my 2003 note:   email is essentially the automation or digitization of snail mail – we send something to someone else. With paper, once your message is gone, the person you sent it to has it instead of you. In the digital world, of course, you automatically retain a copy of the message you sent (in your “Sent” folder of course).

With Wave (and its earlier ancestors), everything resides in a central file that is accessible to anyone (with a proper account and password of course) from wherever they are. Instead of information leaving one location and going to another, it remains in one place where it can be viewed and added to by others.

Other analysts  have already thought and written far more about Wave than I have, or can. I found this posting by Tim O’Reilly particularly insightful:  “What Might Email Look Like if it were Invented Today?” (and I was led to that by my friend Jon Husband’s post on the AppGapp blog:  “Tim O’Reilly Dissects Implications of Google Wave . . .“). And I’m sure there’s lots more good analysis already out there.

But regardless of how seriously you are interested in tech stuff like this, pay attention to Google Wave. I’m convinced it’s going to a full-blown tsunami once it gets out into the marketplace.

We may eventually actaully be able to live without email – and that, imho, would be a good thing.

I’m ready to ride the Wave; are you?

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