Sunday, November 28, 2010

You've got mail

E-mail in notes by dampeebe, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  dampeebe 

 Whilst teenagers seem to have completely rejected it, good old e-mail still dominates as the most common means of communication for those of us on the mature side of 30. I've been trying to use other solutions for activities that e-mail is simply very poor at: arranging meetings, group work, projects, longer discussions. Although I now use a wide range of social media that have enabled me to network and collaborate like never before, I find that I can never completely escape the gravitational pull of e-mail that repeatedly drags me back screaming into its time-consuming clutches.

Arranging meetings is one of my least favourite tasks (I suspect I've written about this in a previous post). There are two excellent and easy-to-use tools to arrange a meeting without sending dozens of e-mails; Doodle and Meeting Wizard. The only snag is colleagues who have very efficient firewalls that see e-mail from a source like Meeting Wizard as spam and therefore block it. The result is that you don't get a reply from one or more of your target group and in the end have to start the e-mail carousel to ensure that all are on board. The other danger is that someone in your group simply ignores or trashes the message from an unknown source without even reading it, assuming it to be advertising. In the end I revert to clumsy e-mail exchanges just to make sure everyone gets the message.

I work in many groups and have tried to get the group to use some kind of forum or social network so that all communication takes place there and not by e-mail. I've used Learning Management Systems like Moodle or its Learning as well as more open solutions like Ning, Groups and Google Groups. The key issue is that everyone in the group is equally enthusiastic about the group site. Often it's yet another network that requires yet another user ID and password and, snce you already belong to too many, it's easy to forget. The trouble is that if even one of your group finds the group site inconvenient for some reason you soon have to revert to the common denominator of e-mail to get your message out to the whole group.

When I'm the one who creates the group site I can't understand why anyone would find it complicated. On the other hand I'll admit to getting stuck with group sites that someone else has created. Just recently I had trouble with a WordPress site where I was registered under a new WordPress identity which conflicted with a previous WordPress identity. Whenever I tried to log in, my computer automatically went to the old identity and I couldn't access the site I wanted. I've had similar trouble with multiple identities in Google.Sometimes you can simply have too many identities.

E-mail is a messy solution for many types of communication but it is taking longer than I thought to wean myself off it.

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