CASE STUDY No.8
Why we hate e-mail
Once a time-saver, the inbox has become a burden. That's why boldentrepreneurs stand to get rich fixing it, writes Business 2.0 columnist Om Malik.By Om Malik, Business 2.0 Magazine columnistJuly 2 2007: 1:10 PM EDT
Business 2.0 Magazine) -- E-mail, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing! But itwasn't always so. A lifetime ago, I signed up for CompuServe and received myfirst exposure to electronic messaging. My reaction: Cool. Now I don't have to callpeople and leave voice-mail. Zapping information back and forth at the speed oflight will be a big productivity boost.
How naive I was. E-mail became the Internet's first killer app -- and therein liesthe problem. As software goes, e-mail is almost socialist: From each according tohis ability, to each whether or not he needs it.
-mail ought to be reinvented to meet the needs of our always-connected lives.Startups like Xobni are trying to make e-mail inboxes easier to handle, but theyjust don't go far enough. What they're doing is akin to giving a New Yorktenement building a makeover by putting on a new facade but not getting rid ofthe termites and roaches.
10 ways to get a grip on your e-mailThat means there's still a mega-opportunity to reinvent the entire medium. Howbig? According to the Radicati Group, a market research firm, there are about 1.2billion e-mail users and 1.8 billion active e-mail accounts worldwide. And in muchof Asia and Latin America, Internet usage is still low. When those people showup in full force, e-mail traffic is going to increase exponentially.And yet, e-mail sucks. If you're like me, you spend hours of your valuable timeseparating the wheat from the chaff. My first cup of coffee is cold by the time I'veeven scanned my inbox. Some people, like venture capitalist Fred Wilson, havedeclared "e-mail bankruptcy": the complete inability to keep up with messages,followed by mass deletion and a plea for legitimate correspondents to send newones.
That even the most tech-savvy among us are unable to cope indicates anunderlying problem: E-mail has become a crutch, a way of passing the buck.Want to make an appointment? That's 10 messages back and forth. Then thereare corporate updates, birthday announcements, forwarded jokes, and (if you'reme) the occasional amorous ditty.
How David Allen mastered getting things done
Here's where e-mail's socialism turns from strength to weakness: It doesn'tmatter if the message comes from a spammer hawking Viagra, your wife askingyou to pick up some wine, your boss telling the company that Monday is aholiday, or a client asking for a meeting at his office at 11 a.m. In today's inboxes, all e-mail messages are equal.
In reality, of course, some are more equal than others. Spam, alerts, andcalendar items all need to be treated separately. A smart inbox would -- all in oneinterface -- catch spam in junk filters, display the wine reminder in an IM, movecompany news to an RSS feed, and intelligently negotiate appointment requests
with your calendar in the background.All these technologies exist -- it's just a matter of pulling them together. Thepayoff could be huge. If Google (Charts, Fortune 500), Microsoft (Charts, Fortune500), and Yahoo (Charts, Fortune 500) aren't up to the challenge, I'm sure one ofyou is brave enough to try. I'll gladly be among the first to sign up for the betatest. Just don't send me an e-mail about it.
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