Saturday, June 02, 2007

E-mail: the old medium?

Large groups of people still consider e-mail an innovative and effective way of communication. Just send your message, anytime and any place you want, the reader will receive it at a convenient time form him. However, for more and more reasons one can question whether this is true. As a heavy user I can easily receive more than 50 e-mails a day (spam included), after filtering some 25-30 meaningful messages remain in my Inbox. The first problem is to organise these mails and possible attachments. There is a great risk that an e-mail remains in your inbox for a couple of days and attachments may even be unnoticed. In addition to this (even large) attachments are sent and forwarded in a flash decision, without considering the heavy traffic this will cause and the number of diskspace that is involved. It's good to see that instead of attachments more and more people tend to store a file on a shared networkspace and just refer to it by sending a link, or even better knowing that the system will automatically send a nofication when the file is there or when it is updated. This way the sender can put it on the right place, the receivers can open it or download it to their own computer.

Another reason for writing this post comes from a completely different context. I am in more than one way involved in martial arts: Taekwondo. First, being an active taekwondoka, second being involved as a member of the board, responsible for financial and ICT issues. The latter means maintenance of our website, but also the communication to our members. About 75% of our members is younger than 18 years. That's one of the reasons why we tried to shift from paper-based communication to communication via our website and trough e-mail. The rationale is that young people spend a lot of time on MSN, Skype, Habbo. Hyves, etc. communicating with each other, being on-line, the homo zappiens as Wim Veen would say. Most of the time this communication is synchronous however. When we send out newsflashes by e-mail it's asynchronous. It's remarkable how few responses we get. Of course, newsflashes don't necessarily require an answer, but we have the same situation when we send out explicit questions via e-mail, such as who wants to participate in a tournament that takes places a few weeks from now. The e-mail response is less than 10%, so we have to ask them in person, or send out paper-based invitations. Is it because the e-mails aren't read or because it is considered an old medium? It seems not a standard thing to do, to open your Inbox and see if there are any new messages. Maybe it's too much business like to send out e-mail. Synchronous communication provides a social context, you can also chat about some other things if you like to, whereas e-mail is much more to the point. You want your message to be as clear as possible. In a synchronous chat you can make immediate corrections if you think that the other person didn't understand what you were writing. So, the question is whether there is some sort of communication gap between what we (40+) consider effective and efficient communication and what they (-18) like to receive. Should we be more synchronous, mingle on MSN, use Breeze for group conversations? It's an interesting thought, but maybe a little bit too far for the purposes we like to use our mail correspondence for...


Marcel de Leeuwe said...

Hi Stanley,

Interesting thoughts! I find myself struggling with e-mail sometimes. Like you I'm getting too many mails. And if you don't answer them, it is easy to forget about 'old' e-mails.

More and more I'm using Skype to chat with e.g. project members. It is easy and I'm sure they get the message and I can count on them. With e-mail it is easier to miss the message and when it is a hectic project it is easy to miss the action. For group meetings we are using the free Flashmeeting environment.

For asynchronous communication I'm using Moodle and other things like a CMS or wikispaces.

e-mail is mostly used with more formal contacts (customers).

And of course posting on each other blogs is also a nice way of asynchronous communication with your friends!

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