Email is dead? Hardly. Four reasons why email is ideally suited to bring web 2.0 innovations to the enterprise.

Google’s latest moves to extend Google Voice to a complete phone calling service within Gmail and to pull the plug on Google Wave demonstrate that Gmail has become the centerpiece of Google’s Enterprise 2.0 initiative, with far-reaching implications for email users and the industry. What’s clearer now than ever before is that Web 2.0 pundits got it wrong: email is far from dead.

The De Facto Portal

In fact, email is rapidly becoming the de facto portal for enterprise communication and collaboration. The industry is transforming the email client into an enterprise collaboration interface that aggregates documents, social profiles, activities, team calendars and instant messaging. Google Voice is the latest service built using GMail Contextual Gadgets; others from Google Labs integrate Google Docs and Google Calendars. Third parties such as Gist and Rapportive are quickly jumping on the Gmail bandwagon, bringing Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter social profiles into Gmail.

Microsoft has also gone social with Outlook and its Social Connector, adding a People Pane to the Outlook client to display LinkedIn or Facebook profiles. At the same time, Xobni and Mainsoft added document collaboration and social profiles to Microsoft Outlook and IBM Lotus Notes, the first email client to offer an extensible architecture.

Productivity Troubles

With the rapid proliferation of social networks and enterprise collaboration offerings, the typical enterprise user is now running dozens of web services in a separate browser tabs, with no integration or preservation of context when switching from one service to the other. Research shows that a typical user switches an average 37 times an hour between applications, thus spending less than two minutes without interruption on the same task. This frequent task switching keeps us in a perpetual mental locomotion, which dramatically reduces productivity.

Transforming email into a collaboration console is a pragmatic step toward a better use of Internet services. The email client can host multiple Internet services within a single window and single work context. For example, an email recipient can see the email sender’s profile and latest tweets, and she can immediately contact the sender by phone, chat or SMS. There’s no need to switch applications or cut and paste contact details in a different browser window. The bottom line? More work gets done collaboratively as users communicate instantly using the most appropriate communications tool while maintaining their focus on the task at hand.

4 Reasons Social Email is the Best Approach

I see four main reasons why the social email is a strong candidate to become the new enterprise aggregated interface to the Internet:

  1. Business users spend the majority of their work day within the email client, reading, writing and sending emails, and managing calendar appointments and tasks.
  2. The “Enterprise Social Graph” is stored in your email client. The people you send to, and receive email from, are the people you connect with most in your enterprise social networks; they are your natural connections. This “Enterprise Social Graph” can be used to boost the adoption of enterprise social network, just as Google Buzz harnessed Gmail contacts and emails to create a social network overnight, with 9 million posts in its first 56 hours.
  3. The vast majority of the enterprise documents are shared using email. Documents remain the main object of collaboration within the enterprise, with the majority of document workflows starting with an incoming email message containing an attachment or document link, and ending with another email or instant message containing a link to the updated document.
  4. Modern email clients such as Gmail, Outlook, and Lotus Notes have embraced an extensible architecture enabling third-parties to develop and distribute their own add-ons.

So email is here to stay. With a new social look, it may very well be the best conduit to bring Web 2.0 innovations to the enterprise.

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