Some say email is over and done. Others say it's the platform of the future. IBM says put email into context — into the activity stream.
For the Love of Email
According to Ed Brill, Director, Messaging and Collaboration, IBM Lotus software, email is starting to morph back into what it used to be — personal and relevant. It's not there yet, but IBM is seeing the change and how it will happen.
Email is considered a productivity tool, but as Brill clearly says, it's not exactly productive. The advent of mobile/tablet access has only made it worse. For whatever reason, we all feel this need to read every email that comes through our inbox, and we usually dread it, because half of what we look at is not relevant to what we need to be doing. As Brill says, "we need to get away from slogging through it".
Building the Activity Stream
And how do we do that? IBM is looking at the activity stream as the answer. We all know what an activity stream is. It's a real-time feed of various events that happen in the workplace. That could be changes to documents, status messages from users and so on. It's one of the most talked about features of social software today.
IBM says we need to move the content out of our inbox and into the activity stream too. Not everything, because that would be a nightmare and a waste of time. But only those emails that are relevant to the work we are doing, things that are actionable by us.
Look at it this way. You don't read every tweet running through your Twitter feed, you don't read every item in your RSS feed. We have learned to apply selective lenses to find the things that are relevant. That, says Brill, is what we need to do with our email — apply a selective lens.
The Activity Stream is the App
But IBM doesn't think we should live in our collaboration tools. The activity stream will be the app Brill told us — on the desktop, on the mobile, in the browser. Imagine getting up in the morning, opening Activity Stream app on the mobile and seeing what's important to do that day/right now.
Of course Brill says, then everything that comes into that activity stream from your email is actionable by you. So you have to pay more attention.
And that is what IBM's research team is working on. Pulling email in the activity stream within Lotus Connections and over the next year or so, LotusLive/Notes. There are social analytics in play here, including capabilities from Cognos.
IBM is also implementing OpenSocial Gadgets and a REST API. All of that, along with the features of Lotus 8 will support this new activity stream. There is also some work happening with design partners on how the stream should be implemented, especially the mobile interface. Will we see native apps or rich web apps? Brill says it's likely to be a combination because each of the major mobile players is very different.
Now, not everyone is going to agree with this view of email and how it's used, or if it has a place in the activity stream. In fact many say the activity stream is already over run with information and is becoming next to useless. But if we could have an activity stream that is smart and learns based on what we look at in it, click on, etc., it might be a pretty useful app. What do you think?