Does email have a new social future?

Does email have a new social future?

AOL, the internet company that brought us "You've got mail", is hoping that a transformation of the way we organise our emails will help alleviate our collective inbox frustrations - and, of course, rejuvenate its own fortunes in the face of social media trends.

The company launched a product called Alto in beta last week, to provide a better way to manage multiple email accounts and combine notifications from social networks like Facebook and Twitter.

Email overload: A report found the average office worker spends 28 hours a week writing emails and searching for information.

Email overload: A report found the average office worker spends 28 hours a week writing emails and searching for information.

Photo: Michele Mossop

"Many of us have multiple email accounts with which we try to manually filter what kind of mail make it to our inbox," AOL's Josh Ramirez wrote on the company's blog.

"...the vast majority of us simply hold onto everything we get and try to scan visually, or perform multiple searches, until we find what we're looking for."

Currently only open by invitation, Alto supports email services like Gmail, Yahoo, iCloud and AOL, but not Microsoft which has it own social plug-in to Outlook.


Alto's success is hardly guaranteed given the rapid uptake of social media tools in the workplace, in parallel with workers' lasting reliance on email.

A McKinsey Global Institute report in July found the average office worker spends 28 hours a week – or nearly 1500 hours a year - writing emails, searching for information and attempting to collaborate internally.

Business and technology leaders are acutely aware and seriously considering the social business movement - the adoption of open collaborative tools to improve productivity and address issues such as email overload.

The McKinsey's report claimed the use of social media technologies by businesses could cut down email time-wasting and improve worker productivity by 20 to 25 per cent.

Gareth Llewellyn, founder of strategic social communications consultancy Artechulate, is one of many social business advocates who believes social tools will mean changes in the way we communicate at work.

"Internally, social networks are flattening organisations hierarchically as well as knocking down silos; while at the same time increasing knowledge sharing and cross-team collaboration," Llewellyn said. "The outcome is a richer corporate culture and higher levels of productivity."

IBM's social enterprise evangelist Mike Handes, contended email is being relegated to a lesser role in daily communication, being replaced by what he called "activity streams". These are the trains of posts in social tools that are far easier to follow and comprehend than, for example, group emails with several individuals CC'd.

In a new report, analyst firm Ovum said chief executives and senior executives are reluctant to invest in social media becaue they fail to see how it adds value to their overall strategy.

Ovum IT services analyst Margaret Goldberg said enterprise leaders risk falling behind and missing opportunities to reach customers and access strategic information.

However, whilst email may be the bane of many and social advocates hope it fades into the background, the email-less office appears to share a future with the paperless office.

"I think email still has it's place as the corporate standard for many businesses for the while being," said Iggy Pintado, director of solutions and marketing at UXC Connect and author on social media.

"However, as more instant, effective and efficient connection technologies such as social media, text messaging and video gather user momentum and become more pervasive, they will pose a direct threat to the reliance on email for business communication."

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