Email is broken (part II)


Further expanding on a point raised last year, today I received an email the had the following disclaimer in the .sig.

Note: Because of the high volume of spam we receive, legitimate e-mail is sometimes mistakenly filtered. If you send a message and don’t receive a reply, please try the telephone.

The IT press has been writing about the problems with email for some time now but this notice really brought it home to me. What this is saying is that if you can’t reach this person or do not receive a response, hail me on a technology that was invented 100 years ago.

This gives me a chance to segue into some email anecdotes that we’ve been using around the office just to illustrate the current frustrations with email as a business communications tool.

1. Anyone under 30 has only known broken email. Most of the folks hitting the workplace these days have grown up using IM, Skype, and blogs to communicate. Email is viewed as an outmoded technology to get receipts from Amazon and stuff.

2. 10 – 20% of your email volume may be better suited for a blog. For those of you that think you’ll never have enough time to blog, take a look at your Sent Messages box someday and count the number of messages you send in a day. I guarantee that a good percentage of them would have been better suited for either an intranet company blog or external work or personal blog. Responses to your posts will be there for others to see and learn from and the posts will be indexed and archived for quick future reference. Anytime you write an email where you wouldn’t mind adding “cc: the world” – then you should be thinking about a blog post.

3. If you address and email to ten people. . . there are 2 that got it that didn’t want it, 2 more that got it, threw it away, than later regretted it, and 2 more that didn’t get it but wished they did. This is Anil’s favorite anecdote and I use it quite often. The mere act of addressing an email asks you to define a circle of trust (to borrow a phrase from Robert DeNiro’s character the movie, Meet the Focker’s). This sets up barriers to communication and we all know it’s uncool to cc:all on something. Email is great for the point-to-point exchange of information but it really breaks down when used for group collaboration.

Father of Web 2.0 planning on move to SF. Bringing wife and kids too.

Richard MacManus, widely hailed as the Father of Web 2.0 is pulling up stakes in New Zealand and coming to San Francisco. First to attend the conference named after him (wink to John Battelle), then to look for work that will allow him to live here year ’round and participate firsthand in all this wonderful Web as a platform discussion that, to a large extent, seems to be bubbling up on a regular basis in the San Francisco area. Just goes to show you that despite the promise of the internet to enable tribes to gather regardless of space & time, nothing beats the quality and throughput of a face-to-face interaction.

Richard is tired at looking at things from a distance and is jumping in with both feet (just as I did, almost a year ago). His inspiration was Steve Job’s recent commencement speech at Stanford.


Yahoo hoovers the dark web

Big news. Yahoo has quietly launched a beta service which allows you to use the Yahoo engine to search content that normally sits disaggregated behind proprietary subscription walls. Some of you may recall the old Northern Light service which attempted to do the same but never was able to convince the larger aggregators to play. KeepMedia tried the same model and hoped to use the clout of the Borders Books brand to bring the magazine publishers directly to the table but has since faded from view. When I last talked to representatives from KeepMedia, they were more interested in the potential of their service as a place to sell targeted ad inventory.

This time it seems that the attractiveness of Yahoo’s collective query traffic was just too good to resist and they currently offer a unified search box for the FT, WSJ Online, Forrester, and more. Yahoo Search Blog says that the big aggregators Factiva, Gale, and Lexis-Nexis are on the way in the coming weeks as well. The Factiva and Gale collections have been open to non-subscriber queries for some time now via the Microsoft Office 2003 Marketplace but because it was hidden away in a little Research Pane off of Office 2003, it never had a chance to test the Free Search > Become a Subscriber to Read the Article, model at scale. Yahoo will now test that model in spades.

Don’t misunderstand me. Yahoo Subscriptions will never replace the power and benefit of the specialized search interfaces that aggregators such as Factiva have built for their core customers. But Yahoo will introduce a whole new class of customers to the value of searchable, archived publications that have, to date, been mostly limited to the Information Professional.

Gary Price brings up a good point and asks what will happen when a unified search of premium content and free web content presents the stark economic contrast of the $2.95/article vs. free on the web side by side in the same search results. Look for intense downward pressure between all three main aggregators as they fight to offer the most compelling package to attract these new subscribers. The New York Times already fired the first shot with their TimesSelect plan. The one vendor that can offer both the NY Times and WSJ as well as the rest of their collection for the best price will lock in the lion’s share of the revenue from the Yahoo channel. This price war will be great for the consumer but rip shreds from the margins of the aggregators as they try and come up with the most attractive pricing.

You can be sure that Google will follow in Yahoo’s footsteps soon enough (while huming "anything you can do, I can do better") and maybe even MSN and Ask will play the game once the model has been established. All this activity is going to expose the aggregators to the full force of the wild and fickle world of internet consumer business models in which they have little experience.

Right now it’s a dead heat between Factiva, LexisNexis, or Gale to win the race to be the primary benefactor of Yahoo’s consumer search engine traffic. My guess is that the winner will be the vendor that can offer the most comprehensive collection of content (unfortunately, meta-data is irrelevant for the keyword searches coming from the typical Yahoo searcher) with a subscription model that is both economically attractive and easy to purchase.

Some things that will quickly put one of these vendors in the lead are:

– integration with all major credit cards and PayPal. Bonus if you can tap into Yahoo’s Small Business billing system.
– persistent URLs that allow bloggers to point to specific articles deep within the database. 
– a sense of community. Build in screens to entice subscribers login and see things such as the most popular (linked and viewed) articles and other exclusive features.
– strong relationships with content providers that allow flexibility with pricing. It will take some time to settle on a model that works for the consumer and is sustainable for both the aggregator and publisher.

The race is on. May the vendor with the longest tail win!

Additional commentary by:
John Battelle
Paid Content
Steve Goldstein, CEO of Alacra
John Blossom