Some Reflections on the “Post-Email World”

Dave Winer‘s been preparing the launch of his new “instant outliner“. A couple of years ago, I participated in a Userland beta test where the first version of an instant outliner was available — and it provided me some truly new insights into real-time collaboration.

The key difference, for me anyway, was that Dave’s instant outliner had this special property of persistence, unlike instant messaging or email. By that I mean that I could be collaborating with others and both the real-time and, importantly, the “final” result would be visible to all. Indeed, that’s something that’s very difficult (impossible?) to achieve with IM or email!

It was also my experience that the “final” result was never really final, it just kept evolving. I might think the outline was final — but one of my collaborators might have a new tweak and make an improvement that we all could share.

Somewhere along the way, I read Ray Ozzie’s post about the “post-email world” and posted about it. Also along the way my partners and I adopted Ozzie’s Groove — as it turns out our use has largely been for an elegant solution to server-less file sharing. Ironically, an early version of Groove actually had a shared outliner built-in — but it was dropped in a release upgrade cycle somewhere along the way.

I was reminded about the “post-email world” notion today while reading an interview in Fortune of Gates and Ozzie in which they both talked about a post-email world. Unfortunately, the article’s mostly behind a subscription wall. (By the way, I keep an AOL account around for this among a couple of other silly purposes. It was the only aspect of the AOL/Time Warner “merger” that made sense to me — and probably about 56 others in the online world like me).

Anyway, here’s a key quote from that interview, Ray Ozzie speaking:

E-mail has become a victim of its own success. Whereas initially it might have been used to communicate a simple thought or a message from place to place, today people are using it to manage entire projects and teams. Funneling messages in chronological order into an in-box is not necessarily the best model for dealing with different projects, different teams, different issues, while other unrelated things get intermixed with those. You have no sense of the priorities.

That’s what instant outlining is all about — get a team to lift their heads out of their email in-box and focus on the end objectives (shared and agreed objectives indeed!).

I hope Dave has a big hit on his hands with his new instant outliner. Based on my experience, it’s truly a new way to collaborate — and one totally missing from the current tools. Not even wiki’s come close. But some of us need more. Instant outlining is necessary, but not sufficient.

Oh, while we still use Groove (some us using it via Virtual PC on Mac OS X), we’re now much hungrier for a true cross-platform server-less file sharing solution. We don’t use the rest of Groove’s fancier tools — file sharing (and, ideally, content-based searching ala Tiger’s Spotlight) is what we need. Frankly, Groove’s recent acquisition by Microsoft was a total turn off — at least for us Mac OS X fanactics! Maybe there’s a future for a BitTorrent-based small group cross-platform server-less file sharing collaboration tool? One that’s got the shared space granularity of Groove. Send me an
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