Thinking more about Facebook and social networks and e-mail

Whenever I get the chance, I talk to people about just how they use Facebook as part of their day-to-day business. Today it was my sister Jayapriya’s turn. She runs a literary agency out of India and China and Singapore and a few other places, and was in town for the book far.

She described how she meets publishers, converses with them, forwards manuscripts where relevant and completes contractual negotiations, all on Facebook.

And something about the way she said all this made me realise something for the first time. It’s pretty obvious. It’s very obvious. But I missed it. Completely.

And that is this:

When people converse on Facebook, they connect with each other. Not with intermediaries. No PAs or EAs or ESs or whatever.

Up till now, enterprise mail has always been all about mailing lists and distribution lists and blind copies and carbon copies. As it matured, enterprise mail became all about Office attachments, particularly spreadsheets and presentations and documents. 

And I hated it. So not fit for purpose. [Or, to put it another way: Fit for a purpose I wanted no part of: Fit mainly for office politics and intrigue].

A few weeks ago, I mused about the lack of a Forward button on Facebook, and how refreshing that was. The implications of not having a cc button or bc button  or Office attachments. The implications of having Record Video and Share Link and Add Music/Video.

But I missed this key difference. The disintermediation of the enterprise protective barrier. I need to think about it some more, try and see just how people work differently as a result.

What I see so far is intriguing. I see that Facebook mail is all about between-enterprises rather than within-the-enterprise. Between-enterprise mail is largely about business and rarely about politics. Within-enterprise mail is often about politics. 

I wonder. Comments anyone. Stowe, your input will be appreciated, given your unrequited and yearning love for e-mail.

14 thoughts on “Thinking more about Facebook and social networks and e-mail”

  1. Curiously, I just deleted my Facebook account. FB mail might be interesting but the rest of it is way too noisy. You could look at wiki as the way to go for both internal and external communications? But then you’ve already done that one JP So how about having an entirely different form of workspace rather than restrict to email. I’d recommend checking out Jive Clearspace. Good things happening with those folk. (IMO)

  2. Part of what makes Facebook work across enterprises is it is new. That wont last. Part of it is fragmenting modalities, that will continue. Part of it is the trend towards the personal, but socially connected, and you know where that is going. Make things trend towards the transparent and you gain serendipitous discovery, and memory.

  3. But i guess..networking sites like facebook..if taken seriously can bring about a dramatic change in the appearance of the society.
    I just came across one such group on facebook and i got to the positive effects of these applications..these are the highlights of the group:

    Be the first generation to end poverty by 2015 with the United Nations’ Eight Goal Millennium Campaign.

    1. End Hunger
    2. Universal Education
    3. Gender Equity
    4. Child Health
    5. Maternal Health
    6. Combat HIV/AIDS
    7. Environmental Sustainability
    8. Global Partnership

  4. As I see it, the main benefits of Facebook mail over traditional email are that (a) it’s less popular, so there is less volume, and (b) you only receive mail from people you’ve friended, so no spam and more quality.

    But if Facebook mail becomes popular, it would end up being blighted by the volume problem that blights email. Those with little time who receive too much Facebook mail would still need to hand off the triage role to someone with more time on their hands. The ‘spam filtering’ is helpful, but this limits the medium as you can’t always easily connect with the people you want or need.

    I can see how those with huge amounts of email can see the benefit of Facebook mail (for the time being at least), but the filtering process is a bit ham-fisted at the moment. I’m sure this will improve with time though.

  5. Your sister is right, but I don’t think the “personal touch” is unique to Facebook and would agree with Dennis that other elements of the formal online social networks tend to overwhelm it. It seems to me that you’re musing about an attitudinal thing rather than a technical one.

    People can choose to use communication tools in a political and arse covering way or they can choose to use them more openly and personally. Within business email environments, the former is most prevalent, within blogs and other web 2.0 manifestations, the latter seems more possible and, indeed, expected.

  6. The one thing that email has that these other sites don’t (yet) is the ability to work offline. For environments where people are out and about with laptops all day and unreliable connections to the internet, email is still going to be king. But I still hate email: I get too much, it’s time consuming to keep on top of it all, and too much is of no value to me.

    Can yous see BT doing email-free days like: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/7049275.stm

  7. I’m sort of on Dennis’ side here – I still have my Facebook account, and I see the same possibilities that you do, JP, but I’m not convinced that Facebook as it currently stands is going to deliver on those possibilities. I do think that some derivative/evolution of Facebook may do – maybe even Facebook itself if it can move beyond the triviality of most of its apps (I’m not decrying the role these apps play as social objects which draw people together, but I would like to start seeing more “useful” apps as well).

    The “privacy” of Facebook is lauded as one of its attractions, but it is still privacy controlled by Facebook, not by us, so it fails me as a store of my attention/intention because I don’t control the application of that data, Facebook does. I have some coarse-grained control over who Facebook will allow to see it, but I can’t prevent Facebook itself making use of it.

    I’m playing a bit with Clearspace – it’s ‘behind the firewall’ or externally hosted … I’m looking at an internal implementation – will let you know how I get along.

  8. I think we are just beginning to realize a way out of the dehumanizing corporate email framework (prison) that we have built, and that FB flattens that somewhat. A soc. networking ‘interaction’ feels different on a human level than an ‘electronic communication’ by email. It focuses on a person’s self-stated likes & photo, not just a signature title. Someone rightly called email the ‘serial killer app.’ Email is not for every type of message. Evolution is evident, but takes time!

  9. JP, another point to note is that beyond the point-to-point communication (like email or LinkedIn’s In-mail), Facebook also allows you to navigate a space (groups, friends, work colleagues, etc).

    So when used as a business tool, social networks add another dimension to interactions both internally and with authenticated and reliable outside partners, customers or alumni.

  10. I think my comments on this thread got lost when you had to restore the blog! I’ll try and summarise as I recall my last post on the subject was a little long.

    a) there are different types of written communication pattern each with differing timeliness, retention, formality, reliability, audience reach, presence and privacy requirements
    b) given (a) you need a tool (or set of tools) that support the different patterns

    In companies, its often the case that you only have email, so all non-verbal communciation is forced down a single pipe. You innediately see the difference introducing chat / IM to an organisation makes; it takes away email traffic as people split over the 2 pipes.

    I dont see facebook as that revolutionary it just happens to support 3 or 4 different communication styles and tells me when my friends are online (presence) so i can pick the best style.

    My friends are still a function of who I am not what tool I use. In the same way, the telephone network is not a place I go its a place that provides the infrastructure to communicate.

    Ultimately I think this means all the social networks will eventually fade into the background and we’ll have a set of tools on whatever device were on that facilitate communication on that infrastructure without us being aware of it and the walled gardens go away.

    Based on: my context (locations, patience, network acess, online / offline, device constraints such as size) AND the context of the person or people I want to communicate with AND the type of communication (fire and forget, guaranteed delivery, retention period, formality, length) AND the audience size a selection of tools will facilitate and we’ll move seamlessly between them.

    Sometimes the tools will help us decide, sometimes we’ll pick. You can already see this with twitter where you can opt for we, destop client or sms as your interface depending on your context.

    Imagine that extrapolated across each available channel style and I think thats where we’ll be.

  11. One of Web 2.0/Facebook’s “tipping point” factors no one’s mentioned yet is that the social context around it is that one is not expected to read everything. I talk with Boomer execs all the time whose mothers all told them to “finish all the food on their plates” and “answer every email,” so they bring this to Web 2.0. But the Web 2.0 context is that it’s a river out of which we drink when we can. Even better, everything’s architected so that, if I catch something that’s part of a larger convo, one of my friends will be talking about it. I hit hotlinks and come up to speed very quickly. Email is terrible at this; it’s so linear. The new social context plus the links make Web 2.0 comms far more efficient and less onerous. Boomers need to get the social context, that it’s okay not to read everything, trust the crowd, etc. Cheers

Let me know what you think