Is Email Bad?

The internet is the most wonderful tool of recent history. It’s fun, factual, interesting and full of fascinating creatures. It’s strange and freakish: at the same time useful and useless. I am thankful that it filled my night shifts and unhappy it takes over my time. Thank goodness for the internet.

The internet is the most wonderful tool of recent history. It’s fun, factual, interesting and full of fascinating creatures. It’s strange and freakish: at the same time useful and useless. I am thankful that it filled my night shifts and unhappy it takes over my time. Thank goodness for the internet.

Of all the components that make up the ‘net (Archie, anyone?), email is – probably – the greatest invention. Fast and functional, it has revolutionised my working life. Back in ’93 when I got my first real-world-connected email address, apart from those people in the same office, I knew one other person. Friends of mine couldn’t see the point. However, once I was able to communicate with my Dad in Thailand at a reasonable hour without staying awake to call him – other people saw there may be uses. Then, they connected and suddenly they sent me emails telling me how great it was to be part of this connected-universe.

Now, after six years, I think I may be turning into one of the none-believers. That’s not wholly true but – nevertheless – I’ve decided email is not as great as it could be. Sure the power to communicate is still fantastic and the informal nature is wonderful. The ability to time-shift conversations is useful but it gets in the way of my working day and I haven’t the strength to do anything about it.

If you can’t put a finger on why email doesn’t always work, ask yourself these questions:

  1. How much unrelated junk do you sift through daily?
  2. How many times have you stopped working to answer the “ping” of the email to read some nonsense.
  3. How many times has your concentration been broken by the “You Have Mail” screen?
  4. When did you last get copied in on an email that was only of peripheral interest to your work because somebody felt the need to “share” or “justify”?
  5. How many times have you felt the need to copy people on an email who, if you’d conducted the communication by ‘phone, wouldn’t have been included?
  6. How many times have you been mis-understood because you typed in a hurried, informal manner to somebody who doesn’t see email as less formal?
  7. When you last answered the ‘phone did the caller say, “have you got my mail” and they’d only just sent it?
  8. When you last met a colleague in the corridor did they ask you what you’d thought of their email. When you said you hadn’t got round to reading it, did they look like they’d been snubbed? Did you feel bad for not having read it?

I could go on but my day is like this. I have to get discipline and stop interrupting myself. But I can’t. Ping, here comes another one.

Note: This article is dated 1 November – although the exact date of writing can’t be determined. It was retrieved from the archive and posted in March 2003. See the entry from March 2003 that links.

Elsewhere: Acting Like Rank Amateurs

On the uk-netmarketing mailing list, Stefan asked, “Why do people seem to think it’s acceptable to act like rank amateurs just because it’s online?” It’s a question that increasingly comes up as we’re looking to develop service models for a digital businesses. I’ve been recently asking similar questions both of our ability to serve our customers and of those that service my little piece of business. Technology on its own can not create great customer service; those of us involved in designing and managing that technology have to start with a customer centric view.

On Monday, over on the uk-netmarketing mailing list, Stefan asked, “Why do people seem to think it’s acceptable to act like rank amateurs just because it’s online?” It’s a question that increasingly comes up as we’re looking to develop service models for a digital businesses. I’ve been recently asking similar questions both of our ability to serve our customers and of those that service my little piece of business. Technology on its own can not create great customer service; those of us involved in designing and managing that technology have to start with a customer centric view. Nonetheless, technology should be able to help us deliver better service. I posted a response yesterday:

I’m not sure I’d use the phrase “rank amateurs” but poor service still common in many parts of our industry despite the fact most pitches tell the client how an online presence can help with customer service.

And it’s not just customer service. It’s the service levels we give each other.

You buy a service – be that hosting, mailing list management, stats crunching, ad delivery, product fulfillment, whatever – and in a high number of cases you get plenty of promises and in reality a 9-5 service. Something goes wrong outside those hours and there’s an excuse. And I suspect many of us are guilty.

I used to work in another media environment where 24 hour operation was also the norm. And if something went wrong at 2 in the morning somebody was available – or at least on call – to fix it. In the 3 years I was there we never had a 100% service failure for more than about 2 minutes. Sure, sometimes small elements failed but tried and tested monitoring procedures provided backup so that the customer got 70% of the service.

I find this is not the case with online media. Servers go down at 2 on a Sunday afternoon and it isn’t easy to get somebody in to fix them. Pipe to ISP fails. Sorry they’re in a meeting? Somebody messed up the DNS records last night? Can it wait until Monday? (All 3 responses happened to me in the last 2 weeks) Where’s the backup & redundancy that’s in the initial sales pitch? I find the concept of a Service Level Agreement pretty hard to swallow – I accept things go wrong and I’m not in the game of trying to get compensation for every second over the agreed levels that the service isn’t delivered. However I’m slowly turning that way as it appears to me the only solution to some basic failures where I believe there should be redundant systems etc.

Now it isn’t everybody and as there are more and more online only or online centric businesses then it will get better but there seems to me a great reluctance to accept we need the professional service levels other media already have.

Am I alone with this view/experience?

jon

I genuinely believe we are in a place to change customer service using the web technologies for our customers but we must not forget the service we provide each other. The novelty, if I can use that word, of web-based service delivery should not be excuse for forgetting the lessons learnt elsewhere. If you service sucks your customers will, eventually, go to somebody else.

Update August 2009: Almost ten years since I wrote this and I’ve found it archived online by the good folks at Chinwag.

Around The World

curnow.org may be my place on the web, but I am keen to hear from Curnows around the globe.

curnow.org may be my place on the web, but I am keen to hear from Curnows around the globe. If you are a Curnow, why not drop me a note using the comment form below? I would be interested in knowing anything about the history of the family name so please get in touch.

There are many Curnows who have contacted me and, one day, I may start a directory of sites related to the name. If you are interested in that or would like to submit a site then, again, please drop me an email using the form below.

Please forgive me if it takes a little longer than it should to get back to you – I am trying to keep up with my emails, honestly.

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Did you know that a quick search on Flickr shows up many more Curnows than you would imagine.

Elsewhere: Wayback When

Trying to find some of my earliest work on the internet was an interesting lesson in how we have failed to archive the internet but I did find some references to some early emails I wrote.

Two years ago today I left my colleagues at Satellite Media Services in Lawford Heath, Warwickshire and moved on to IPC where I can be found looking after advertising systems for ybw.com. I left copies of my original web presence on SMS’ servers but sadly they no longer exist. For a side project, I have been trying to determine when I first started building web sites. The Wayback Machine only appears to have an archived version of the SMS site from 1997 but, unfortunately, I don’t appear to have the earlier versions. Wayback does have a copy of the original Independent Radio News site we launched in 1997 but not of the original news audio we were serving for several years before that. If I am not mistaken it was the first real-time news audio service in the UK. Thanks to Deja News (now Google Groups) I can find references to the UK Radio Mailing List that we at SMS took over running in 1996 and one reference to a 1995 request for information about an indirect access service called 1602. It’s a shame those original sites are not archived somewhere. I guess this is a lesson in the transient nature of the web. We need to remember how easily digital history can be erased.

  • Update September 2002: Deja News links updated to Google
  • Update August 2003: Links updated
  • Update June 2009: ex-sms.com link added