Online Ephemera

Darryl Siry writes about a wish for exploding emails in his blog, Marketing 2.0. I started thinking about how very limited our settings are for the email communication channel, and also how rigid the walls are between different types of online communication channels. I started writing about this in a response to his post, and just to be really annoying, I'm going to copy it here:

"You're talking about establishing a set of "types" for email, I think, and the one you describe is the "ephemeral" or perhaps "touchback" email -- yeah, I wish they would just dissolve after a day or so -- I'd put subscriptions that arrive in email in the same type.

LinkedIn has recognized the issue of time value in a communication by offering the sender the option of withdrawing a message -- but you know they're not digging into someone's email inbox to extract a sent message.

It's an information architecture for electronic messages -- you're asking for type-specific features: Dissolve, for instance, or I can add, file or strip attachment or announce yourself in red -- some of these are built in to email clients now, but they're all receiver-set. Your innovation here is to recognize that this is a mature enough medium to drive some standards that we can all agree on and so can set up some new sender-set categories (aside from URGENT and DO NOT FORWARD)that help us all with inbox overload.

My husband teaches this stuff day in and day out so it's a nearby concept for me. Yeah, it's a great idea -- I'm sending you an email and I know because I'm smart that the message is ephemeral and should fade if not read in an hour, so I have that setting on my email client -- and the mail will disappear if not read in that time.

I'm sure there are other useful categories that we can all agree on -- and here's the inevitable question -- Is it technology or training? or a combination? Maybe this is finally the time for the etiquette of electronic messaging.

The messages you describe probably ought to be delivered in an IM type interface, rather than the lockbox of email -- or twitter perhaps. Isn't it time for all our messaging systems to start to integrate with each other based on our communications intentions rather than the type of application interface I happen to have open at the moment?

I send a lot of IMs into email inboxes, and I send messages that should be leaving an audit trail into an IM conversation, just because that's where the conversation started...I think this is a cresting issue."

I'm still thinking about this. I spend some minutes each week explaining to some colleague what Twitter is. I've come to decide that it's just a pipe with a very small diameter -- and you can set up the pipe to send from or receive to a wide variety of -- what? -- sinks? clients? It's so fun because it's like Legos or Hot Wheels tracks or Zoobs. For a while,you can amuse yourself just setting it up and taking it down again. (Reminds me of the ancient Kliban cartoon that was captioned, "Henry could amuse himself for hours with a pencil," and it showed a dazed looking fellow standing up and holding out a pencil for inspection.)

But the concept that sticks in my head is this: we're very hide-bound about the ways things work right now when it comes to communication channels, very conservative.

The phone rings, you answer it. People tell my husband all the time that they'll be fired if they don't answer all their e-mail. (It's probably for a different reason, BTW) I've watched my pre-teen daughter try to juggle tens of IM sessions at the same time, growing increasingly frantic as I hear the dings and the doors. When I looked over her shoulder, every single one of them was dull to the point of absurdity -- to me at least. She did not seem to enjoy the experience much, but she never turned a chat away that I ever saw. You poke me,I answer?

Surely one of the things that will change as we move towards universal instantaneous connection is this one: At some point, the receiver gets to say, "No, Thank You." I think manners is going to have this one turned around: It will be rude to get all snitty when you don't get an immediate reply.

My godmother, Mary, is like that, and I love her very much for her understanding. "Oh, heavens!" She says, "I don't know how you young people manage these days. But do stay in touch."

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