May Contain Blueberries

the sometimes journal of Jeremy Beker

Enough……’re going to run out of colors!

Now, I am an introvert by nature and I am a huge fan of email for communication. It allows one to think about what you want to say, find the best prose to convey your message, and for those of us not always eloquent, we can seem better than we are. But, email is an abused medium; a tool which is used to bash in every nail in sight.

Email evolved from the letter. And a letter is a wonderful point to point communications technology, whether in paper or electrons. It is the best way to convey a complicated set of ideas from one person to another. But once people had email they got the freedom to turn that point to point communications mechanism into a one to many tool. Or, even worse, into a collaborative, many to many communications tool. And email stinks at that.

The quote at the head came from an email chain between 7 people trying to collaboratively discuss a coding strategy while maintaining original author identity through the use of colors. It looked like a color blind person trying to make a rainbow. Email was the wrong tool for the job. They should have considered a wiki page, a Google document, or anything with version control. The person who made the observation in jest was a very brave person (it wasn’t me, I had already tuned out because of the riot of colors).

When to use email:

  • When you are communicating a message to one other person

When not to use email:

  • When you are having a conversation with a group of people. Have a meeting (online or offline)
  • When you are working on a collaborative object. Use version control, or a wiki, or a Google doc
  • When you are making an announcement to many people. Use a website (preferably with an RSS feed so people know when it is updated.)
  • When you are just sending a document. Use online storage

I am hardly a saint on following these rules, but I think if we all try a little harder, we can help make email a little bit more useful for everyone again.