Needed: A New Generation of Unified Messaging Software
The conference was all social this and social that...not surprising given IBM's wholehearted embrace of social networking as the defining quality of its collaboration and communications software strategy. In one of the keynotes, social software VP Jeff Schick teased the audience with some details about "Connections Next," the refreshingly straightforward name for the next version of IBM's enterprise social networking software. Connections Next, as Eric noted in his blog, will be able to display Notes (and Microsoft Exchange) email messages via a dropdown menu within the activity stream. This builds on existing integration that allows Connections activities, blogs, bookmarks, and so forth to appear within the Notes client. And an upcoming "social edition" of Notes and Domino will include "embedded experiences" that bring the Connections activity screen front and center in the Notes home page, rather than having it comparatively buried behind a set of drop down menus. Other apps (not just Connections) will be able to be embedded into the new Notes user interface. And iNotes, the web version of Lotus Notes, will also support embedded apps--Connections or otherwise.
Screen shot of Lotus Notes Social Edition. Connections activity stream appears in the same UI where corporate email is accessed.
This will not necessarily be less of a burden for IT, which will still need to support separate email and enterprise social networking apps, assuming both options are made available to end users. Nor will it be much of a relief to CIOs, who will need to pay for both apps. But it could greatly help end users finding unfamiliar collaboration technology foisted upon them. "A lot of people are comfortable of living in their email environments," IBM's Alistair Rennie said, clearly referring to my generation for which email has been the preferred means of both casual and formal text-based business communications for their entire careers. Allowing me to access social networking and other applications from within my email interface is likely to raise my comfort level in using new forms of collaboration apps. Likewise, embedding email within social networking applications like Connections will help facilitate its usage by younger employees for whom email is as passé a way of communicating as fax.
I'd like to be convinced that enterprise social networking is a phenomenon, not just a fad. But I'm not and won't be until we see widespread adoption, not just the odd case study. I am convinced, though, that messaging desperately needs to change. The emergence of texting, instant messaging, microblogging, activity streams, discussion forums, and other text-based forms of corporate communications is evidence that workers are seeking--and readily finding--alternatives to tried and true, yet misused and overused corporate email. A new generation of unified messaging applications is needed to make them all available from a common set of user interfaces, and hopefully with a common back end and management framework. It is likely to be a long, messy transition away from email. But the morass that corporate messaging is in today cannot continue indefinitely.
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