It's funny when you look back a few years to see just how communications technology has changed - remember when you might have asked (or been asked), "are you on the phone?"... meaning not, "are you using the phone" but "do you have a phone at home"... now we just assume that (pretty much) everyone's got a mobile phone, everyone has internet access and everyone has at least one email account.
Organisational culture has evolved a lot in the last 5-10 years, to the point where a lot of people hide behind email while some try to escalate into other forms of communication as soon as possible. There's one guy at Microsoft who always phones in response to getting an email from me. I tend to enjoy playing cat and mouse by letting the phone drop to voicemail, listening to the message, then emailing him back :)
A lot of us have settled on corporate Instant Messaging as a happy medium, for a number of reasons:
Interestingly enough, John Westworth IM'ed me halfway through my writing this post to ask a question about my mobile device (an SPV M3100). He theorised that he doesn't answer his phone much (more through accident than desire, I should add), and figured that I might be the same... so it would be better to IM instead ...
This led to an idea for some canny Windows Mobile developer to pick up, and make riches from - an AI-like Bozo Filter for the phone. Just think ... it could pick up the Caller ID from an incoming call, figure out if that user is in the Outlook contacts list (or maybe even the GAL) and cross reference with the number of times that individual appears in the Call History (ie have I called this guy before? Has he called me a lot and actually got through?) and in the mail client, then apply a Bozo Confidence Filter (BCL) to the call... which would then allow me to set up rules to decide my preferences for when I will accept calls and from what level of Bozo...
Combine all this with the inherently linear nature of a phone call - it's synchronous, you (generally) can only have one at a time, and they tend to be fairly short. IM conversations can be done in parallel with each other (though make sure you don't type a comment into the wrong window by mistake...) and some may have many rounds of dialogue/response stretching over a reasonable period of time (usually at most a day). Email would suit much more asynchronous communications that might be shared with hundreds of people, stretched over any length of time. Choosing which one to use is increasingly a personal preference, and in future, the choice is increasingly going to be with the recipient rather than the sender. So, when the guy I mentioned earlier picks up the phone to call me and I don't answer, I might receive the call as an IM stream if I'm online and want to take it, rather than dumping straight to Voicemail...
Exciting times, eh?
nice post Ewan. and can i say, nice to see you renew your focus on blogging - you're a good writer. I agree with you on the linear nature of phones. Phones have begun to really annoy me since I finally understood identity management a bit better as I wrote about a while back:
Ewan Dalton over at the Electric Wand has an excellent take on Unified Communications. You really should
Cool idea, Ewan - the concept of a filter that identifies "Hot Contacts" and prioritizes them so that if you're in a real busy state, your filter could decide up front who gets your time,and when.
In fact, why not have the flter decide to turn the call into a return IM, where necessary, and instead of being dropped into voicemail, the caller receives an IM while your phone is ringing.. giving them the option of converting to IM, because you're not in a state at that moment where you can spare "voice time", but you could spare "keyboard time" .. ??
Just a thought.
Thanks Bill: I've circulated your comment and the ideas on this post to some of my buddies in the Unified Communications product groups... let's see if anything comes of it :)
I've been a long-time fan of instant messaging and pervasive "presence", especially the cultural changes