Think inside … or outside the InBox? Mail Next continues the never ending Story

I can’t get it out of my head. While I like what I saw in Scott’s and Kramer’s presentation (and I get more and more the impression Ed’s shoes are probably too small for them), I think we are somehow going in circles.
The Mail Next concept is really cool. No doubt about that. IBM got to the point (already a while ago), where they realized, that users don’t want to get out of their inbox. It is today the epicenter of the work. Bringing the other applications to the inbox, is probably easier, than forcing users to go elsewhere for tasks they always did in the inbox. All very nice. But I fear, the run of the mill user will not „get“ it.
What we have to realize is, that most of us are biased. We like technology. We like to fiddle around with things and I for the matter always used my skills as a developer, to make my life easier. For example, it started in the days with Notes 6. I never used folders because I always ran into the problem, where to put things. Customer? Project? ToDo? Once you moved it from the inbox, it’s gone. It was too much of a hassle to go every time to the all documents view and put the same mail in different folders … tagging for the poor. I knew how that works, the common users do not. I explained it a hundred times to users, nobody grasped the concept. Where I worked then, we made our own views (not folders, views). Customer/sent&received, Sender/send&received, Projects/ … and so on. Tagging for the a bit richer. Many things you don’t find even in the latest and greatest mail client version. Some of these even made it in my contribution for OpenNTF: the OpenNTF Mail Experience German Version and some even used it. But, that’s just us yellow bleeding guys and girls.
Some time ago I wrote about that CFO who was so happy to finally having migrated to Outlook, because now he had tasks. Now stop groaning, the story continues (BTW after two years they still have Domino servers and Notes clients for applications). A bit later I told that story to a group of people, who were just bitching about their email flooding. Nobody laughed. They just asked, what are tasks. If anybody thought just IBM failed at the design of Notes, because the tasks were not easy enough to find and use, surprise, surprise, Microsoft failed, too. It’s not the design of the client, it’s the training of the user.
It’s like driving. If you are required to be able to drive a car for your job, all the employer expects is a driver’s license. You can be the lousiest driver in the world, does not matter, the employer (most) will not send you to have some special training to become a better driver and bring accidents down or make you to learn to read a map to stop you getting lost.
Same with email. You know Email? You are hired. I bet that 90% of all users just now „New“,“Send“,“Delete“ and how to move mails to a folder.
I even saw geeks that did not now more, because all they did was programing and Notes was just an annoying piece on the screen that did not look like everybody else’s mail client.
But all of them think they are pretty good with computers. Again like driving a car. Over 70% of all drivers think they are better than average..(pause for thinking)…. (got it?).
I bet way more than half of all companies think, that they use IT to the max, despite the fact that they just use mail (probably calendar, but no task or simple BPM), file server and some „ERP“ and have a homepage that isn’t up to date at all. They never dive a bit deeper into the possibilities of their tools. But they do tons of nice and shiny Word and PowerPoint templates.
Most of the reasoning I heard is, they have no time. You can argue, that if you learn a few things about using Notes/Outlook, you save so much time, that you can even take on more projects. Does not matter, they don’t have the time to invest NOW to save time later. Today we just „know“ how email works. Nobody invests in something, that everybody knows already (see above „tasks“).
Now back to Mail Next. I want it … It’s not really new, IBM has tried for years to reinvent how we work with mail. They took on one of the most daunting tasks out there and came up with some really great ideas to make live easier but all of them require training. If pick some average user from the street, tell him that Mail Next is his mail client and he should now start working. No training, just start working, like it will happen in many companies. After five minutes the user will hate it with a passion you can only dream of. Just because he can not find the inbox and hasn’t a clue why there are pictures of people he just met five minutes ago or not at all. And what is a dash-board?

If IBM does not come up with a way that everybody just looks as Mail Next and „get’s“ it, they are back at square one. And I don’t think Gamification is a solution.
Now if IBM wants that to be a success, and I don’t see a reason why not, they should probably add FREE training to every migration to Mail Next. Otherwise the „I hate Notes“ will  seamlessly become „I hate Mail Next“.
Oh yes, some marketing would help, too (now please stop rolling on the floor, I had to say that, didn’t I).

4 Gedanken zu „Think inside … or outside the InBox? Mail Next continues the never ending Story“

  1. I totally agree with this. There was a time a few years ago when IBM produced lots of training materials It seemed like a great resource until users realised they cost a lot of money in addition to the already expensive licences.

  2. I think you have described the problem exactly. All the great bells and whistles in the world are only good if people know how to use them and see compelling reasons to use them. To most workers, adding more complexity to the mailbox means adding more complexity to the one piece of software they use all the time. They won’t like that.

    Better training materials would be a huge help, but there better also be a way to clear away all the crud and go to basic Inbox mode. That is where they are going to live without training anyway, so it better be easy and obvious.

  3. What would be better than writing a ton of end-user documentation (that they will never read), would be for the app to be smart enough to recognize features that are not being used and periodically prompt the user with a reminder (with a concise description and a link to a short video). For features that are being used regularly, it would not annoy the user with reminders. This would have to be very well thought out or it could easily turn into the annoying MS Office dancing paper clip.

  4. I agree with your thoughts, as always you have to look past the power users that developers are surrounded by. I’ve been fortunate to work with both power users and had dragged down to earth experiences of working with standard end users in factories/offices, it certainly made me think.

    Forgetting training/marketing, the experience needs to grow with the user. Starts as they would expect and intelligently becomes what they need/can adapt to.

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