Inbox from Google, augmented search, social out

Google have just released a new mail client for its Gmail service, which is usable free or with a paid subscription for smb and education.

Whith this new client, Google is suggesting that a mail client should support the user not only in mail “browsing”, but also for acting on the mail messages, taking and organizing the proper actions required by each message.
This is not new, the classical user interface of Microsoft Outlook was already providing an integrated environment for mail, tasks, calendar and contact management.

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Google is adding value to this idea in two directions:
1 adding information from the search engine that is relevant for the mail content (flight info, stock quotes, etc.)
2 providing a grouping mechanism, that was already in place in the traditional web interface for Gmail, that assign each mail to a group (social, updates, forums, etc.) according to its content/sender

The final expected result is a cleaner inbox, that helps finding out the important messages, plan when we are going to act upon them, and gently guide us in browsing other categories of messages when we are confortable.

Now, the main components of a mail messages are:
1 content
2 people involved

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People are sets, nested and mixed together in various ways, that can be seen as “containers” for several messages, with the exception that the containment is not strict, as water in a bottle, but shows a sort of ripple effect, that goes beyond the natural border of organizational or social set.

Google is putting emphasis on content: mail are classified according to their content type, even if the sender is used as an element helping content classification.
The missing element is people relations, and threads, intended as an extended version of the traditional mail threads (answers, forwards).
I think that this is a promising further line of development.

Content is something that is somehow limited to the single message (or message thread).
People is something more “stable” in the network of our relations, and more significant when we shift to groups/clustwr of people.

In this field, Google has already its social layer, Google+, that is already exploited in the traditional web interface of Gmail.
A shift from the single interaction model that is typical of mail messages, toward a more social aware model is, in my opinion, the future evolution of mail, and the convergence field with Social networks, and, furthermore, Enterprise Social Networks,

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Cloud based collaboration and office suites

Image The traditional landscape for Office Automation application has changed significantly.

The disruptive new entry was Google. During time, the Mountain View Company has built its online offering over four main pillars:

  • Drive,  this is both a generic cloud storage, but at the same time offers a suite of Office applications (Documents, Spreadsheets, Presentations, Drawing);
  • Gmail, just for mail processing;
  • Hangouts for text, audio, video, chatting;
  • G+, adding a Social platform to the suite.
Microsoft, durign the last years, but mainly during the last months, have followed, with an offering that is similar, by some points of view, but different in non trivial details.
  • Outllok.com offers the mail functionality, integrated with text chat (the old Messenger);
  • One Drive offers the cloud storage functionality, integrated with Office apps, with a subset of the traditional PC based Office suite.
  • Yammer: is the Social component, but in an “Enterprise” flavour. Yammer is the result of an acquisition, and is still under “integration” with the other products.
  • Share Point, in the cloud version, is a derivation of the mature on premise product, with a simpler deployment curve. This product offers an unique, structured, platform for file archiving, that doesn’t compete with Drive, or other similar products, like Dropbox or Box, but rather with platforms like Alfresco.
  • Lync, for internet based video/audio communicaton.
  • One Note, is a mature note taking product, that wasn’t able to gain user traction, leaving space for other competitors like Evernote.
Now, the two competitors are pushing their marketing efforts toward the rich Business market, and this is the big shift that I have introduced at the beginning, and that each CIO should consider carefully.

 

Significantly,  both platforms don’t put a big emphasis on the “mail” component, and both struggle to obtain a good acceptance for their Social apps.
The two things are linked, in my opinion: why any Social app require so a big effort, in a business environment, to conquer the user attention and involvement? 
The answer, I believe, rests in the lack of integration with the mail component. The great part of our daily interaction, at work, comes from mail messages. Managing messages, organizing them, forwarding and processing them, absrorbs the biggest part of the time  that we commit to interaction. This is why few minutes are left for engagement in other collaborative platforms, and we are, somehow, scared of being further involved in other things.

 

The solution would be quite simple: integrate mail in the “stream” of posts that populate our social dashboard. This could work well if we are able to organize mail, posts, documents around the big “themes” that we deal with, projects, prospects, processes.
This require two things:

  1. An intelligent classification system that is able to spot the right hashtag that is to be applied to each message/post;
  2. An intelligent search mechanism, capable of finding related posts/messages/documents, beside the “natural” linking mechanism provided by hashtags.
Another point: the majority of the cloud apps users consider them only as a practical online replacement for the traditional PC versions, enjoying the availability on fixed and mobile platforms. The real time collaboration features are often overlooked. But the ability to work, in real time, by multiple users, on the same spreadsheet or document, while chatting, introduced a new paradigm for collaborative work, that has still a long way to go.