Over the last few years, we have seen an explosion of tools that connect us with colleagues and friends. Our interaction with other people has diverged into multiple parallel threads: e-mail, instant messages (in multiple systems), status updates on multiple social networks and Twitter, etc. The mental “context switching” we have to perform between all these channels seriously impacts our ability to effectively exchange information.
Based on a few developments that occurred since late 2009, we are approaching a tipping point: people want fewer tools to communicate, not more, and the market is starting to respond:
- The Google Wave beta generated a lot of curiosity but fizzled after six months, more because of its overreaching attempt to supplant other tools than anything else.
- The Cisco Quad product, announced in July, unifies collaboration and communication (including document sharing) through a single dynamic portal. Of course, the name of the game for Cisco is still to increase bandwidth consumption by making it seem indispensable to call someone on a video phone to schedule lunch; but the appeal of converging your interactions on a single platform is real.
- The Outlook Social Connector is still one of the best-kept secrets from Microsoft. It displays your LinkedIn or Facebook contacts’ photos and updates at the bottom of the message window whenever you type or read an e-mail to/from them.
- On November 15, Facebook announced that it would give its users e-mail addresses. You will be able to use your Facebook home page (to which they added a chat feature some months ago) to combine your social networking activity with your e-mail traffic.
- Throughout 2010, we saw more and more applications, such as LinkedIn or Constant Contact, integrate or contribute to your Twitter feeds.
In 2011, expect these fledgling efforts to convince people (individually, as well as at the enterprise level) to adopt these “all-in-one” tools. You will not be forced to abandon any single mode of communication, but you will be able to manage all your interactions in one place. The owner of that “place” is trying to increase stickiness in order to sell more ad impressions, but the users will benefit from recovering some of the productivity lost through the past tool proliferation.