Why Modern Communication is Broken, Explained in 3 numbers

Originally published as an opinion article on ArcticStartup on January 14, 2016.

I recently wrote an article how email is being squeezed from all sides, now also from Blockchain. In this article, I’m expanding the topic to modern communication.

If there’s anything I’d like you to walk away with from this article, it’s to understand the importance of three numbers – 85%, 28% and 1 trillion.

85% of business data is stored in email attachments

The godfather of email attachments, Nathaniel Borenstein, created the standard behind email attachments. The technical term behind email attachments is MIME, or Multipurpose Internet Mail Extension. He sent the first email attachment based on MIME on March 11, 1992. It later became an open Internet standard and is now widely used in email applications such as Gmail and Outlook.

Nathanial also says that too much business data, 85% according to him, is stored in email form and most of that in attachments! We use email to archive files. We organize our emails and attachments in folders, making versioning difficult, complicating search – lowering our productivity all together.

This massive amount of data stored in emails makes it difficult to switch to other solutions. Most e-mailing and chat solutions focus on the messaging and texting, making attaching files secondary. So, while we’ve seen great progress in how we text each other, we’re still working with attachments as we used to do 20 years ago.

28% of the average worker’s day is spent managing email

According to a study done by McKinsey Global Institute and International Data Corp, email is the most time consuming activity for modern workers after “role-specific” tasks. In fact, on average 28% of a worker’s time is spent on answering, managing and reading emails. On top of those massive 28%, an additional 19% of their time is spent on searching and gathering information.

Those numbers are staggering. Yet communication in most organizations remain highly fragmented and time consuming. We often have a broad range of tools and services at our disposal. Reality is that we work in technological silos. We have traditional desktop environments using files, while cloud environments use cloud services and website links to exchange information. Most organizations use a mix of both.

Email was never designed to support the desktop environment nor the cloud environment. It was meant as a simple way to send messages between computers. The web (HTTP) came in 1989 and file attachments (MIME) standard in 1992.

Companies have a massive opportunity to improve their internal collaboration workflows and optimize their time spent. It’s not only a technological opportunity, but also a managerial responsibility. People can easily become reactive in their inboxes and on social media, rather than proactive and getting the next feature shipped, or sale made.

1 trillion file attachments are sent every day I wish that was the number you had on your bank account. But it is the number of worldwide attachments we churn out every single day.

Companies such as Dropbox, Box and Evernote has taken the first step to making it easy to organize, manage and work around files, links and notes. But to me, this is mass storage of items. You have 10.000+ items stored and archived.

But there is one intimate and interesting space I’m personally interested in. The items you work on intensively for a day or week. Items you need input on. Items that needs review. Items ready for the next person in line.

E-mail and modern chat falls short when work around files, links and notes gets intensive and intimate. We create long emails and chat threads with multiple versions of the same item. It gets messy, confusing and time consuming

Making communication attachment centric

What if the world of attachments got disrupted? E-mail applications such as Gmail and Outlook and chat applications such as Slack and Hipchat are focused on email and/or messaging, while attachments continue to use the underlying principle which was developed more than 20 years ago.

Perhaps we ought to detach ourselves from how we think about attachments. What if we ‘attached a message to a file’ instead of ‘attaching a file to a message’. You’d be able to have conversations, versioning, logs, conclusions, summaries right on the file. You’d be able to share it all in a second.

The world is not in need of more applications to communicate and chat, nor to upload and store files. We need solutions that rethinks how to work better, so we reduce the number of emails, chat messages and attachments, while reducing distractions and increasing our efficiency.

We ought to try an organizational detox and de-attach ourselves from attachments to improve the three numbers altogether. How does your numbers stack up?