Family dinner conversations rarely trend on the techy side in our house though my kids do panic when their out of reach phones bleep during our meal.
It’s amazing how kids are able to simultaneously do homework, watch TV, listen to music and hold a conversation in person as well as constantly thumb responses into whatever the chat app of the month is.
Anyway, over dinner, my wife and I were talking about emails and how some people never respond when my 15 year piped up.
“Well that’s not surprising, emails are stupid”.
Glad they joined the conversation, my wife and I glanced at each other before asking why.
“They’re stupid, no one wants to fill out all that To:, CC: and BCC: stuff, it takes too long and what does it mean anyway?”
So we explained what the To:, CC: and BCC: fields were for.
“People should just use chat apps and group in whoever they want, its way quicker. Those fields are stupid because if you get the address wrong or don’t know what it is, you can’t get in contact with them, how dumb is that! And even if you do send it, you have to wait for them to get it and send it back, it’s too slow. Just use group chat!”
My wife and I glanced at each other again, this time with a little concern. Was this the end of email? Will my kid’s generation kill email off because it’s inefficient and has design faults?
Looking at it from a kid’s perspective, it’s easy to see the immediate flaws with email and those faults are only the tip of the iceberg.
Of course, email isn’t going away anytime soon. According to the Radicati Group Email Statistics Report, 2014-2018, over 108.7 billion emails are sent and received per day with a majority from the business world. The year before it was 100 billion and the year before that 89 billion, certainly not a downward trend.
To try and defend our inboxes, we’ve created legislation to protect us from unsolicited commercial email and employ anti-spam techniques to further remove more unwanted junk so we can continue to use this invaluable communication service.
I think a larger fault with email is dealing with an upward trending 108.7 billion emails per day! Where is all that data kept and how do you find anything when you need it? The common solution is to file emails in folders then nag IT to increase mailbox storage limits because we’re too scared to delete anything. In reality it is like filing a needle in a haystack.
Other solutions include archiving and cloud storage, which work until someone needs an email you have. Now you spend time finding it, send it to them and they keep a copy too. Then what if these emails have attachments and important files? It very quickly turns into a mess that takes longer than it should to locate what you need. If only there was a better way.
Fortunately there is, ever heard of ‘metadata’? Why not leverage ‘metadata’ to store important information. Metadata is ‘data about data’ that allows us to store and find information by relevant criteria. So rather than file an important email about a Customer Project in a Customer folder, we can attach metadata to the email that links it to both the Customer and the Project.
Now it doesn’t matter where it’s filed as it can be found by Project or Customer. Later when looking for that email, you might remember what the Project was, but not the Customer, which would make finding the email time consuming if you had only filed it in the Customer folder. Because you attached the Project and Customer metadata to the email when filing it, you can find it instantly by Project as you only need that one piece of information to locate it. Doesn’t that sound easier?
To take it tiny a step further, you could also include additional metadata like Project Type or Industry. So not only can you easily find what you need, you can also group this information by Project Type or Industry to review that relevant information too.
Metadata allows us to instantly find what we need, when we need it using what we know to discover it. When someone else needs that email you just stored, they can find it without involving you by using what they know to discover it.
This is the kind of instant, efficient access to information our kids will expect when they join the workforce and I have to admit they’re right.
Software is available that makes this process so simple we really have no excuse not to use it. Products like M-Files link into everything we already use in our businesses from email, CRMs and Accounting systems to simplify the ‘metadata’ creation process. All we have to do is attach that metadata to what we store. It’s not limited to emails either, we can attach metadata to anything we need to store so we can find it easily when needed.
Perhaps my 15 year old is onto something, email is stupid, or rather the storing emails with the standard To, From and Subject information in folders is an unwise way to organise important business information. Finding anything with that limited data is never going to be fast or efficient. It’s particularly unwise when we can easily use metadata to store this information.
Fortunately using metadata can make our treasured email and files easy for everyone to work with and show the emerging workforce we’re pretty smart about how we do things.
By Matthew Heinrich