The CSIRO is undertaking an experiment few commercial organisations would dare to consider — switching off email for an entire day.
The experiment, being carried out by CSIRO’s ICT Centre, is part of an investigation into new forms of collaboration and communication, according to the centre’s director, Ian Oppermann.
“Email isn’t the most effective way to communicate," he told Computerworld Australia. "It is simply information overload."
“We are trying to stop assuming and think about who we are trying to reach with our communications technologies and are trying it out on ourselves first.”
According to Oppermann the centre is instead relying on alternate forms of communication such as Twitter, telephony and face-to-face conversation.
“We have people who can sit and video conference stare down the lens of a shared virtual microscope and pass virtual forms and large data sets between each other,” he said.
“Rather than push ideas on to people, we are very much putting ourselves in the shoes of the people who ultimately use these technologies.”
Discussing the prospect of ‘email 2.0’, Oppermann said the next iteration of the technology would likely look “nothing like” the email of today.
“Email 2.0 should be much more a mash-up of content,” he said. “Now it is email with an attachment, but it would be much more user-friendly if you could talk realtime, from a video perspective, leave a video message or something which looks like a mash-up of different capabilities which you could move around in a much more intuitive way.”
While it was likely that video mail messages would begin to be used as a substitute for email in the next few years, this approach was not ideal as it simply replicated today’s problems, Oppermann said.
“We are really looking at a fundamentally different paradigm where you truly feel like you are talking to someone across the hall, or down the street or across the table,” he said. “If they are not there then you will be able to do non-realtime store and forward. If they are there it should be walk in, flick the switch and you are talking to them.
“Avoiding clicking 'create message', typing in an address and subject line means we step away from the limitations we have had, with essentially, what is exchanging letters.”
Oppermann predicted the transition from email to real time video interaction would be relatively smooth thanks to the more intuitive nature of visual communication.
Productivity benefits of real-time collaboration would also help the adoption of non-email communication in corporate environments.
“People deal with images and motion more readily than with written text,” he said. “Seeing and perceiving is quite natural. Our ability to process the same amount of information is much, much greater in that natural context.
“In a corporate environment, you flick ka switch you’re talking to a colleague on the other side, they will walk you through what they are trying to achieve — maybe there is a document that can be shared backwards and forwards — and you will be able to quite naturally talk to them."