What We’ve Got Here is a Failure to Communicate

Fans of Paul Newman will recognize his character’s famous line in Cool Hand Luke. Never in the history of electronic communications do we have so many choices and yet experience so many communication failures. This was made clear to me recently when I tried to get in touch with a “friend” of mine. I put the word in quotes because I mean it in Facebook terms: someone that I may or may not have met f2f, but want to stay in touch. Let’s call this friend Bob for simplicity.

My go-to communication method is email, so I first tried to send Bob a quick email to answer a question. Sadly, I have 9,000 contacts in my Gmail but Bob is one of the many of them who have moved on to another email address. The mail came back undeliverable. That wasn’t a good sign. But even if it got through, it doesn’t mean anything these days: there are lots of folks that ignore their emails, or have bad spam filters, so sometimes they don’t see them even if the address is correct.

Then I thought, perhaps I have Bob under my contacts at LinkedIn, which is my second place that I can usually track someone down. Strike two: LinkedIn knows about Bob with the outdated email that I had. Apparently, Bob hasn’t been too diligent about his updates. Yes I could try Plaxo but didn’t bother.

Bob’s phone is listed as his work number in my database, and of course he no longer works at this company anyway. Sometimes you can get the main number of the company or press 0 for a receptionist and they can be quite helpful. But this firm got rid of their receptionists long ago (chalk it up to progress) and just has a dial-by-name directory so that doesn’t help things. Once I got someone else’s replacement and they were quite helpful, pointing me to the new (or at least next) employer, but still, that doesn’t happen all too often these days.

Besides, even with a phone number or several numbers, that doesn’t mean anything. I have plenty of family members who are very hard to track down, and I have multiple numbers for them. People don’t like to answer their phones anymore. (Or maybe just not answer my calls. Hmm.)

Facebook? Bob and I aren’t connected there. And Bob has a common name, so trying to track him down and befriend him is an exercise in frustration. Do I remember any mutual friends of Bob that can connect me? I can’t remember how we first met: this isn’t unusual, as my memory isn’t what it used to be these days.

Even if we were Facebook “friends” that still doesn’t mean I am out of the woods. Yes, I could try Facebook messaging or IM, but if Bob isn’t online or doesn’t check his account all that frequently, that may or may not pan out.

Maybe Bob is on AOL or Skype or MSN IM? Nope, or at least I don’t think so. I have a lot of people on various IM lists, some that I have identified with their real names and others that have puzzling screen names with no clue as to who they are. Most of my IMs are to people that I work with (or did work with) on a daily basis: my AOL IM list for example, is frozen in time back to 2004 when I last worked at CMP (now UBM) and that was our main corporate communications channel. One of these days I am going to weed these out. In the meantime, there isn’t any real way to find someone on IM, unless you know of his or her ID to begin with. The same goes for Twitter.

There are some people that have turned Twitter into their go-to communications platform, but I am not even close there. Maybe that will motivate me to start.

I guess I could Google Bob, that might work, but for common names it is unlikely.

So yes, electronic communications has made us incredibly productive. But sometimes I do miss the olden times; back when real people answered their phones and tracked folks down when they didn’t.

So, as Newman says.

I welcome your thoughts and suggestions, please post to my story on ReadWriteWeb here.



Selling presence-aware apps in the channel (eWeek)

The next step in voice and data convergence is to develop real-time applications. Selling a voice-over-IP system is often just the beginning of a long-lasting and profitable solution for many VARs and systems integrators. One of the next steps in that process entails understanding how to develop real-time applications that can take advantage of voice and data convergence.

These often go by the term “presence-aware,” meaning that the application understands what users are actually doing, including when they are busy on a phone call or away from their desks.

You can read the entire article for eWeek’s Strategic Partner issue here.

Enterprise IM Strategies

Enterprises are coming to terms with Instant Messaging (IM), finding that it has become the best way to accelerate new forms of collaboration and communication among their distributed workforces and stay productive as email inboxes swell with spam. For some companies, email has become the new snail mail. But before you bite the IM bullet, here are some questions to answer to formulate your potential IM strategy for your corporation.

Read the complete story in Computerworld here.

Texting as the New Digital Divide

I never thought when my mother first taught me touch typing back in elementary school that the skill would turn out to be anything but useful, but lately I am not so sure. There is a new digital divide coming, and it concerns those of us that can text and those that are still stuck in the 90s typing on our PCs.

I look with longing at the teens and 20-somethings that can compose long odes on their cell phones with ease. I think all those years messing with QWERTY and look where it has gotten me – an aging PC user who, like Scotty in the second (or was it thirdfourth) Star Trek movie, has to grab a keyboard to get anything really useful done on a computer. And I am sure that reference alone will date me anyway.

My attempts at texting usually are done in the presence of a member of the younger generation and usually end in dismal failure, when said youngster will grab my phone from me and with a few clicks of the buttons finish the message that has taken me several (seeming) hours to compose. I know my mom would be turning over in her grave seeing me struggle – she was proud of my typing skills back in the day. Now they don’t even teach “typing” anymore. Sigh.

Yes, cell phones and PDAs now come with their own keyboards, and some of them you can actually type things in if you have small enough fingers or are patient and careful. But texting, sending short SMS messages via your phone, is even better, because you can do it to just about anyone with a phone and your correspondents can immediately send you back a pithy reply – if they are adept at texting, that is.

These days email is too slow – imagine waiting an hour or more before someone can compose and reply. It seems so quaint now. “You know, junior, back when I was young we thought it was pretty cool when we could email someone around the world and get an answer the Very Next Day!” And Instant Messaging isn’t instant enough – you still need a PC or something like it to really manage your buddy list that quickly grows into the multiple dozens. Yes, today’s divide is all about immediate gratification, and communication. Delays of a few seconds just won’t do.

I came to this sad (at least, sad for me) conclusion this week when I was attending the New Communications Forum in Vegas this week, talking about the latest tech with podcasters, corporate bloggers, and other geeks extraordinaire. I witnessed a demo of Twitter, which is one of those texting apps that you put on your cell phone and you can tell a couple dozen of your closest friends exactly what you are doing at any given moment of the day, or night. Why bother going to sleep, when you can keep up with the ‘hood? Who needs reality TV anymore, when we can manufacture our own so easy?

It is ironic that I came to this conclusion in Vegas. I mean, here I sit on a bench next to a replica of the Grand Canal, watching fake gondoliers steer boats that have their own electric motors down a waterway that exists entirely inside a (man-made) building. I had lunch with a friend of mine yesterday and the hostess asked us if we wanted to sit “outside,” meaning at a table under a 50-foot painted sky with a view of the fake canal.  Talk about the new realities of the digital divide.

So, don’t text me your issues. I don’t really want to know that quickly. Email is good enough for me. And those of you that can text fluently, go with grace.

Group chats take hold in the enterprise

Tired of taking yet another meeting or wasting more time on more conference calls? Maybe it is time you tried group online chat. While far from a new technology, its popularity around the enterprise is finally taking off because it can deliver real bottom-line returns and can be a real productivity boost. Chat is just part of the overall trend towards better real-time communications that began when corporations moved first to voice mail instead of secretaries, then to email, and finally towards Instant Messaging (IM).

In this story for Techweb, I talk more about how chat is taking hold and why enterprise IT managers are attracted to it. The story was picked up for the print Information Week edition as well.

IM Profits for VARs

VARs should learn from their teenaged children and get on board the Instant messaging (IM) train. IM can solve a lot of problems as enterprise IT managers look for ways to clear out spam-filled email boxes, integrate far-flung project teams, and offer more productive uses of their communications infrastructure. With IM, corporate staff can multitask and carry on multiple conversations, find out if someone is available to answer a quick question, and other tasks that are cumbersome to do with emails and phone calls. VARs that aren’t yet facile with IM should get more involved in this technology and understand the numerous integration opportunities that IM offers.

In this month’s story for eWeek, I discuss several important trends in the IM space that VARs can capitalize on.

Cisco’s Internet Protocol Journal:

Instant Messaging (IM) has come of age and is close to becoming one of those protocols that offers something for everyone. Once the province of chatty teens looking to replace phone conversations with electronic ones, IM is now a corporate mainstay and part of a new breed of applications that are built around “presence detection,” the ability to determine when someone—or something—is online and available to communicate.

Indeed, IM is rapidly spreading across the corporate world and becoming an able replacement for overflowing voicemail and e-mail inboxes that are clogged with spam and buried in irrelevant and non-time-sensitive postings. If you must get through to a busy corporate executive, IM is becoming the fastest and most effective method of communicating. Move over CrackBerry.

You can read the rest of my article that was published in Cisco’s IPJ here from their archives.