Can we use email to achieve interoperability between enterprise social networks?
The other day writing about email and enterprise social software, I concluded with the following:
"Far from being a nemesis, email and enterprise social software are more likely to form a strong symbiotic relationship."
I want to explore a little further about what I mean by the possible future relationship between email and enterprise social software.
'Email' consists of three parts:
- The inbox application, used by people to send and receive messages;
- An email server used to host and distribute incoming and outgoing messages; and
- Email messaging protocols for transporting messages between servers.
Google Wave (now open sourced as Apache Wave) more than anything else tried to change all three aspects of email at the same time - unfortunately that experiment failed in terms of popular and commercial adoption. However, the ability to federate Wave-compatible servers did present the potential for creating a new kind of messaging platform that offered interoperability like modern email.
But trying to tackle email head on might not be the best strategy. This leaves the option of trying to leverage one of the three parts instead - for example integrating enterprise social interactions (and external social media) into the user's inbox application. Alternatively, the inbox could be integrated with the enterprise social software platform. Either way, email messaging and activity streams are presented together.
However, I believe there are other alternatives that don't reinforce the strangle hold of the email inbox paradigm:
- Bundling email and enterprise social software features into a single solution - Google is already doing this with Gmail and Plus (the precedent also exists with the integration of email and calendars).
- Enterprise social software platforms could adopt the protocols of email (SMTP, IMAP, MIME, etc) as part of their core engine - all enterprise platforms work with SMTP to send notifications and some accept incoming messages, but functionality is still limited.
This last approach is interesting as a way to not only let an email user collaborate with another user on an enterprise social network, but also between different enterprise social networks. The aim is that neither user would know or care about the system the other is using. However, this is technically challenging and risks the same issues faced by Google in the development of its Wave concept. On the upside, we know that the email protocols are adaptable to different purposes, which is encouraging.
Either way, vendors and industry will need to address interoperability at some stage. If we don't achieve this through leveraging email, then either Wave or perhaps Yammer's external networks will need to be utilised to create interoperability between enterprise users and networks.
Unless someone has any other ideas? I'd love to hear them.