One of the unfortunate aspects about “googling email” is that there are really no inbound links except those that can be reverse engineered through threading. But in social systems, those are the “strong ties” – the obvious relationships. What is more interesting, I believe, are the “weak ties” that would emerge if people outside of your social group started pointing into an interesting message of yours. (Weak Ties are precisely why I read blogs!!) Imagine the field day that Google could have if 1) all email files had access controls removed, and 2) people started surfing each others’ email messages.
Unrealistic, right? Well, think again. Why have we grown so accustomed to the social norm that email should be private? Think about it. Start small. And remember that your company owns your inbox and outbox. What if all engineers within a company were given a new email address when they started, and were told “just use it for business” and “please note that everything that you do in email is in public view. In order to prevent embarassing moments, please keep matters of your personal privacy OUT of your assigned email box; use Groove for private matters. Oh, and by the way, here are the URLs of all of your team members’ mailboxes, in case you care. Oh, and by the way, here’s a site where you Google across all of them. Oh, also, I should mention that we never delete any email, by policy.”
I truly, seriously wonder what would happen!? At first, people would be shocked at not having private email, and private hotmail addresses and “groove spaces” would appear when people wanted to do something privately. But people are creatures of convenience and habit, and more and more work would be done in the open. And what would be the benefit to the collective productivity if we could all watch and listen to the thought processes of the stars on our teams? What kind of interesting bots would emerge that started to watch and subscribe to relevant queries? (I’m not just talking about voyeurs. Customer support email interactions should be continuously watched by engineers every bit as closely as the public forums, don’t you think?)
Interesting ideas from Ozzie on email – they may be difficult to implement in the developed markets which have plenty of legacy, but could be tried out in the emerging markets.