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Start Page: Exploring alternatives to using email

Kim Brand
February 15, 2012
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Kim BrandEmail is war – you are a prisoner. Your inbox, once littered with annoying spam, now delivers a super-abundance of information. The torrent defies your effort to organize, classify, prioritize and respond to those that are critical versus those that are merely interesting. Bad news: it’s only going to get worse.

According to Pingdom.com, there were 107 trillion emails sent in 2010 from 2.8 billion email accounts – expected to grow to 3.8 billion accounts by 2014. Since the Internet makes the world a small place filled with lots of people who want to be your “friend,” you can expect to start receiving email regularly from most of them.

Unlike paper mail whose volume is expected to drop six percent in 2012, the “machinery” that delivers email is getting faster and cheaper. The natural forces that restrain growth are absent. Email is like a species obrand1.giff animal that has no natural predator.

Many practicing attorneys started their careers before email was possible, let alone popular. Prior communication technologies – mail and phone – evolved slowly enough that systemic and cultural accommodations kept pace with their growth. You delegate opening mail to assistants; someone – or something – answers your phone. Not so with email; most of it gets delivered straight to your inbox. Productivity fail.

Here are five alternatives to email you should know about.

Just call – You can’t deny millions of years of evolutionary predisposition: We like to talk. (See: Pink Floyd’s 1994 song, “Keep Talking.”) Some messages are just better communicated in person or at least in a conversation. Emotion and interaction are absent in email. Rule: After two or three emails on the same subject: JUST CALL!

What’s old is new again: fax – I still get funny looks from 20-somethings about what a fax is or why they’d want to use one. Most businesses have a fax machine. Few are as busy as they once were. That makes fax a quieter channel to deliver a message and one that gets disproportionate attention.
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Instant message quickies – We think of instant messaging as a communication channel for teens – like texting. But it can be the antidote for phone slips and the one- or two-sentence messages that litter your email inbox. Be careful to allow only your colleagues, friends or family to communicate with you this way or it will become a constant annoyance – like email.

Email was not designed for attachments – The Internet protocol that delivers email is incompetent at delivering binary files like Word docs, PDFs and photos. Attachments strain mailbox size and “hide” files in your email program that should be shared on your network and/or filed with other client materials. The solution is to use a file sharing service. With these, you upload the file to a secure website then simply send your correspondent(s) a link to it.

Wikis - your personal Wikipedia – To truly exchange ideas, documents and other files you need a web-based tool. Wikipedia is one of the most popular websites on the planet – and you can have one for yourself, your firm, or dedicated to a project, client or case. The principal attraction of a wiki is that information is presented in context. Supporting resources can be uploaded and/or linked on a page viewable over the web from anywhere. Security is managed using encryption, logins and passwords.

They say that if the only tool you have is a hammer, all your problems look like nails. Such is the case with email. It may be the only tool you have so you are tempted to [mis]use it for everything. Take my advice and expand your toolkit to include these alternatives to email.•

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Kim Brand is a technology expert and president of Computer Experts Inc., a 27-year-old IT services company in Indianapolis. He has presented to local and state bar audiences and written for West Publishing and the ILTA. Kim contributed to the “On-Premises” section of the recently released ILTSO.org legal technical standards, and he is the inventor of the FileSafe Server used by many law firms. For a free Audio CD on email management tips write to the author and request “Breaking the Rabbit Habit.” He may be reached at Kim@ComputerExpertsIndy.com or by phone at 317-833-3000. The opinions expressed are the author’s.

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  1. "Am I bugging you? I don't mean to bug ya." If what I wrote below is too much social philosophy for Indiana attorneys, just take ten this vacay to watch The Lego Movie with kiddies and sing along where appropriate: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=etzMjoH0rJw

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