Today I noticed an announcement on the Asana blog (we use their AWESOME project management software) about their new “Inbox” feature.
As a new and passionate Asana fan, I was immediately intrigued… “Ooooh, what new awesomeness has Asana cooked up in their kitchen of wonders?” I wondered.
As an add-on to their PM software, Inbox is somewhat paradoxically billed as a step toward a “post-email world.” (Wait, it’s called Inbox? That sounds suspiciously email-y to me…)
Regardless, this is a shrewd angle for Asana to take. People are drowning in email. They’re stressed out about it. We all feel like Sisyphus pushing the boulder up the hill. Just when we’ve gotten control of our inbox, the floodgates open again.
So it’s natural that the idea of a post-email world would be this *really desirable* thing. But that’s because imagining a post-email world is basically like imagining a world free of work, free of distractions, free of clutter.
But it ain’t gonna happen, folks. And you can’t really blame email for the existence of busywork, annoying newsletters you don’t remember signing up for, spam, endless back-and-forths, passive aggression, etc.
Those things aren’t symptoms of email. They’re symptoms of other things that are much harder to control. Blaming email is like blaming the messenger.
So, the go-to criticism of email is that it’s old and tired, and we’re trying to make it do things it wasn’t designed to do. Here’s Asana making that very same point:
Email is a 40-year-old technology designed to send electronic letters, yet we rely on it to communicate and coordinate nearly everything about our work. We use it to make requests, ask questions, remind each other what we’re working on, and send documents back and forth in a ping-pong match that never seems to end. … Email is the system we rely on most to be productive, but it has become a counter-productivity tool.
We’ve all been there, right? And who can’t agree that email often feels like “the biggest ‘work about work’ time-sink”?
So what does Asana’s Inbox do differently? I haven’t used the new feature myself, but here’s their broad-brush-stroked description of it:
Inbox connects you to all the new activity and communication about all the work that matters to you. It takes inspiration from the best of email, activity feeds, and other notification systems, but focuses completely on effortless coordination from the ground up.
That sounds pretty awesome, to be sure. But I think Asana is setting an unreasonable expectation that their software will eliminate “work about work.”
I have total confidence that their clever programmers can reduce some of this meta-work. (The big reason we switched from Zoho to Asana is that Asana is so simple and streamlined; the same functions that require 16 mouse clicks in Zoho require two in Asana.)
But the thing is, “work about work” is often … work. Depending on the nature of your job, you can put in an amazingly productive day and never leave your email inbox.
I worry about Asana’s desire to kill email (is this some kind of Oedipal thing?) … and I’m reminded of another effort from another tech giant to kill email.
It was called Google Wave.
Google Wave promised to take the best of multiple communication methods and wrap them into one seamless whole. And it did! But no one really cared, because the fragmented, piecemeal approach still seemed better. Maybe it’s the network effect at play—everyone already uses email and IM and Google Docs, so it’s really hard to break off in a new direction; the costs of switching are prohibitively high.
And here’s the last thing I want to say about this move by Asana (who knew I’d have this much to say?): I worry they’re just going to create more “work about work.”
Because having a separate inbox associated with your project management software just means you now how an inbox for your project management software… in addition to your normal inbox (which you’ll never get rid of).
Is that desirable?
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