Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Morphing conversation UI

I am not a typical "example" when it comes to user interface, and I have my own idiosyncratic preferences, especially for communication applications. In particular, I despise the way we have been forced by the incumbent desktop software players to use mail clients to manage information. Their influence is so insidious, that even their strongest open-source contenders stick to the same screen real estate concept.

I came across this short post by Mike Gotta elaborating on the ineluctable death of the email client as we know it.

Concerning enterprise environments, at some point a few years down the road, shifting demographics as Danah Boyd points out in this post, will have an interesting impact on the future of e-mail clients. Once "digital natives" become a large part of the workforce, it's likely that we'll see a tipping point where users will prefer real-time communication front-ends to async front-ends. Yes, e-mail clients will support unified messaging and will morph to provide a real-time communication (RTC) user experience but younger workers may prefer to live in more natively-designed RTC clients (such as Microsoft Office Communicator and IBM Sametime), especially as those clients support both social and work-related capabilities.

I am a bit disappointed because my relief is not readily in sight, but this analysis is pre-announcing what I believe to be the irreversible evolution of our way to interact with desktop communicating applications. There was a not so distant time where the latest hipe was about getting IP to every workstation. The natural evolution would be to get conversations to the workstations, any type of conversation, and have all the associated communication stacks available as local servers to any application whishing to use them. At that point, it will become obvious that email is just an asynchronous channel for real time text exchange in a wide presence enabled communication system, instead of instant messaging being a real time version of email, as the current generation of "office" software would like us to believe. And I hope this difference will bring UIs more to my taste.

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