Too much conversation?

A song that has stuck with me since hearing in 1993 is “Too Much Information” by Duran Duran.
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The theme of the song is television pumping content and products at us with Simon Le Bon singing “it’s too much information for me”. The film clip itself is constantly moving with no single shot staying on the screen for more than a second. It’s visually exhausting to watch (albeit very enjoyable to listen to IMHO).

Change in our workplace continues to evolve at an ever-faster pace. In 2002 when RIM introduced the BlackBerry businesses flocked to purchase their products and integrate them with corporate messaging systems to allow mobile access to email. The device became known as the “CrackBerry” due to the fact that people who used them were constantly sending and replying to emails.

Enter the iPhone in 2007 when this functionality was brought to the masses and the corporate world walked into the IT department’s office with their new handset and said “make it work with my email”. This posed a challenge at the start, and would also herald the consumerisation of IT (remember that marketing term?).

For a while the world rested on a number of different communication modalities such as phone calls, text messaging, email, and (back then) disruptive technologies like Skype that provided text/voice/video.

Flash forward to the modern day and look around us at the variation of communication modalities available to us (and please don’t go hard on me as I’m nearing 40 and am not necessarily up to speed with all of the technologies available everywhere).

On my phone I have the following communication tools at my disposal:

App/Service Communication Modality Audience Individual/Group Messaging Capabilities Usage Level
Facebook Text (comments) Consumer Individual & Group High
Groups (Outlook) Text (email) Business Group Low
Instagram Text (comments) Consumer Individual Medium
LinkedIn Text Business Individual & Group Low
Messaging Text (SMS) n/a Individual & Group Low
Messenger (Facebook) Text, Voice, Video Consumer Individual & Group High
Microsoft Teams Text, Voice, Video Business Individual & Group Medium
Outlook Text (email) Business Individual & Group High
Skype Text, Voice, Video Consumer Individual & Group Low
Skype for Business Text, Voice, Video Business Individual & Group Medium
Twitter Text (same as SMS) Both Individual & Group Medium
WhatsAp Text, Voice, Video Consumer Individual & Group Low
Yammer Text Business Individual & Group Medium

I use most of those apps on a daily basis on my phone, but I am quite a connected and social person. I also vary and switch between applications for the same people on a regular basis.

For example, I may have a 1:1 conversation with Martina Grom and Darrell Webster (both Office 365 MVPs, friends, and co-contributors to community projects) separately using Facebook Messenger, but then we might also have a group conversation via Twitter group messaging. Why did we use Twitter group messaging instead of Facebook Messenger group messaging? Because Darrell initiated it and was probably using the Twitter app at the time he thought to start the conversation.

Conversely I may have a work conversation with one of my work colleagues via email, and then switch to Skype to talk about something not work-related. Why did we use Skype? Because perhaps that colleague doesn’t use Facebook but does use Skype.

Or I may have a short messaging conversation with a friend using Facebook Messenger but then we switch to text. Why? I don’t know – he started it. It doesn’t really matter as I’m still communicating with the same person.

What about my fellow MVPs and other friends who work at places that use Skype for Business? Do we message each other during the day on a consumer messaging platform, or switch to our Skype for Business work-based instant messaging platform because we know we have it and it’s easier than using something outside of our work context?

There are also a number of apps on the list above that I don’t use either due to platform or because I simply haven’t needed/wanted/gotten around to it – such as iMessage or FaceTime because I don’t use Apple products, Snapchat, Google Hangouts because I don’t use Google services, and I’m sure a whole bunch that I don’t even know of.

The challenge here is that the conversation is fragmented – it exists across a number of services and modalities. There’s no one communication flow and path.

And what happens to those users who are not “digital natives”? For example the conversation this morning with Martina and Darrell we were talking about the potential of using Medium as a publishing platform instead of our existing blog sites. So that prompted some research into why Medium over Tumblr or hosted versions of WordPress instead of our own hosted versions. Looking through the history of Medium we realised we were old and already behind the times. Think about that and the fact that we work with and have to keep current on a cloud platform that changes every day!

So in the workplace what can people expect?

Many IT departments and leadership do not drive the digital innovation that their organisations so desperately need. They leave the users to rely on email and perhaps even an instant messaging or conferencing system, but leave it at that because they believe their users fear or cannot handle change. Now I’m sure that millennials will put my communication app usage to shame, but the reality is that most people are already using more than phone calls and text messages on their phone. So why are IT departments limiting them to the same level of communications in the workplace?

Within Office 365 for many years we primarily had Outlook and Skype for Business (previously known as Lync, and previously before that known as Office Communicator). Back then the concept of instant messaging was disruptive enough, let alone computer-based audio/video calls and conferences. Then a few years ago came along Yammer and introduced enterprise social. In November 2016 Microsoft unveiled the preview of Microsoft Teams – something that brings together most of the previous three communication platforms in one application.

It is important when thinking that we know the best for our users and customers that we actually ask them.

It’s like expecting a marketing professional to work on a PC running Windows – sure they can make it work, but they’d probably be happier with a Mac. Perhaps we should ask them what they want and how they might work best before assuming our corporate standard is acceptable?

The same applies to every single user in an organisation. We don’t necessarily need to survey all staff, but it is important to make sure that their voice is heard and considered before choosing a communication platform for their organisation, department, or team.

A key point of the new communication world within Microsoft when we consider Outlook, Skype for Business, Yammer and Teams is that there is no “one size fits all” and that everybody works in different ways. I am more connected than a number of people I know, but then there are also a lot of people I know who are more connected than me. We need to make sure that we offer choice to people of all ages and levels.

My wife and I are both Generation-X and only two years apart (she is the younger one), yet I am the more technologically adept and social user. So straight away we have different communication modalities, speeds and preferences.

Let’s not be afraid of Teams or Yammer and the change they bring. Because if we do our users will use things like Slack and Facebook for Work that are beyond our control, security, identity management, and governance.

Let’s start a conversation about how people want to have a conversation, and go from there.

Goodbye Windows Phone, hello Dark Side

I have left the Windows Phone platform again, and this time I suspect for the last time. In mid-2015 I attempted to leave for iPhone but very quickly (3 months) came back to Windows Phone after the release of the Lumia 950XL and Windows 10 Mobile.

The things that drew me back were: Cortana, Live Tiles, Microsoft Band integration and apps, and the promise that we would have the ability to run ported iOS and Android apps on the Windows 10 Mobile operating system.

The hardware of the Lumia 950XL was fantastic, but unfortunately the operating system and broken promises let me down. While I miss Live Tiles it was not enough to keep me on the Windows Phone platform as Cortana was somewhat unreliable, Microsoft Band has been discontinued, and the iOS and Android application bridges and porting never came.

The final breaking point was when I was in the US for two weeks and trying to communicate with my wife and daughters back home. My wife had switched to Android some months ago but as I was still on Windows Phone we couldn’t do voice & video calls via Facebook Messenger so continually had to switch to Skype and then coordinate who was calling who which got frustrating.

While previously I have said that the app gap between Windows Phone and iOS/Android didn’t bother me – it has gotten to a point where it has.

So I’ve switched to Android.

Something I said I would never do. I always said I would never give my data to Google, but after giving it to Cortana willingly for the last year my principles were thrown out the window.

I chose to start with a relatively cheap ($200) Android phone from China as a way to dip my toe in the water before deciding I would throw myself in.

Why did I not choose iOS again? Two main reasons:

  • Hardware and operating system restrictions
  • Lack of choice around form factors, storage, connectors, etc.

When my wife ditched Windows Phone she was prepared to switch to iPhone but the lack of internal storage and the requirement to pay more for internal storage was the deciding factor. She ended up with an Android phone that supported external storage – much cheaper and flexible.

For me it was the same, as well as the fact that you cannot customise the OS appearance. Android won me over with widgets, literally.

While my household is predominantly Microsoft-based (Windows 10 PC running Plex Server, Xbox One, Surface for personal use), the timeline to breaking away for mobiles and tablets has been over time:

With my Windows Phone I had been 100% in the Microsoft consumer and business ecosystems. But as the world turned more and more services sprung up that took me further outside of this. I had hung on with Groove but as the Android client does not even allow me to select alphabet letters to skip to artists/albums the experience started to suffer.

While in the US recently I purchased a Samsung Gear Fit2 for my wife which supports Spotify offline. With our kids are starting to have their own music tastes, and Groove not providing a family account I was left with little choice but to cancel my Groove Pass subscription and switch the family to Spotify.

So my exit from the Microsoft consumer experience is almost complete. We barely use Skype except on the Xbox when my wife or I are travelling for work, and even then it’s rare. We no longer use Groove. The only consumer service of Microsoft’s that still really remain are OneDrive for files and photos, and Xbox Live Gold.

Neither my wife nor I have started to use the Google ecosystem, and instead choose to remain using best-of-breed solutions such as Spotify for music and Facebook Messenger for communications.

Beyond this I have every app I want available in the Google Play store.

And it goes without saying that the Microsoft apps are plentiful in Android – more so than on Windows Phone. Most apps that existed on Windows Phone are fully functional on Android and better to use.

What do I miss about the Windows Phone having been on Android for a month now?

  • Live Tiles: these were fantastic, widgets on Android don’t even come close.
  • Outlook integration baked into the OS: the Outlook app on Android is overall more full featured, but I have to go into it to get my calendar or contacts or synchronise them to my Google account in order to display them. The Outlook calendar widget is good, but it’s no Live Tile.
  • Cortana: she could have been so much, and she is, but not where I want her. I will most likely invest in the Amazon Alexa or Google Home appliances when the services become available in Australia.

That’s about it to be honest. I’ve adapted to Android quickly. There were a lot of choices initially but the benefit of coming to the platform so late in the game is that most of my friends and colleagues could share a lot of tips.

Do I love Android? No. I miss my Windows Phone, I wish it could do everything that Microsoft had hoped it would do. But the world didn’t turn that way and its relevance exists only as a mobile device that could be used as a lightweight computer with Continuum only in specific use cases.

Most of my friends, colleagues and fellow MVPs who clung so hard to Windows Phone have left or are seriously considering it.

I’m sorry Microsoft, I really tried to hold on as long as I could – but it just didn’t work out.