In my office email is one of the primary means of communication. Developers are spread around the world, so you can't always meet up and time differences mean that phone/VOIP is not always practical.

I find email hard to manage. You end up with hundreds/thousands of emails in various threads. You get CC'ed on stuff that is of marginal interest to you. Some emails have a useful lifespan on minutes or hours, but you still have to manually delete them.

I'm stuck with Outlook, but gain some benefit from:

  1. Arrange by Conversation. So I can easily see if someone has already replied. I often just delete the earlier messages if I can assume that their content will be duplicated in the later ones. One problem is that my own replies will be in my Sent Items
  2. Google Desktop Search. Infinitely quicker than Outlook's

So what are the alternatives for office communication?

  1. IM - Great for ephemeral info and you can tell if the recipient is around. But not generally archived.
  2. Twitter/ microblogging - Could be used to track history of group communications if you can work around confidentiality and message length
  3. Wiki - I like wikis, but getting people to use them can be hard and no good for instant response. A better place for reference information than directly in emails

Something like Gmail/Gtalk with its searchable archive would be an improvement on what we have, but I don't know how this could integrate with 'standards' like Outlook.

This has been a stream of consciousness question inspired by [Zen Habits]

+7  A: 

What about IRC? Set up a logging bot for total history, and collate useful conversations into a wiki/knowledge base. Very useful for group communication.

Failing that, some collaborative groupware is known to enhance the collective synergy of the workforce :D


IRC is often put down as an ancient technology: it's not though - FOSS lives off IRC. As mercuitio said, a constantly-online logging user (a bot) isn't too hard to get hold of or setup.

You could also use a bulletin board - they don't have to be full of spam and most support threaded conversations easily enough. You could also try newsgroups for the same reason.


@mercutio I had thought about IRC. Having chatrooms for various development topics might 'enhance the collective synergy'. It would depend on out IT to set it up and then need to educate people to use it.

Another option is to have a forum. One was set up a few years back, but has been very little used.

I feel that a lot of colleagues are stuck in the email/Word mindset. We have at least standardised on Skype for IM, but with no public archive of useful stuff.

I have no experience of other 'groupware'.

@Chris I like the idea of Google Docs for collaborative writing, but Word is our standard. At least some people use the annotation options. Documents are still written to be printed. That seems archaic in the web age.

+5  A: 

e-mail is the answer. It's archived, it's indexed, it's convenient, it's tied to calendars and other things, so ignore the e-mail h8rs.

With regards the cognitive burden of manual deletion: the simple solution is "don't delete them". There's no real benefit to deleting them. Software (Outlook, Exchange, Thunderbird, Mail.App, etc.) can handle thousands of e-mails with ease.


You could use Google Apps for email and then use docs/groups as a discussion group for everyone to share. If you need to stay with Microsoft, I thought they developed Office Live? which is the competing product to Google Apps.

Chris Bartow

Just to have a better organization inside Outlook, if you do not know them give a look to Xobni (free, really good plugin, faaaaaaaaaaast search) and Clear Context (payware, they are developing a free version, now in beta - useful and fast).

For me these tools worked: my inbox is really small, I can track conversations in a better away, search is faster, attachments are one click away...


I would say creating email lists by topic might be a good first approximation. Once you have that, a librarian or software I don't know about could help curate them in a wiki-like environment that you could rank, link to, etc.

John the Statistician
+1  A: 

Have you considered SharePoint? I have used this for coordinating development between developers in the US and China. we use it for three major things per project:

  1. Document and file storage
  2. Discussion forum
  3. Issue tracking and resolving

This is all functionality that comes out of the box. By keeping it per project, you keep a history that is easy to follow, and already focused on what you need. Plus, you can be notified by email when there are changes as an item changes or a summary email every day.

Jeff Cuscutis

@DrPizza and all the other email lovers

I find email to be borderline useless. Even (especially?) if you don't delete anything, finding stuff from more than a few days ago can be a major pain. This is especially true when the people sending you emails don't bother to put proper subjects or text explaining what the email is about. At this point, all the indexing and searching in the world won't save you. Sometimes they just drop a .zip datafile in there, with no subject or text. Then it's up to the receiver to spend time tagging or putting it in the appropriate folder. If you spend lots of time setting up your filters, you can usually get the system to put things into folders by project or contact. Project probably works best, because contact can be easily searched, But even then, some contacts work on multiple projects so filtering can get to be quite manual. Also the problem of your replies being in a completely seperate box just makes everything completely disconnected, and even harder to manage.

+4  A: 

I've just realised what the answer is. To have our own Stack Overflow!

One issue with most forums is that they are too linear and you cannot see where the important replies are. The SO rating system resolves that.

When can we expect to see a shrinkwrapped Stack Overflow on the shelves?


Have you tried the integrated windows search with Outlook 2007 yet? It's pretty darn fast and imo works better than google's dekstop search. It's helped me alot in just the last couple of weeks since I installed it.


I've used and liked Basecamp, but a great version of "Twitter for companies" is Yammer, which I really liked.


You mentioned above that you'd potentially consider a wiki. Since the date of this original post wiki's have really expanded their use cases to perhaps meet requirements of those looking to get out from under the email avalanche.

IMHO, they key is activity streams - the collection of comments, actions and updates within a specific task or project. This makes communications (previously just email, where your inbox was about everything) specific to the current task at hand.

I've mentioned them in other places on stack overflow - MindTouch has a free open source collab platform that includes this type of activity stream capability.

Mateo Ferreira
+1  A: 

Google Wave would be a recommendation from me. It's highly sophisticated and open to extensions collaboration system.

It keeps the communication using the notion of conversations (wave), but it offers many many extra features. You can see what other party is doing in the real time (so in a sense you can use it to collaborate). At the moment by default you can create a wave that is:

  • a discussion
  • a task tracking
  • meeting
  • document (google doc)
  • brainstorm

Think of the wave as the conversation or evolution of the document. You can replay the wave to see how it developed/changed.

It's also secure and open as the Wave code is open source and you can deploy it inside your own corporate environment. And it's possible to integrate it with other systems easily if you wish to. There was an example how to synchronize what is happening on the wave with what you can see on the blog entry. I think the idea of waves is brilliant and will make collaboration much easier task to do especially when the collaborators are distributed among the globe.