Monday, January 30, 2012

Culture and Technology: How Cultural Factors Impact Engineering Decisions

There is a persistent myth that engineering is some sort of universal truth that is unaffected by national, regional or company cultures. This is something I have heard when I am doing intercultural workshops -- comments like "all this stuff about cultural differences is interesting but it doesn't apply to me because I am an engineer, I work with other engineers and we all think the same way".  No, they don't. While there are universal technical laws and some shared aspects of engineering culture, the approach to solving engineering problems is strongly influenced by culture.

I have seen many examples where this has happened, in the design of trucks, airliner control systems and even silicon chips, but one case in particular shows how culture can play a surprising role in the design of a successful solution, France's TGV high-speed rail network.  Anyone who has worked in France or worked with French engineers has probably noticed the difference between the "pragmatic" approach popular in some cultures compared to the more "philosophical" approach favored by their French colleagues.

To an American or British engineer a great solution is one that works in practice and nobody minds if it is not conceptually "pure". Most would probably laugh at such an idea. In France they take a different approach -- a consequence of the education system -- and people start with basic principles and develop solutions in a way that outsiders consider abstract. People sometimes call this approach "philosophical" though it resembles more the mentality of mathematicians. Yet sometimes this approach leads to a better product, as the TGV example illustrates.

In many countries the approach to high-speed rail was one of pragmatic compromise and simply finding a solution that could work around issues like the difficulty of building new tracks.  In France the problem was approached in a characteristically philosophical way and the first decision was to build a high-speed line, not a high speed train. To many this seems a ridiculous waste of time -- you may have sat through similar discussions yourself -- but when you look more closely this decision is one of the key factors behind the success of the network.

Making a fast train is relatively easy, but if it runs on old tracks it cannot run so fast, and if it shares rails with slow trains then you have to compromise on track design. Once that you have decided that you will build a high-speed line then the trains are less important. If you decide that all trains will be fast this means that you need less separation and, more importantly, you can also use steeper grades, exploiting the roller coaster effect to climb grades that would stall a slow train. The decision to focus on the track meant that there was a dedicated track, optimized for fast traffic and with stations located on the main routes and not downtown. The simple, pragmatic approach preferred in other countries might have brought the service to market quicker, while the more theoretical approach may be slower but can often make a better product.

Neither approach is always the "best", and this teaches a valuable lesson: that it is important to understand that engineers do not always think alike, to be open to consider all possible alternatives and to create design teams with people who are not culturally identical and open to learn from each other. Once you understand that there are differences you will understand that your colleagues from other cultures are maybe smarter than you think, and also you can learn a few interesting new ways to approach a problem.

Lecture on this Topic

This post is based on content from the lecture The Myth of the Best Solution: How Culture Impacts Technology and Innovation. For more details see http://andrewhennigan.com/lectures.htm, email conseil@andrewhennigan.com or call 0033 6 79 61 42 81


Related posts about intercultural issues:
Why the Office Weasel Can Play a Useful Role in Hierarchical Organizations
Managing Across Cultures Three Non-obvious Issues to Watch For
Three Non-Obvious Ways Culture Affects Email 
Three Non-Obvious Issues in Multicultural Meetings  
Culture, Innovation and the Curious Case of Pandora Radio.  



Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Communicating Social Media Restrictions: Lessons from the London Olympic Volunteer Ban

When the London Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games, LOCOG, announced a social media ban for volunteers the reaction was mostly negative with just a few thinking their position was reasonable.

At the time I wrote my initial comments in Olympic Ban Highlights Polarized Attitude to Social Media where I argued that while there are sensible reasons to restrict social media use, the way it was handled could have been improved. Most people I talked to agreed in principle with my point, but asked exactly how it could have been handled better. Maybe it is too late for LOCOG but may other organizations are in a similar position and there are valuable communication lessons we can learn from how this case has been handled.

First of all, I believe that LOCOG has two separate issues: the substance of the ban and the way it is communicated -- at least based on published reports like this article from the BBC. If this article is correct then the rules appear to be too restrictive, partly because of the addition of rules about things like talks to schools which clearly do not have the same impact as a live tweet at the wrong moment.

But let's assume for now that the management has defined the rules and made it clear that the decision is final. How, then, can they be communicated better? There are, essentially, three problems with the way it was done in London:

1. LACK OF EMPATHY.  In all communication some empathy for other people is the secret sauce that often makes the difference between success and failure. Before you deploy restrictions it is important to try to understand how the other people feel. Maybe you don't use social media yourself but saying things like "I never had social media when I was young and it was never a problem" do not help. If you really can't "get" social media try reframing it in terms of something you liked -- a Walkman, watching TV or whatever. At least try to present the rules in a way that recognizes that this might be an issue and avoid minimizing it.

2. FOCUS ON NEGATIVE.  Another problem with this and other restrictions is the focus on the negative. Instead of presenting a long list of things that are banned it would be better to start with positive statements recognizing the value of volunteer engagement, encouraging them to participate in the social conversation in a positive way.

3. UNSTRUCTURED INFORMATION.  But probably the worst communication fail of all is the use of an unstructured list of things that are forbidden, Ten Commandments style.  This technique is ineffective for several reasons. First of all it fails because by listing too many things it actually loses force. Zachary Tormala at Stanford has done some fascinating experiments on persuasion which show that adding to many arguments actually weakens your point. In the same way adding more and more things to the banned list just makes each individual item appear much less important.  It also fails because people simply don't remember the long list -- just that the list is way too long -- so people can innocently break a rule just because it wasn't memorable. Finally, it also fails because there is no rationale, so there is no buy in from the people who are supposed to follow the rules.

This last point is the most critical. How you structure the information depends on your case. I am not going to work through all the details of how you might do this but here is a rough outline of an approach for a case like the London Olympics:

First of all you could start by recognizing the importance of social media and the positive role volunteers can play in engaging with their communities, amplifying the messages of the organization. Then you can explain the necessary restrictions but structured in some way to make it easier to remember, to absorb and to accept.

In this case, for example, you could suggest that social media use is OK except in cases where it conflicts with the needs of Privacy (no cameraphones in the showers), Security (if you are next to a target don't tweet that in real time, only hours later) and Diligence (you don't do anything that stops you doing your work effectively, saving your tweets for breaks, after hours).  Finally you can provide a list of answers to specific "can I" questions, but in the form of an app, not a 28-page PDF written in legal language.

This approach might not be 100% watertight but no solution is. Whatever the rules people are going to use social media anyway, so it is better to guide it than to drive it underground. But at least reducing all the rules to three key words can make a difference in avoiding mistakes made because of a failure to understand the rules or why they exist.

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Related posts on Social Media:

Olympic Ban Highlights Polarized Attitudes to Social Media

For more detailed advice, lectures, workshops, coaching and writing on persuasion, influencing, social media and other communication topics visit andrewhennigan.com. You can also contact me by email at conseil@andrewhennigan.com or phone at 0033 6 79 61 42 81.


Monday, January 23, 2012

Early-Stage Startups: Here's How to Get Impressive Search Results

Maybe you have an early stage startup with a minimum viable product and you are somewhere between the kitchen table stage and your first funding. When you search for the name of your startup on popular search engines all you see is your own website, your own blog and then irrelevant results. This will change when you get covered by Mashable, TheNextWeb, TechCrunch and so on, but for now it doesn't look very impressive. Without a PR budget you can't pay for professional help but there is a simple, entirely ethical way to make sure that your company practically owns the first page of search engine results -- the only thing most people look at anyway.  Here's how.

Search engines like Google use complex and secret algorithms to decide which sites will be listed first in search results, but what never changes is that the most important sites will always be on top. If you don't have many mentions then all sorts of irrelevant and spammy pages will appear quite high in the list. You can easily push them down by getting your startup mentioned on sites that are ranked very highly.  The Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Mashable, TheNextWeb and Techcrunch all rank highly but getting covered on their pages is far from easy.

But there are many sites that are very highly ranked and also allow you to simply walk in and create a page for your business -- these are mostly social networking and social media sites. All you have to do is create an account of each of these and place at least some minimum content and very soon everything, or almost everything, on the first page of search results will be owned by you. Later when you get professional help and start getting coverage in major media some of these results will move down automatically to make space for these articles.

You can find suitable sites just by searching for some other companies and see which of the social sites comes up first, but to get fast results I recommend that you start by aiming to add nine more sites to your existing website so that you can fill the first page of results like this:

1. Your own website
2. Your own blog
3. Twitter account
4. Facebook page
5. LinkedIn company page
6. Google+ page
7. YouTube channel
8. Quora board (yes, Quora does allow this. See Quora answer on this topic)
9. Pinterest page
10.  Soundcloud page

Depending on your business you might not find Pinterest or Soundcloud appropriate but you can replace them with other sites like Slideshare and there are new ones being launched all the time. You can find these easily just by looking at the sites that rank highly in searches for other companies.

Even if you are working on your own, to get a minimum viable presence on these social sites can easily be done before the end of today, giving a fantastic return for surprisingly little effort. Later you can try pitching to media -- though you probably need professional help for that -- and more creative ideas. For example, if your startup is located in a city covered by Gidsy you could consider organizing a visit to your office or a coffee-with-startup-founder event.

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Lectures, Workshops & Coaching

For one-to-one coaching, lectures and workshops on this topic see andrewhennigan.com or contact me at conseil@andrewhennigan.com or by phone on 0033 6 79 61 42 81.

Related posts on Branding and Reputation Management:

Choosing Pronounceable Brand Names: Lessons from the Cuil Saga
Five Simple Steps to Improve Your Online Reputation
Branding in the Age of Search Engines
Why Having Accounts on Photo Sharing Sites Is Good for Your Image
Sign Up Now: Joining New Networking Sites Boosts Brand, Reputation

Related posts on Startups

Social Media Crisis Management: Odimax's Emergency Stop
16pics Automatic Photo Picker: Humans Do Better But Have Better Things To Do
Trading Influence For Equity Wahooly Boosts Startups, Raises Ethical Questions
Why Gidsys Marketplace for Experiences Will Change Things
Zerply: Three Thumbs Up, Two Thumbs Sideways


Thursday, January 19, 2012

How to Have More Ideas: The Magic of Notebooks

At the end of lectures and workshops one of the questions I hear most often is "How do you get so many ideas?". Some people turn this round and ask "Why don't I have so many ideas?". In reality everyone has ideas, the only difference is that some people write them down and everyone else forgets them. You think you will remember, but without the help of a note you are likely to forget the idea, though frustratingly you remember that you had a great idea, and now it's gone.

Ask writers, speakers and other people how they manage to put so many ideas together and the answer is pretty much always the same: I write down ideas as I think of them. Where you write them down isn't so important. I write some in Moleskine notebooks -- I find the solid little books inspiring -- many on scraps of paper and the rest using tools like Evernote. Collectively I refer to them all as the Ideas Box, though this is a conceptual box because they are never all physically in one place.

Try writing down the ideas you have for a week or so then wait a couple of weeks and go back to review them. You will be amazed at how many ideas you had thought of that you had completely forgotten until you read the notes again. These lost ideas are what makes you think you don't have ideas, when in fact you did have them but let them fly away.

Just writing down all the ideas you have is probably not going to make a huge difference because ideas come at times when you don't have the possibility of neatly recording them in your notebooks.  A much better method is to write your notes in two steps. When you have the idea write down a brief note -- just keywords if you can't write more -- but then as soon as you get a chance to sit down in peace with the notebook add some more detail so that you will remember better.

If you write s few keywords this is enough to remember the whole story later the same day or maybe the day after, but wait two weeks and those keywords will be meaningless. I know this because sometimes I have forgotten this second step so my notebooks sometimes tantalizing fragments that mean nothing to me now, though one day I thought they were wonderful.  On some rare occasions I have managed to recall a lost idea, but some are still a mystery. What, for example, did I mean when I wrote "A grave matter!"  Still working on that one, but I'm sure it was a really neat idea.

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Friday, January 13, 2012

Social Media Crisis Management: Odimax's Emergency Stop


After the  summer while I was benchmarking social media monitoring tools I watched a number of demos, including an early version of Odimax's SocialGuru. At the end of the demo founder Atal Malviya asked if there was anything else that might be useful to add.

One feature I asked for is an emergency stop button for the scheduled actions, the equivalent of the big red button you find on all large, dangerous machinery that shuts everything down when something goes wrong. The reason I ask this is because most social media scheduling tools don't have a quick way to suspend or abort all of the scheduled tweets and updates. In the case of a crisis this would be very useful.

Early in 2010 I was lecturing on crisis PR at the American University of Paris and I recall that one of the examples I gave was the December 2009 crisis when several Eurostar trains were stuck in the tunnel under the sea. People turning to Twitter for news were first surprised to learn that @eurostar was at the time owned by a student and then even more surprised to see obviously scheduled marketing tweets inviting customers to take the train to Paris at Christmas. This example taught a valuable lesson that you need to turn off the flow of routine messages when a crisis occurs. (Since then, by the way, Eurostar also learnt the lesson and now improved out of all recognition. They own the @eurostar account and use it effectively.)

Last week I saw a demo of a new Odimax social media marketing tool that went even beyond my expectations. Not only does it offer the crisis mode I wished for, it also provides automatic detection of crisis situations. This feature triggers programmed actions when, for example, the number of negative mentions rises above a preset threshold so that routine tweets can be stopped and key people alerted.  The new version also has some interesting features concerning influence metrics that I had better not describe in detail because of a patent application in the pipeline. You will be able to try these for yourself when the new version debuts. Visit http://www.odimax.com for more details. You can also see them pitch their product live in London on 18 January 2012. See http://investordaylondon.eventbrite.com/ for details about this event.

These new features are impressive but what impressed me even more is the response to user inputs. Not only did Odimax clearly respond to what people are asking for, they also went beyond that to anticipate the suggestions that haven't even been made yet. There's a lesson here for product developers everywhere.

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Related posts on Startups

16pics Automatic Photo Picker: Humans Do Better But Have Better Things To Do

Trading Influence For Equity Wahooly Boosts Startups, Raises Ethical Questions

Why Gidsys Marketplace for Experiences Will Change Things

Zerply: Three Thumbs Up, Two Thumbs Sideways

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Why the Office Weasel Can Play a Useful Role in Hierarchical Organizations

People from the few societies that are not hierarchical -- Netherlands and Scandinavia mainly -- often have difficulty grasping how strongly hierarchical societies can function. When I explain this point in culture workshops they usually ask how any organization can function when people are unable to contradict the boss or even to report that something doesn't work. This happens not just in faraway countries that you have only ever seen in National Geographic. It can also happen closer to home in those organizations where the culture is more hierarchical than usual for the region.

Yet societies that are strongly hierarchical -- what culture experts call "high power distance" cultures -- can be highly effective. Look at Japan, for example. This is possible because in any culture where hierarchy is always very strong the people are also raised in this environment and have learnt how to behave to make things work. One very typical compensation is for people to use more indirect language, hinting rather than stating an opinion unequivocally. Another is to rely on alternative channels. Perhaps you would not say in an open meeting that an idea was doomed to failure to save the face of whoever is in charge, but you might mention the fact discretely in the corridor during a break.

But another way that managers can learn the truth about what is happening is to make use of employees who privately report to them the news that they have heard in the office. Other employees might refer to them as the office snake or weasel and if you work in an organization with any sort of hierarchical culture you have probably already seen this happening.

Like court jesters in the olden days, weasels have a kind of license to pass on bad news in confidence and are tolerated because of the context.  The weasel allows the boss to receive sensitive information without losing face because there are no witnesses present and the weasel is not stating personal opinions but merely reporting overheard conversations. Because of the inevitable confidentiality of the situation the boss also knows that the conversation is not going to be reported back to the employees.

Whatever the boss and the weasel might think, most employees are actually well aware of what is going on and they exploit the situation. To pass on unpalatable information to the boss they just discuss the point "privately" within hearing of the weasel, who dutifully reports it at the next opportunity. At the same time everyone is careful not to reveal any real secrets when the weasel is listening.

In this way there is a dependable flow of information through a channel that allows effective communication but in a way that protects the status of everyone. The boss gets information without losing face and the employees can say what they really think without embarrassment or fear of punishment. And the weasel? What's in it for them? Weasels are usually rewarded for their services with a cubicle by the window, a promotion or other advantages. These rewards seem inexplicable to puzzled colleagues, who are baffled why everyone but the boss seems to know that they are a weasel. But the boss does know and, perhaps subconsciously, the reward is precisely for that.

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Related posts about intercultural issues:

Why the Office Weasel Can Play a Useful Role in Hierarchical Organizations
Managing Across Cultures Three Non-obvious Issues to Watch For
Three Non-Obvious Ways Culture Affects Email 
Three Non-Obvious Issues in Multicultural Meetings  
Culture, Innovation and the Curious Case of Pandora Radio.  


Lectures, Workshops, Coaching on intercultural issues.


All of these articles are based on lectures, workshops and webinars on intercultural communication and management created by the author. For more information about these visit andrewhennigan.com contact me by mail at conseil@andrewhennigan.com or call 0033 6 79 61 42 81.



Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Olympic Ban Highlights Polarized Attitudes to Social Media

According to family legend, my great uncle Willie went to Paris with the UK Olympic team in 1924 then continued to wear the blazer proudly until well into the 1950s. News that the London 2012 organizing committee intends to ban social media use by volunteers (BBC article) shows that they are perhaps out of touch with what motivates people today -- I doubt that anyone is doing it for the blazer -- and also highlights the extremely polarized attitudes to social media.

Reactions to the ban on Twitter, Facebook and Google+ are almost entirely negative and reveal that many social media users are really baffled by the decision. This is hardly surprising since social media users are by definition generally favorable to social media use and strongly critical of any restrictions. On the other side there are some equally puzzled users who find the rules reasonable. Perhaps a more balanced view is that both sides are right in a way, but Locog -- the clunky abbreviation of London Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games -- is still at fault for not finding a better solution. This case is very instructive and will long be studied in communication courses.

First of all, why all the restrictions in the first place? Cynics speculate that this is to protect vested interests in media -- newspapers and TV networks that have paid large sums for exclusive access dislike seeing rival videos on YouTube.  I doubt that this is the real reason. More likely it is just the old-fashioned idea that you have to control the conversation or it doesn't take place. This used to be mainstream practice in corporate communications where every contact with outsiders had to be approved upfront. Technology has made this approach largely irrelevant and today PR people learn to mobilize other people to engage with audiences without this level of censorship, but the attitude still persists.

Actually there are some cases where restrictions on sharing text, audio and photos would be quite reasonable. One obvious one is when it would interfere with your work. Even though I am a great fan of social media I would think it distracting if one of the medal bearers were to pull out an iPhone and try to video the ceremony with one hand and hold the medal with the other. In the same way I imagine that you would be miffed if you were waiting in line at a supermarket checkout and the employee kept stopping to take pictures.  It could also be downright dangerous if someone were to walk around the arena with their eyes on their phone while people around them are throwing heavy balls and sharp pointy things, just like you would not want to see your taxi driver tweeting. There can also be obvious privacy issues backstage where the athletes prepare, just like you might be annoyed if you are in hospital and staff were trying to get pictures of you to share with their friends. I am less convinced of the security excuse, but it is conceivable that in some cases this might be valid.

While I can see that there are some cases where restrictions could be reasonable this does not mean that the ban makes sense. First of all because it is unenforceable.  It is difficult to see how you can physically stop people using social media short of confiscating everybody's  phones and  as unpaid volunteers they are not going to be deterred by any threats of dismissal. More importantly the ban reveals a failure to understand the role social media play in people's lives today. What will motivate volunteers in 2012 is not the free blazer but the thrill of being able to share in this moment of glory with their friends.  A blanket ban is more or less the equivalent of arguing that since burglars use flashlights they should be banned. A more measured response that both limits and encourages would motivate the volunteers, spare the organizers the embarrassment of a PR fail and turn this liability into an asset.

Locog is not only shooting its own feet off, it is also missing a unique opportunity to exploit the enthusiasm of the 70,000 volunteers to connect with the public. As long as people are allowed only to retweet official tweets they will do nothing of the sort. Replace the ban with a mixture of sensible restrictions and encouragement and they can mobilize this resource to work for the benefit of the games, bringing them closer to the community.

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Related posts on Social Media:


Communicating Social Media Restrictions: Lessons from the London Olympic Volunteer Ban

For more detailed advice, lectures, workshops, coaching and writing on persuasion, influencing, social media and other communication topics visit andrewhennigan.com. You can also contact me by email at conseil@andrewhennigan.com or phone at 0033 6 79 61 42 81.




Friday, January 6, 2012

What Businesses Can Learn From Facebook Timeline

Now that Facebook Timeline is available to all users worldwide (if you haven't got it yet go here and click Get Timeline Now) I hear more and more people complain that it is not as good as old Facebook. Yet I am sure that when Facebook announces the next major redesign people will be grumbling that they want to keep Timeline. This "New Facebook Effect" is well known. I wrote about it last year in The New Facebook Effect, The Rosetta Stone and Why It is Important for Communicators. It has also inspired many comics/cartoons like this classic 2010 State Of the Web by the Oatmeal.

Since 2005 Facebook has changed many times but this latest change goes beyond the usual tweaking of layout features. When you look at it more closely you realize that it is much deeper, much more clever than all the previous updates,  teaching three fundamental lessons for all businesses.

1. DON'T WAIT FOR COMPETITORS TO MAKE YOUR PRODUCT OBSOLETE. It is tempting to stay with a successful product until the competition forces you to innovate a new version, but this is not a strategy for long-term success. Friendster was ousted by Myspace and Myspace was ousted by Facebook, but Facebook was ousted by... New Facebook -- several times. This strategy explains why so many social media and Internet giants are now ghost towns -- be honest, when is the last time you used your Myspace account -- yet Facebook just keeps jogging along. The lesson is don't wait for the competitors to beat your product; do it yourself and you keep ahead of the pack. Wait until the other guys have a better product and you will be reduced to playing catch up.

2. MAKE FULL USE OF THE RESOURCES YOU HAVE. In the Timeline rollout Facebook demonstrated a textbook case of how a company can exploit something that they already have -- seven years of historical data on millions of users. This data was always stored but was not really being used and many users -- me included -- complained that things they had shared years before were practically inaccessible.  Timeline gives you easy access to all of this old data, bringing into play a resource that was previously just a cost to the company. The lesson here is to look for resources that you may have overlooked. Data sets that were previously just wasting storage space might be enablers for a new business or at least a new feature so someone should be searching for them.

3. LEVERAGE ADVANTAGES THAT ARE HARD TO COPY. Even more important, perhaps, is that Timeline is impossible to copy for new startups because they don't have a data set going back to 2005. It's even hard to copy for other giants like Google because their historical data is primarily just search and email data, neither of which could be used in this way. By switching to the Timeline product Facebook has created a massive barrier for competitors that will give them an advantage that will last for years. The lesson here is that you need to analyze new opportunities and give priority to those that are hard to copy. A great idea that anybody could copy with a day of coding is not the recipe for long-term success, but to build a new product on something that is very hard for others to equal is a more certain route to glory.

Like most people I struggled with previous updates for the first few days, but soon grew to like them and would never have gone back. Timeline was different in that it brought more obvious benefits to users. But the real significance is much deeper and this is not only the most significant reworking of the site but also the most instructive for other companies. It's an interesting exercise to look at your own business and see how many of these three lessons you can apply.




Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Why New Solutions Fail to Oust Email in Business Communication

Email has been the backbone of business communication since the 1980s. When it was first introduced it changed the way people worked, driving the shift from physical letters typed by secretaries to self-typed messages, accelerating the pace of business and enabling more remote collaboration.

Since then technology ha advanced. Thanks to better hardware, better software and faster networks we now have many alternatives that address some of the well-known limitations of email, yet email is still for most people the standard way to contact a company or organization.

For years people like me have taught businesses how to use alternatives to reduce the burden of email and shown people simple techniques to make email more effective (See, for example Three Timesaving Tips for Email). Some people go even further, like Atos CEO Thierry Breton, who famously banned internal email to improve productivity -- bosses worry about social media but email is one of the main time wasters in modern business. Even Breton, though, stopped short of banning external email for communication between Atos and other organizations.

Why have all the newer solutions consistently failed to oust email as the standard for business communication?  The answer lies in the word standard. Email is clunky, inefficient, insecure and much worse, but it is entirely based on standards and interoperability. You can send an email message from any client running on any hardware through any network and be pretty sure it can be read at the other end. The entire process is defined by open standards like the Simple Mail Transfer Protocol, various character sets and HTML. There are no proprietary technologies and nobody "owns" the email network. It won't become a ghost town like Myspace, or just disappear, like Google Wave.

Compare this with the walled gardens of social media.. I can contact anyone I want through Facebook but only if they have a Facebook account. There is no interchange protocol that lets me send a message from Facebook to Google+ or anywhere else. Google+ does address this issue in a way, offering the possibility of sharing with someone who has no account by sending an email, but the goal of this is clearly to get more people to open Google+ accounts. Even if everyone in the world had an account on a single platform no company or organization could willingly commit to using a proprietary system because of issues of ownership and security.

To oust email completely we would need to have a new standard for interoperability that allows people to communicate between platforms, but this is clearly in conflict with the apparent aim of the major players in dominating communication with their own private solution -- a completely unrealistic goal in any case for technological, legal and political reasons.

Will someone finally develop an interoperable solution, a standard protocol that allows everyone to talk to everyone?  Will the leading companies get together and agree on a standard or will a startup launch a standard so popular that they are compelled to adopt it? Or will email have to  persist for another 40 years?  History has shown that obsolete technologies can outlive their usefulness simply because it is too difficult to get everyone to agree on the replacement -- like the internal combustion engine. Let's hope we don't have to add email to this list, too.