Email is evil. This isn't news. It's an information black hole that sucks away at your company's IP. The perfect organization doesn't use email at all. Kind of like the mob.
But seriously, email stinks out loud. So what can we use instead?
I've recently been struggling with this issue. Gigantt uses Google Apps for emails, calendars, some documents, and, well... that's about it. Okay, SSO as well. Google is pretty dominant as a single-sign-on provider. But I digress. I was certain Google had at least some reasonable solution for internal company discussions. Probably just have to search the Google Apps Marketplace and choose one.
Turns out the offerings are slim. Why is nobody doing Exchange "public folders" for Google Apps? This is begging to be implemented.
So we gave Yammer a shot. Yammer is nice. Hopefully it'll stay nice even after being acquired. Come to think of it, Microsoft might as well turn that into it's public folders 2.0. But right now it's just not that useful for discussion boards. It's more about being able to like the fact that somebody brought cake to work or released a stable version of something. It certainly has it's place, but it's not where you want to keep your precious, precious corporate discussions.
What about Google Groups? Google Groups just doesn't work well with Google Apps. Don't ask me why. I sure wish it did. But I could not for the life of me create a new Google Group with my Apps account. And besides it's really just a different way of labeling email, when you think about it.
So strike two.
Then I stumbled upon grove.io. They'll host a private IRC server for you. Real easy to get started. In all honesty it's almost just as easy to host your own server on some cloud machine, where you'll have a bit more control over things, but who has time?
So - IRC. Remember? Gosh, it's been years. But apparently some isolated internet tribes have been using this ancient tool all this time. We gave it a try. And you know what, it's pretty f-ing great.
Our organization is distributed. That's another way of saying we're not paying for offices. Or, more accurately, our employees are the ones paying for office space by working from home. The challenge when working from home is to walk the fine line between feeling close to each other, like you could knock on someone's office door and pop-in for a question, and still each having his own space and the ability to get work done. Also, I find it critically important to be able to listen to WHAM occasionally at high volume. Working from home accommodates this need.
But email is horrible and way too offline/async. Chat is evanescent, ephemeral, fleeting and various other synonyms. It's just as bad at sucking away information as email. Once the chatters quit you basically have no idea what the chat they were chatting about. And it's pretty low-tech, too. Chat has like two features - send a message and set your status. That's it.
IRC, on the other hand, is a dream. You've got channels. Channels are by and large public (within the organization). You can search them. You can archive them. Everything is preserved. And you've got commands. Delicious, delicious commands. It's really programmable, configurable, hackable chat. You can make it behave a certain way when you're away, you can tell it which keywords should draw your attention with an audio "bing!" and which can be quietly ignored. You can mash it together with your source control to get commit notifications. Whatever. The point is it's a platform. But above all it just feels cool to be able to hang out in an old-school, ASCII environment.
I realize I sound like a total newb lamer extolling all these virtues that many people have been taking advantage continuously since I last used IRC like 17 years ago, but I can't help it - I'm excited. IRC is just fun. Nostalgia is part of it, I'll admit. But I'm really optimistic about adopting this tool as a core piece of corporate gear. The baseline is a solid, tested, simple way to discuss things in real time. That, by itself, is quite a lot. But on top of it you can tweak and hack the hell out of it with your own bots and your own inner jokes and rules. I really feel I've been missing out for quite a few years.
So go give grove.io a try. You might end up installing your own IRC server, but that first quick taste of that familiar IRC flavor is just a sign-up away, so take a shortcut and try it out (free 30 days trial).
/away playing Song Pop