Ethan Banks On productivity.

The Problem With Communication? Too Many Solutions.


Perhaps the single greatest task I have in a given day is that of communication. I have a lot of folks to keep up with about a lot of things. The comedy is just how many tools I have to use to accomplish this seemingly straightforward task.

  1. E-mail. I have four accounts I use for various tasks. One of those accounts has about a dozen aliases. Even so, my email volume is fairly reasonable, if I exclude emails from automated systems that send me alerts. I get perhaps 10-20 messages a day that I actually need to deal with. I receive very little spam. Most email lists I get added to honor unsubscription requests. I prefer not to use e-mail to communicate if there’s another option, because email is hard to keep up with. I try to limit email to business, family, and a few friends.
  2. Twitter. In my world, tweeting is a weird mish-mosh of all sorts of messaging. Generally speaking, Twitter is my one-to-many tool for letting folks know I wrote something or sharing interesting links. Oh, and sharing cat pictures. (Yes, I really do that.) Once in a while I’ll use Twitter for crowdsourcing the answer to a quick question. That usually works pretty well, no matter what I’m asking about. The Twitter community is very willing to share knowledge, which is outstanding. Twitter is also useful for quick direct messages that don’t require an immediate response. I don’t like Twitter for conversations or arguments. 140 characters limits nuance, which can be important when discussing networking, especially emerging technology. Even so, Twitter does offer a sense of community, and there are folks who I know better by their Twitter handles then their real names. When running into a tweep in meatspace, it helps if they tell me their Twitter handle.
  3. Slack. This new chat service is sort of like private IRC. The idea is to build a work group, create channels, and communicate. Slack conversations are searchable and archived, so you never lose track of what’s been said on any channel. Slack also integrates with services like Twitter, so you can do things like build a Slack channel that creates a message every time someone mentions you or alerts you whenever you get a new MailChimp subscriber. Slack’s motto is “be less busy,” which I think they achieve. I spend less time tracking certain events because Slack takes care of it for me.
  4. HipChat. HipChat is very similar to Slack. Practically speaking, I’m not sure what the major differences are between the two. I happen to use both, as I work for two different companies. One uses HipChat, whereas for Packet Pushers we’re using Slack.
  5. Skype. I used to use Skype for instant messaging, but have largely given that up for Slack. Slack allows my messaging to be topic-oriented instead of individual-oriented. These days, I use Skype for voice communications, but not much else.
  6. IRC. IRC is where many open source community groups exist. Packet Pushers also has a channel on IRC. I’m on IRC sporadically at best, but it’s definitely a useful tool from time to time.
  7. iMessages & FaceTime. As an Apple user, iMessages & FaceTime work on both my iPhone and Mac. It’s the best way to chat with family.
  8. GTalk. I have a few friends who don’t seem to be anywhere reliably except GTalk. So, yeah…I use that as well.
  9. SMS. Some people still send me text messages. I cry every time it happens, because I’m pretty sure God kills a kitten when they do.
  10. GotoMeeting. Packet Pushers has a GotoMeeting account we use mostly for vendor briefings.
  11. Google Plus. I rarely use this for meaningful communication. I do share links there, and once in a while that generates a conversation. However, I don’t see very much engagement on G+. Twitter is still where it’s at as far as getting a reliable response back.
  12. LinkedIn. Once in a while, folks send me messages on LI, where I notice them and then often forget to respond. For store-and-forward messages, e-mail is the winner. LI is where messages go to die until I log back into LI and remember that I have a message sitting there.
  13. Blog comments. Once in a while, I’ll leave a comment on someone’s blog. And at times, someone leaves a comment on my blog that requires a response.
  14. Phone. Yeah. When all that other stuff isn’t quite the right thing, I can be reached on my cell phone. Sigh.

For being a normal way of life on the Internet, this is all wrong.  Terribly, terribly wrong. I think humanity has a problem – we keep inventing new ways to talk to each other instead of rallying around a few methods. Yes, it’s true that the different software I’ve listed above has different purposes. At the same time, there’s lots of functional overlap. It seems crazy that I have this many ways to communicate that I use regularly. Ah, well…maybe I just need to shut up. Yeah. That could be a thing.



Ethan Banks On productivity.

You probably know Ethan Banks because he writes & podcasts about IT. For example, he co-authored "Computer Networks Problems & Solutions" with Russ White.

This site is Ethan on productivity--not tech so much.

Find out more on his about page.