Response hierarchy

It was really interesting to read Michael Lopp’s latest blog post showing his relative probability to respond to an incoming communication based on the medium through which it is sent:

…I realized that I had updated the prioritized hierarchy to how likely I will respond to a piece of communication. From least likely to most likely, this is the hierarchy:
Spam < LinkedIn < Facebook < Twitter < Email < Slack < Phone < SMS < Face to Face

This struck a chord with me. A while ago I wrote down a list of all of the electronic inboxes that were playing a part in my life as I needed to take a step back and see it all. Discounting the ones that are both from and to myself (namely my unprocessed Drafts entries and my Evernote inbox), my own response hierarchy today looks something like this:

Spam < Flickr comments < LinkedIn < Voicemail < Facebook Messenger < Blog comments < Personal email < Goodreads/Strava comments < Facebook mentions < School governor email < Work email < Phone < Twitter < Skype for Business < Telegram/WhatsApp < SMS < Face to Face

Maybe I am over-thinking it as the comments and mentions don’t always require a response (although the notifications do nag at me on my phone and I have a lingering guilt about not looking at them as often as I perhaps should). Anyway, let’s remove those:

Spam < LinkedIn < Voicemail < Facebook Messenger < Personal email < School governor email < Work email < Phone < Twitter < Skype for Business < Telegram/WhatsApp < SMS < Face to Face

Lopp’s analysis of each form of communication is interesting. I’m impressed that he manages to get to Inbox Zero every day both at work and home. I get there sometimes, but it isn’t as frequent as I would like.

My hierarchy isn’t always consistent. Voicemails on my mobile from strangers get much less attention than voicemails from people I know, but even then iOS doesn’t do a great job of nagging me about the ones that I have listened to but not actioned. Occasionally I’ll flick across to voicemail and find six or seven that stretch back over the past few months.

I don’t answer the phone to external numbers on my work phone as 95% of the time it is a sales call; unfortunately for those callers I have also removed my work Voicemail so I don’t need to deal with changing the security PIN every month. The value of voicemail is far outweighed by the inconvenience of accessing it — most of the time my missed calls list is sufficient for me to know who to get in contact with. People who really need to contact me in a work context from outside my company will have my email address or mobile number.

Email is fine for business type things but completely broken for ‘proper’ correspondence in that the more important a personal note is to me, the longer I’ll tend to leave it until I find the time to sit down and write a considered, meaningful response. I fully understand that this may be no more email’s fault than it is the fault of the letter-writing paper that also goes untouched in our house. Perhaps the long-form two-way personal communication is dead in the era of instant responses, or only useful when you have a lot to say to the other person and don’t want to be interrupted or get a reply.

We use Skype at work for instant messaging but it is almost completely on a 1:1 basis with barely any shared channels. It feels like a missed opportunity but multiple attempts to get it started have never caught on. Perhaps our company is too small, or we don’t have enough geeks.

Slack doesn’t feature at all as an inbox for me yet — I’m a member of three ‘teams’, none of which are directly linked to my employer. I mainly lurk and therefore don’t get many communications that way.

Twitter used to occupy a giant amount of time but my usage has tailed off significantly over the past couple of years. For a long while it felt like a real community and that I was part of something — I even organised a small handful of well-attended ‘tweetups’ in our town for everyone to meet — but over time I had subconsciously given up trying to keep up and have gone back to reading blogs and books. I get very little direct communication from it and when I do I’m pretty responsive. The main role it plays in my life now is as an aggregation source of interesting things to read via the wonderful Nuzzel app.

It’s interesting to me to write this down as it gives me a realisation of how complicated things are these days and how much of a cognitive burden it is to keep up with it all. It’s no longer sufficient to get to Inbox Zero with my three email accounts and feel that I am ‘done’; all of the others need to be checked and drained as well on a regular basis.

The magical Internet, making connections and asking the right questions

The Internet has given us an embarrassment of riches in terms of our ability to connect with people. This is an obvious statement, but sometimes I take things so much for granted that I forget the opportunities that this puts in front of me.

When I started work at my current firm in 2010 the managers in the team were all walking around with newly-released iPads in their hands. I distinctly remember my boss raving about how he had been in contact with the developer of a mind-mapping app he was using and how changes he had requested were being released to his iPad just a few days or weeks later. It felt magical. Compared with the computing experience we had grown up with, it was magical. The iOS App Store’s ubiquitous links back to application developer websites made it so straightforward to get in contact, and the rise once again of applications created and maintained by solo developers meant that emails got straight to the right person. My boss’s enthusiasm gave me an ‘of course, why didn’t I think of that?’ feeling.

A few years later, I became very involved as a user of the Readmill social reading platform. Talking to the team via Twitter and providing regular feedback led me to having good long Skype conversations with a couple of members of the team. It felt great that they cared so much that they wanted my input and I really wanted to help them to make it more successful.

Serendipitously, I’ve heard three podcasts in the past few days which have made me start to think again about the connections we are able to make and the value that they bring. Firstly, Ryan Holiday on Tim Ferris‘ podcast spoke about how mentors aren’t necessarily people with whom you have struck up a formal relationship:

Ryan: People think mentorships are these very official relationships — the way that an apprenticeship was like your parents basically sold you to someone in exchange for like room and board for a number of years and then you officially learn a trade. A mentor is anyone who you learn from, who gives you advice and teaches you things…and you don’t actually have to meet them for them to be your mentor…I think a lot of people they hold out for this sanctioned, official relationship rather than learning from anyone who has wisdom or advice or value that they could pass your way, and if you put it into practice and you do something with it, they see value in that as well.

Tim: Asking someone to be a formal mentor is the absolute best way to never have a good mentor.

Ryan: Totally.

Tim: Because it’s like, “Hey! Do you want to sign up for an unpaid part-time job, because you have so much free time?” It doesn’t work. So I’d just be curious to hear what you did and what you would recommend people do if they were trying to find or looking for that type of teacher. I think ‘mentor’ is problematic as they think of it in such formal terms. Maybe you can talk on that point.

Ryan: I think it was once every couple of weeks — no, couple of months probably — and I would just ask questions that I thought would be helpful to me but very easy for him to answer. It’s like hey, if you want me to read your manuscript that’s a lot of work for me to do…if someone wants you to give a five-second instant opinion on a title, you’re like “Sure, that’s one email.” And so I don’t think people think about 1) what they are actually asking and then 2) they ask a lot over and over again.

The Verso Books podcast featured an interview with Ilija Trojanow, author of The Lamentations of Zeno, where he explained how he got in contact with a scientist as part of his research for his novel on glaciers and climate change:

Ilija: After a while I had the backbone of the story and I realised that if I was to write about it I would actually have to get seriously involved, I would have to get seriously informed about stuff like geology and particularly glaciology. And then of course in regard to the more scientific aspects of climate change. So I looked up on the Internet who is a well-known glaciologist and I found a professor in Zurich who has a very Swiss name, Haeberli. I called Professor Haeberli and he very kindly invited me [to visit]). I went to the university in Zurich and told him the story and asked him to brutally honestly tell me whether from his point of view as a specialist if it makes any sense. And when I was telling him the story you could see how his face kind of changed a little bit; I was thinking to myself “Oh boy, he’s going to tell me ‘No, forget about it. This is utter nonsense.'” And quite the opposite happened, he actually said “Where did you get the story from?” And I said “Well, I dreamt it up, basically.” And he said “This is incredible, this is exactly the way I feel and this is so pertinent and so close to my personal experience and the experience of so many other scientists I know. So, by all means, go ahead and write it and if you need any help…”

Anil Dash featured on the wonderful Track Changes podcast where he noted that:

The Internet was for people to communicate. The main thing people do on the Internet today is send messages to each other. That’s the most popular thing.

Anil takes this to an extreme by featuring his email address and phone number in his online profiles, for example on Twitter, which sounds crazy but doesn’t seem to have caused him any problems:

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about people I admire and want to be around — whether physically or virtually — in order to learn from. As I have grown up with the web over the past twenty years there are a few characters that have always seemed to have popped up in multiple contexts — Matt Haughey, Anil Dash, Jeff Atwood, Merlin Mann, Michael Lopp, Andy Baio, Euan Semple, JP Rangaswami and Marco Arment to name a few — and continue to do so. Their work and thoughts have been very valuable to me. I’ve always felt like a simple consumer of the great things they produced, admiring from afar, reading their blog posts and tweets, listening to their podcasts and watching their videos. On occasion, I’ve spoken to some of them through email, or more often Twitter, and in each case I find it amazing that they have ever found the time to respond.

Sometimes when I am grappling with solving a difficult problem or making something better, particularly at work, I forget that there are lots of experts out there who are just a few taps away. Remembering to cast a wide net with my communications is something I need to do much more often. However, as per Ryan Holiday’s comments above you need to make sure that you aren’t placing an unreasonable burden on people and that ideally the question has value to both of you.

What do you do when you spot another blogger?

On the train home from work today I looked up from my iPod and did a double-take – right in front of me was a fellow Berkhamsted blogger (if I can still call myself that, given my lack of recent posts) whom I recognised from his numerous Flickr photos. My first thought was to say hello and introduce myself, but I quickly realised how wierd this would be! I really had nothing to talk about other than the fact that we had both uploaded various photos to the Berkhamsted Flickr group and he had made me an admin many months back. It’s a strange feeling, thinking that it isn’t the first time that you have met someone and wanting to say “hi” but actually having nothing more of any real interest to say.

This happened to me before when I spotted the Station Master (of the now defunct Station Master’s Weblog fame) at one of the tube stations that I use on my commute – again, I thought of saying “hi” but had nothing to really talk about other than the fact that I read his blog. Not many avenues of conversation there.

Nobody wants to come across as a stalker!

Addicted to Facebook

After just two days I have to admit that I’m already addicted to Facebook like it’s some kind of drug. It’s really amazing – it takes the concepts of Friends Reunited and blogging, adds a slick appearance and easy accessibility and cross-references pretty much everything you do on the site to make a completely absorbing experience.

I can’t help myself from logging in from my mobile phone at least half a dozen times a day to see what people are up to, see what messages have been left and to change my ‘status message’. By being so quick and easy to use you really get a sense of what your friends are up to and already I feel as though I’m back in contact socially where I had been a bit of an email recluse before.

I’ve also just switched to using Gmail for my personal mail (with all its fantastic spam-filtering goodness) and the slick mobile Gmail application on my mobile so I’m really going to be back in contact now. Time to upgrade my mobile tariff!

A new Apple Crumble

I’ve now moved over from my old web host to a blog hosted on the WordPress.com site.  I’d been thinking about making a change for a while after reading Rob Newman’s web page about moving to an eco-friendly web hosting company.  I had a bit of a browse around but I couldn’t really see anything that was aimed at someone who wanted webspace primarily for blogging – ie quite cheap and with some kind of guarantee that Movable Type would work.  I had problems a while back with my current host when I upgraded Movable Type in that certain Perl modules that I needed weren’t available – it took a few emails to convince them that any good web host would accomodate installing the module I required.

Having thought about it even more, I realised that I’ve not had that much time to blog recently and I started to question the value I was getting.  I’ve written around 250 posts since April 2004 so at £105 for a year’s posting it has cost me over £1 a post!  It’s not that I can’t afford it, but with a baby on the way I’ve started to think a lot more about the fact that what I’m spending is longer really my own money any more.  Expectant put it very well in his post back in November and it reflects exactly how I’m feeling.  A free blog seems like the answer to me.

My first thought was to head to TypePad, which is a hosted version of Movable Type – the blog software I am familiar with – but it turns out that you have to pay quite a bit for that as well so I wasn’t saving that much cash.  A little more delving revealed WordPress.com – a free host – and it has been surprisingly easy to migrate over to this site.  Yes, it’s a little more limited in that I don’t have complete control over the site (or the code…or what types of files I can post…) and yes it’s ugly (for now at least until I can grab some of Mat‘s time to help me with the CSS that is), but it is free, has good features built in and seems to have a very enthusiastic and honest company behind it. Ultimately it should just leave me to worry about writing entries and not all of the other gumpf that goes with running a website which will be no bad thing as my free time gets limited when the baby arrives.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time this week fixing images, links, documents etc and moving the videos over to YouTube (which hopefully doesn’t impact the integrity of the original posts).  If you find a problem, please leave a comment or email me about it!  Thanks.

BookCrossing


Read and Release at BookCrossing.com...
Top marks to my wife for letting me know about the brilliant service at BookCrossing.com. The idea behind the site is that you log a book and get a unique identification number for it which you then write onto a label or even just write by hand into the book. The text is something like this:

“I’ve registered this book at BookCrossing.com so I can track its journey through this world. Please go to www.BookCrossing.com/123-456789 to let me know you found it, then read it and/or pass it on for someone else to enjoy. Thank you!”

You then leave your book somewhere in the wild for somebody else to pick up. They can then go onto the website and register that they picked it up. Once they’re done with it, they can pass it on to the next person or leave it somewhere.

If you don’t fancy writing the text by hand you can download some cool labels instead and even buy special plastic bags to put them in so books left outside won’t get wet.

I’ve no idea why I find things like this so interesting but I know that it plays completely to my geeky tendencies. I’ve just labelled up a couple of books that we found we had two copies of here at home and we plan to release them tomorrow. I’ll put a permanent link on the right-hand-side of the blog that will show all the books I’ve released. Brilliant.