IBM released Notes 8 and Domino 8 earlier this month — two years in development and “the industry’s first enterprise collaboration solution largely designed with input from its customers.” IBM has devoted a lot of its efforts towards creating an integrated user experience — messages, calendar entries, file folders, and queries to business applications can all appear within a single, tiled window. With customized sidebars and tool bars, application developers can add “peripheral vision” to the user experience, and integrate a variety of plug-ins. While this user interface style is hardly revolutionary, it does cut down on window-clutter and will go a long way towards improving the usability of complex application environments.
IBM has also introduced “message conversations” into Notes email. Rather than messages being displayed as discrete items, they are concatinated into their discussion threads — with the root message and all the replies captured in a single list. This reduces Inbox clutter — 150 messages (the average daily total for a “typical” Notes user) can be reduced to eight or ten threads.
For organizations that made the Notes investment some years ago, there’s no need to consider alternatives or doubt IBM’s commitment to it’s core collaboration platform. Like the mainframes of an earlier computing era, Notes remains a solid messaging platform with integrated calendaring and contacts. It continues to serve as a development environment for ad hoc (workgroup-level) applications.
But I wonder about the growth opportunities for Notes. Many of us are quite comfortable with the “traditional” business activities engendered by this latest version — sending and receiviing messages, scheduling and attending meetings, contacting people. Yet when we have so much information readily accessable at our fingertips, we are continually looking for new metaphors for doing work — bringing people together over the network, restructuring business processes, improving decision making. More is at stake than simply “reducing clutter.” We need to focus as much on the “collaboration services” accessible within the network as on the quality of the user experience itself.