‘Its the office memo turned cancerous’

‘Its the office memo turned cancerous’

Thus spoke Donald Norman when describing email.

In the same interview the design expert noted that: “The problem is in trying to make email do everything when its not particularly good at anything”. It is a truism that people are ruder when emailing, or that they are over-familiar, or that they are pushy, or whatever annoys you most. These claims can often be contradictory, but they are consistent in one regard: they all indicate that people do not like communicating via email.

Asynchronous discussion boards are essentially threads of group emails, and have many similar short-comings. They are not a ‘rich’ form of communication, and the message is always received in a different context to that in which it was sent. Moreover, you can have a dozen or more individuals with different roles, concerns, and attitudes participating in what is supposed to be a single discussion, or not.

And that is the problem. Often there are two or three discussions taking place, with only a minority of participants contributing at any one time. Assertive chairing and skillful leadership is needed, but in message boards this always risks coming across as bossy or controlling.

I have tried to think of some positive aspects of discussion boards for this post, but I have only managed to unearth two:

i) You always have time to compose a reply, thereby avoiding ‘off-the-cuff’ or ‘heat of the moment’ remarks.

ii) You can always walk away from the discussion and have a cup of tea when ever you need to.

(Image by RRZE / Creative Commons)


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