E-mail’s down, but that’s good, right?

Hot on the heels of Microsoft’s trouble with the law (courts) earlier this week, comes more bad news.

Office 365 down: Microsoft not working leaving people without email and other crucial internet services
The exact cause of the problem remains unclear, as Microsoft continues to seek a solution. The trouble has been particularly frustrating for businesses unable to carry out day-to-day communication, with issues emerging as many people started work this morning.

A coincidence that it comes within a day or two of this government speech calling for less e-mail?

Damian Hinds: School leaders should ditch email culture to cut workload
Teachers should not have to email outside of office hours and should instead embrace innovative technology such as AI to help to reduce their workload, the Education Secretary said in a speech today.

He makes it sound so easy.

IT in the dock

Things aren’t going well in the courts at the moment.

HMCTS suffers major IT issues
Significant IT issues at the HM Courts and Tribunal Service (HMCTS) have caused chaos across the UK’s courts as users have been unable to connect to the network and use IT systems that require access to it.

The issues began last week and are mainly affecting devices trying to connect to the main Ministry of Justice (MoJ) network, which is used by the department as well as all its agencies and several arm’s-length bodies.

Law courts in chaos as IT meltdown disrupts thousands of cases
The communication failures, which started last week, are a significant embarrassment for the Ministry of Justice, which is investing £1.2bn in a high-profile programme promoting online hearings which aims to replace the legal profession’s traditional reliance on mountains of paperwork.

The IT breakdown meant that staff at the MoJ were unable to send emails, wireless connections went down, jurors could not be enrolled and barristers could not register for attendance payments. Courts were left unsure of when some defendants were due to appear and some court files could not be retrieved, leading to prosecutions being adjourned.

The Register had reported on this a few days before, when the problem seemed to be restricted to just their CJSM (Criminal Justice Secure eMail) system.

Lawyers’ secure email network goes down, firm says it’ll take 2 weeks to restore
For reasons that were not immediately clear, Egress Technologies, provider of CJSM, said in an emailed update to users seen by The Register that restoring CJSM would involve wiping their mailboxes for up to two weeks.

It’s now more serious than that.

Nationwide UK court IT failure farce ‘not the result of a cyber attack’ – Justice Ministry
The Ministry of Justice has said a data centre outage was responsible for the widespread collapse of the UK’s civil and criminal court IT infrastructure over the past days.

In a statement to Parliament today, justice minister Lucy Frazer pinned the fault on Atos and Microsoft, saying there had been an “infrastructure failure in our suppliers’ data centre”.

Here’s a report from 2016, highlighting the issues the department was facing…

Ministry of Justice IT systems are ‘fragile and precarious’, say MPs
The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) must get to grips with its poor IT systems or risk “further demoralising essential staff”, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has warned. […]

“ICT systems in probation are inefficient, unreliable and hard to use,” the PAC said. “In a service that relies on successful joint working between multiple partners, it is essential that ICT supports, rather than frustrates, effective and efficient collaboration. This is far from the case for probation.”

… which led to the £1,000,000,000 plan to “transform courts with better use of technology”.

UK justice system set for ‘wholesale shift’ to digital
The reform programme foresees “a wholesale shift to accessing justice digitally” and flags up two “significant developments” that will affect the way courts and tribunals operate: “The first is our aim for all cases to be started online, whether or not they are scheduled for the traditional system or for online resolution. The second will be the completion of some cases entirely online, which will be much more convenient for everyone involved.”

How was that received? With not much confidence, it seems.

PAC doubts justice system transformation programme will be a success
Public Accounts Committee says it’s difficult to see how the government’s “extremely challenging” £1.2bn project to overhaul courts through use of technology “will ever work”.

I don’t know if that’s related to today’s IT breakdowns there, but it makes you wonder.

A strange morning

The Quartz Daily Brief is just one of several e-mail newsletters I like to start my day with, on my commute to work on the number 97. A variety of topics are covered, some catch my eye more than others — politics, yes; business, not so much — but today’s ‘Surprising Discoveries’ section was so odd I just have to share it all with you.

Jack Dorsey sent his facial hair to Azealia Banks. The Twitter CEO wanted the rapper to make a protective amulet out of his beard shavings.

A judge ordered a Missouri poacher to watch Bambi on repeat. He has to watch the Disney classic at least once a month during his year-long jail sentence.

Actual witches want Trump to stop saying “witch hunt.” They say his comparison of the Mueller investigation to their painful history is disrespectful.

A diamond the size of an egg was unearthed in Canada. The value of the 552-carat “fancy yellow” gem will depend on the cutting (subscription).

The year 536 was the worst to be alive. A mysterious global fog covered half of the planet for 18 months, leading to constant darkness, crop failure, and mass starvation.

That’s quite a collection of strangeness for one morning. Sign up for your own odd start to the day.

Another day, another GDPR e-mail

GDPR finally comes into force on Friday, and there seems to be no let up in the privacy notice update e-mails we’re all getting. This raised a smile though.

Most GDPR emails unnecessary and some illegal, say experts
What’s more, Vitale said, if the business really does lack the necessary consent to communicate with you, it probably lacks the consent even to email to ask you to give it that consent.

“In many cases the sender will be breaching another set of regulations, the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations, which makes it an offence to email someone to ask them for consent to send them marketing by email.”

I wonder if we’ll still receive these e-mails after 25 May. If we do, are the companies that send them admitting they weren’t compliant initially? I’m sure the ICO won’t be too concerned, but it’ll be interesting to see what happens.

Last-minute frenzy of GDPR emails unleashes ‘torrent’ of spam – and memes
The whole process has inspired the internet to rope in everyone from Julian Assange to Donald Trump to Prince William in an attempt to illustrate their frustration at the electronic onslaught.

Just deal with it, not bothered how

I’m finding these kinds of articles about people moaning about their e-mail more and more annoying.

Unanswered emails were the bane of my life – until I spent a month in search of inbox nirvana
I renegotiate the terms of this week (with myself) and instead resolve never to check emails on my phone. This is because, as Gomes tells me, it is a “really, really stupid” thing to do. He describes a crushingly familiar scenario: you skim through emails on your phone, and half-read one that stresses you out. You can’t read it properly because it’s on a small screen which is “psychologically frustrating”, and you can’t reply because you get distracted – you so half-read it three times, growing more and more anxious, before you finally sit down at your computer, and realise it wasn’t as bad as you thought.

To prevent myself from checking my email on my iPhone’s browser, I move the Safari icon so that it is nine swipes away. It works. I feel simultaneously triumphant and riddled with self-loathing.

Yes, some people get more e-mail than others. And yes, it’s taking up more of our time than it used to. But no, it’s not an interruption from your work, dealing with e-mail is a part of your work now. And has been for, what, 20 years? There’s so much advice out there on how to work smarter with e-mail – filters and rules, labels and folders, even declaring e-mail bankruptcy now and then. Whatever works for you. Just get on with it.

The triumph of email: Why does one of the world’s most reviled technologies keep winning?
“Email has evolved into a weird medium of communication where the best thing you can do is destroy it quickly, as if every email were a rabid bat attacking your face,” Paul Ford wrote last year. “Yet even the tragically email-burdened still have a weird love for this particular rabid, face-attacking bat.

Love it or hate it, email’s not going anywhere

The triumph of email
“Email has evolved into a weird medium of communication where the best thing you can do is destroy it quickly, as if every email were a rabid bat attacking your face,” Paul Ford wrote last year. “Yet even the tragically email-burdened still have a weird love for this particular rabid, face-attacking bat.”

Emma Mulqueeny's time limited solution to e-mail horribleness

If Google and MS Exchange were to implement this, it really would shift our relationship with e-mail into a much more mature and intelligent place. We’ve had e-mail for ages now, we really should have moved on more than we have.

Seven email problems – one solution, I think
You can have your inbox set to destroy email after a certain time period. The sender is alerted to the fact that their email will be destroyed after xxx number of days, so if no response has been received in that time, assume email bankruptcy on behalf of the receiver, and use a different method to communicate your demands/thanks/wishes/offers.

You can also send time limited email – if the receiver has not read the email by a certain date, it becomes irrelevant or too late, and so the email is deleted, so that saves the issue of protracted apologetic comms that are dull for everyone involved. You could set this email to alert you when it is deleted unread, just so you know, in case you want to pursue the issue on a different medium.

 

Leave it in the office

Could work emails be banned after 6pm?
In many jobs, work email doesn’t stop when the employee leaves the office. And now France has decided to act. It has introduced rules to protect about a million people working in the digital and consultancy sectors from work email outside office hours. Those are taken to be before 9am and after 6pm. The deal signed between employers federations and unions says that employees will have to switch off work phones and avoid looking at work email, while firms cannot pressure staff to check messages.

Preservation problems

The New Age: Leaving Behind Everything, Or Nothing At All
As for his own digital legacy? Moser says, “Please throw it all in the Pacific Ocean with a big block of concrete around it. I mean, it probably won’t help because I’m sure that Google has it in a cave in Idaho somewhere,” he says. “There’s this incredible amount of you that exists and that isn’t protected, that you don’t really have any say-so over. Where before you could just burn letters and diaries, you can’t exactly wipe every hard drive and scrape the cloud clean. I think the only thing on our side is that probably by the time, if I’m granted a normal life span and die in 40 years, there will be so much of it that nobody would possibly ever want to bother,” he says.

Note to self: must sort through those old boxes in the loft, those old university zip disks and SyQuest cartridges might still be up there. Though of course I’ve nothing to play them on if I find them…

Whether we like e-mail or not

E-mail, the Godzilla of the enterprise
Email crosses all lines and boundaries. Until we can find a better, and easier, way to work everywhere with everyone, email is not going anywhere. We can only hope that email can be a productive tool and not a burden in the next several years because like Godzilla, email is here to stay.

A self-spamming university?

Google blocks U. of Illinois at Chicago from emailing its own students
The University of Illinois at Chicago recently found itself living a modern nightmare: Google’s automated cybersecurity regime mistook the university as the culprit in a spam attack on the university’s students and began blocking university email accounts from sending messages to Gmail users.

The blocking went on for more than two weeks, and the affected Gmail users included 13,000 of the university’s own students. University officials describe those two weeks as a Kafkaesque state of limbo.

Gmail's beginnings and consequences

How Gmail happened: the inside story of its launch 10 years ago
But serious search practically begged for serious storage: It opened up the possibility of keeping all of your email, forever, rather than deleting it frantically to stay under your limit. That led to the eventual decision to give each user 1GB of space, a figure Google settled on after considering capacities that were generous but not preposterous, such as 100MB.

An interesting read about the cautious beginnings of what now seems like such a no brainer. But consider that passage above with this one from Barclay T Blair, information governance expert, in a post entitled “There is no harm in keeping tiny emails”. He had found an article that he thought…

“There is no harm in keeping tiny emails”
… nicely summed up the attitude I encounter from IT and others in our information governance engagements. Ask an attorney sometime if there really is “no harm in keeping tiny emails around in this age of ever-expanding storage space.” The drug dealers of the IG world have really done an incredible job convincing the addicts that the drug has no downside.

Case studies on capturing executive e-mail

"I found the first report helpful because even though the team was unsuccessful in selecting an email solution, they shared a detailed explanation of their experiences and lessons learned. The second report touches on a number of issues surrounding email management: auto-classification, user motivation and time available for categorization, training, and scalability."

http://saarmrt.wordpress.com/2014/01/06/capturing-executive-email-at-the-university-of-michigan-campus-case-studies/

Sounds like an uphill struggle all right. I’m finding it hard to visualise an e-mail management system that will actually work as well as we want them to, without significant buy-in from the user. It’s not that we lack the self-discipline- well, no, it’s not just that we lack the self-discipline, there needs to be a considerable time-investment made by the user in actively managing all this – methodically, consistently, deliberately moving e-mail out of their good-for-reading-and-sending-e-mail system and into a good-for-storing-and-searching system.

I mean, we all have an hour and a half scheduled into our calendars every Friday afternoon for this, right? I can’t see how it all would work if not. Surely it’s up to us, the users, to get us out of this mess ourselves, rather than waiting for a technological solution?

Do we really need an e-mail charter?

No sender

We’re drowning in email. And the many hours we spend on it are generating ever more work for our friends and colleagues. We can reverse this spiral only by mutual agreement. Hence this Charter…

http://emailcharter.org

Didn’t this used to be just called etiquette? Interesting spotting this shortly after the postcard thing.

How e-mail can be used for customer support

How we used email as a customer support system at mySociety
f) Be really disciplined about this. Anything in the support folder represents a customer who isn’t satisified.

g) Make sure at least one person on the team goes and looks at slightly older, harder messages, and bullies appropriate people into resolving them one way or the other.

This particularly works well early on in a product, when there is relatively little support. It’s particularly important then that everyone working on the product lives and breathes the customers. Even just seeing the emails go past with other people answering them can help with that.

This is something I should be bearing in mind, as we’re going through a little thing at work about help desk systems and how we can make better use of them.

Stay on holiday

There must be a million blog posts out there about how to deal with e-mail. Here’s another. Rory Vaden has given us 7 tips for getting your inbox to zero to add to the mix. They all sound very familiar sensible but I especially liked number 3:

3. Extended Out of Office: When you go out of town for vacation or a work conference, turn your “out of office responder” for one day longer than you’re actually gone. I’ve found that having an out of office responder on all the time telling people how busy we are just annoys them–and doesn’t stop them from sending us emails. But turning on OOR once in a while really does have a positive effect in causing people to think before firing off an email to you knowing that you’re gone. The magic–which I discovered by accident–is in adding one extra day to it so that you legitimately have a catch-up day to get your feet back under you when you return.

I had a few days off last week and had my out-of-office on, but turned it off as soon as I got back. I might give this a go next time though, as I often find most of the first day back after any time off is spent dealing with the missed e-mail whilst trying to fend off the new that’s coming in, often about the same topic. (Do I start from the bottom and work up, or from the top and work down?…)

Other useful tips appear in the comments, too. Someone there admits to not reading any CC-mail. I might give that a go. Often putting someone’s name in the CC box is there for the benefit of the sender only, as a way of showing to the sendee (real word?) that other eyes are potentially on them. If it’s important, tell me about it. If it’s not, then don’t.

I also tend to avoid reading l o n g e-mails too. If it starts to feel like someone’s just venting or ranting, that the cue to stop reading and pick up the phone. Or better still, meet up and sort out whatever the issue is that’s prompted them to write at such length.

Will we ever crack e-mail, I wonder?

Bill Clinton, the last sane man on Earth?

BillE-mail sends you mad. This is a fact, known to science since forever. You know it, I know it. The more you deal with, the more insane it makes you. Turns out that Bill Clinton sent just two e-mails as President. He must have been very sane. Perhaps the last sane man on Earth.

I guess the reason this is most surprising is that Bill Clinton is not a faded memory where quirky stories like this are read with misty eyed nostalgia. He is still on the scene; his presidency happened within the lifetime of anyone over 11 years old. So this is a very stark reminder of how quickly things have changed.

Derfel Owen | Salon

Quitting paper and e-mail

  • Chris Smith at Lifehack.org starts his paperless new year
    The idea of ‘the paperless office’ has turned into a joke, an aspiration for the future on a par with hoverboards, jet packs and little robots that do your housework (oh, wait a minute). I believe, though, that we really should give this a go – it can’t be beyond us, surely? Here, Chris starts his year the right way, though you can’t help but think it’s all a bit small potatoes.
  • Thoughts from a TechCrunch columnist on quitting e-mail for a month last year
    He admits to having cheated a little, but still, an interesting exercise and one I’d love to have a go at. I hate e-mail. Some really interesting ideas on the failings of e-mail, and what a more Twitter DM-ish, Facebook Message-ish e-mail system might look like, “Gmail Lite”.

HE standards, e-mail

  • Times Higher Education – Watchdog finds fault with Leeds Met validation
    “The Quality Assurance Agency has raised concerns about Leeds Metropolitan University’s validation of degrees. The watchdog said this week that it had “limited confidence” in the institution’s management of academic standards for courses delivered by partner colleges.”
  • The price of a University drop-out 4: Time for some numbers. | Help Me Investigate… Education
    “The data takes into account HEFCE decided partial completion premiums and the reduced funding delivered for each masters and post-graduate student (because they pay entirely for their course), and is, basically, quite complicated. The data I compiled (in slightly raw, Google doc form) was drawn from HEFCE-released data from 10/11, and is free for anyone to play with, so if you want to see how your university fares for non-completion rates, take a look. So what can we take from this? I think the most interesting discussions will be for the future, and how the whole system will dramatically change why tuition fees sky-rocket.”
  • A “zero email” policy that makes zero sense – Good Experience
    “According to this article (also covered by the WSJ), the French IT company Atos has discovered that its employees are becoming less productive because of the increasing onslaught of email. … the CEO announced that the company will BAN EMAIL. This is a technology company with 74,000 employees. No more emails – internally, at least, as a few people outside the company still use the tool. If you work in X business, shouldn’t you make sure your employees are good at X?”

Outlook, HE standards

  • Outlook Today: Your morning coffee before the onslaught – Outlook Blog
    “Let’s take a look at your morning. Chances are it takes you a while to wake up. You may need a shower, a shave, some coffee, breakfast, and maybe a chat with your loved one. Then—and only then—will you feel steady enough to wrestle with that onerous inbox of yours. I am very much this way: The last thing I want to do first thing is jump right into email. It’s tempting, I know. How beautiful those bolded folders are with their brilliant blue unread mail counts, just itching to take over your brain, your time, and your life.”
  • Light-touch rules could quickly become heavy – Times Higher
    “A risk-based approach to quality assurance could lead to more rather than less red tape for universities because the government’s reforms are likely to put pressure on standards.”