Choose your own messaging system

I remember reading Choose Your Own Adventure books as a child and loving them. I’ve always been a fan of freedom of choice and recently Microsoft unveiled Microsoft Teams — their answer to Slack. I’ve written a number of blog posts about Microsoft Teams since its launch and a lot of attention was given to this product at the Microsoft MVP Summit in at Microsoft HQ this week.

I think Microsoft Teams is a great solution, but it’s not for everyone. And that’s the key thing here — not everyone wants to work the same way. Microsoft gives us a number of choices within Office 365 as to how we can communicate and some people are starting to think that it may be too many.

A big selling proposition of the Microsoft cloud stack is around identity — a single identity can access many applications, many documents, and interact with many people. Across Office 365 we have the following set of products that allow people to communicate with each other, all in different styles:

Has its own threaded-based conversation mechanism, different channels for conversations.

Has its own presence system.

No explanation needed. Allows people to start IM conversations from an email, or reply to a missed IM via email.

Also keeps conversation history in mailbox.

Allows emails to be sent to groups, subscription to groups & conversations, as well as replying to a message in Yammer that was delivered via email.

As you can see most of these systems integrate with each other. While Teams is somewhat separate from a messaging perspective — it does integrate with Office 365 Groups and therefore all the components it connects to (eg. Planner, Skype Meetings, SharePoint document libraries, Yammer, etc.).

What I believe to be the issue here is that while Microsoft has focused on a single identity that ties all of these together — we still have four separate messaging systems and three inboxes. One of the complaints I have heard from users around the uptake of Yammer (and I expect the same soon with Teams) is the requirement to check another inbox. Most users are comfortable with checking their Outlook inbox, and while I do believe we need to evolve beyond this behaviour that hasn’t really changed for 15+ years — we do need to make it easier for users to access their notifications and messages regardless of application.

The reality is that the user is the single constant across Teams, Outlook, Skype for Business and Yammer. And while all of these offer varying conversation and communication modalities — another constant is the simple messaging component.

If I send Bob a message, I as the user don’t want to have to select which system to send Bob the message on — I just want to send the message. And if I do send the message I don’t want Bob to not see it because he hasn’t opened his mailbox, Teams application, or Yammer browser. Notifications can help with this, but can you imagine getting notifications from four different messaging systems? Chances are you already do both in your work life as well as personal (eg. Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Snapchat, Skype, etc.).

I would like to see Microsoft develop a common messaging substrate across the four conversation modalities, something that might look like:


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