Gates & Ozzie on the Trouble with Email

The current Fortune magazine contains an interesting interview with Microsoft’s Ray Ozzie and Bill Gates. The subject is the trouble with email, which validates a point I have made here a number of times lately: Email is still the undiscovered country, an area of technology, like search circa 1998, that people have prematurey ceded to an incumbent vendor despite the many opportunities remaining.
Two good quotes. First, Gates on how he handles his own email knowing that it sometimes ends up being read by teams of outside lawyers:

Bill, you have been nailed in court through e-mail that was found in legal discovery. Has that changed the way you use it?
Gates: No. I live the examined life. Basically every e-mail that I’ve ever sent has been looked at by something like 30 or 40 lawyers to see if there’s any way it can be misconstrued. I don’t put any notes at the bottom where I say, “Note to lawyer: When I say ‘Beat the competition,’ I mean in the nice friendly way we always do.” [laughter]

And a second quote, this one of the generational gap between how people use email and communications technologies. You can see some of this in the recent bleating in some quarters about wireless use at conferences, but Ray Ozzie touches on it again here:

Even to discuss technology in the workplace makes some people angry. There’s deep frustration out there at the way their lives are continually interrupted.
Gates: That’s those mobile-phone people, I think. [laughter]
Ozzie: People who have not grown up with this technology have a much more difficult time adapting to what [former Microsoft researcher] Linda Stone named this “continuous partial attention” mode where you’re dealing with many, many things at the same time. The problem is that the technology makes it so easy to just flood yourself with information, that people who have not established self-discipline can become very frustrated and less productive.


  1. blo5ish says:

    shakespeare coined the phrase ‘the undiscovered country’ in reference to life after death. you use the metaphor inappropriately.

  2. Ordinarily I ignore those sort of persnickety troll comments, but I’ll entertain this one for a moment. While Hamlet wasn’t exactly chipper about what awaited people after death when he used the phrase, the “undiscovered country” metaphor is still the one I wanted: People have long thought email deceased as an interesting product category, but it is experiencing life after death. Whether that is an investable state is a different question ….

  3. blo5ish says:

    ah. i stand corrected. very nice.