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Goodbye Facebook! We Barely Noticed You Were There!

A bit less than four years ago, Facebook decided to get into the email business. I wrote a blog entry at the time, warning it a bit about what it was getting into.

Facebook announced the closure of its email service earlier this year. Facebook emails will automatically be forwarded to whatever email address Facebook users have listed as their primary one.

Facebook announced the closure of its email service earlier this year. Facebook emails will automatically be forwarded to whatever email address Facebook users have listed as their primary one.

I warned it about the technical complexities of email, and the pitfalls that required email veterans on the team to avoid repeating. I really thought the biggest problem it faced might be technical. I figured that with its brand, it certainly had ‘market permission’ to enter the email space.

But we never got a chance, really, to find out how good Facebook mail was, because almost nobody used it. I didn’t see that coming, because I thought that there was potential value in integrating Facebook messaging with email. I should have known better, though, because I made a similar mistake back around 1982.

In 1982, I was developing and maintaining email clients for a couple of timesharing systems of the day, when I discovered that two future friends were developing a bulletin board system and a calendaring system for the same environment. We decided that what was really needed was to integrate all three into a single user interface that streamlined everyone’s communication.

We called the system BAGS, after our last names – the Borenstein Anderson Garlan System. It was modestly successful, and was maintained for many years after I moved on. But people didn’t use it as a single user interface. Some used it for both email and bulletin boards, but separately, as if the fact that they were all one program was something they needed to work around. Like Facebook, we found that users just weren’t drawn to the kind of ‘universal interface’ that draws computer scientists like moths to a flame.

It turns out there are good reasons why people have always had multiple communication mechanisms. The characteristics of a communication technology, coupled with the community rules, standards, and customs that develop around that technology, inevitably result in a mechanism that’s better for some things than others.

If you need to send me a message, what’s the difference between email and instant messaging? It’s not just a matter of whether you’re using a laptop or a phone, because either can be used either way. But when you’re using a laptop, you’re likely to be in a more relaxed or serious environment, so it’s natural to compose an email, which is likely to be longer, more nuanced, funnier, or otherwise more complicated than seems right for an instant message. On the other hand, if you’re running across an airport, dashing off an instant message will be rather more appealing. And if you’re like me, you’ll sometimes dash off an instant message to yourself, reminding you about a more complex email you need to send.

Facebook was one of the pioneers of social networking, which as a communication medium is radically different than email. People use it to communicate with whole groups of friends or relatives at once, and they think of themselves, generally, as operating in a semi-public forum. Email feels (rightly or wrongly) more closely controlled and limited in distribution. Combining two media that differ in important aspects is a recipe for confusion, and users intuitively resist it.

The email world and the Facebook world often leak into each other, but that doesn’t mean users want them to merge. The best email programs have user interfaces that are highly evolved to what users expect from an email medium – features that make it well suited to complex threads of discussion, but less well suited to ad hoc group discussions with your friends’ friends. Merging the two doesn’t necessarily make things simpler – the features of one can actually get in the way of the other.

The bottom line is simple: email is very, very important to a lot of people, and they are wary of anything that might weaken its usefulness. If Facebook had set up its email service to be entirely independent of the social networking system, it might have been able to attract users, and then gradually introduce carefully selected features that connect the two in useful ways. Perhaps that’s how it’s planning to approach its acquisition of WhatsApp; if it’s sufficiently cautious in how it integrates the two services, it might well succeed.

So, while we are saying goodbye to Facebook mail, perhaps it’s not forever. There’s still plenty of room for innovation in email, in social networking and in the spaces in between. But it’ll take a more open, incremental and modest design to succeed.

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Yesterday’s Microsoft Outage Shows Value of Contingency Planning

Yesterday Microsoft confirmed it had an email outage on Exchange Online and Office 365. But they are not the only ones to have experienced this problem.  Their cloud competitors like Google and even Facebook have had the same problems in the last few months. And if you have your email server in house you may well experience downtime much more frequently.

It is important to say that all email and cloud services will have downtime – some of it planned and some not.  But when it happens it is always frustrating and disruptive. But you can do something about this.

It is for this very reason we said on our blog yesterday that two clouds are better than one.

The cloud presents a very compelling business case for customers looking to reduce the cost and complexity of their email environment. Many have already moved to the cloud or will in the coming months and years.

But when you move critical services and data like email to the cloud you must also plan for the inevitability – albeit rare – that the service will go down – just as you would with business continuity solutions on your own infrastructure if you kept it in house.

As it happened, we also announced yesterday our own suite of services for Office 365. These include business and email continuity services designed to give customers just the kind of protection we are talking about here in the event of downtime to Office 365, as was experienced yesterday.

We have provided these continuity services for other platforms for some time, protecting our customers against planned and unplanned downtime of their email be it Exchange, Google Apps or Lotus Notes.

So don’t let yesterday’s events put you off the cloud or Office 365 for that matter.

But if you are on Office 365 already (or thinking about it) or indeed have on-prem or other cloud email providers – do look again at your contingency planning. How will you cope when (not if) your email service is unavailable?

The cloud is great. But two clouds are much better than one when it comes to your business critical applications like email.

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When Two Clouds Are Better than One

Office 365 is more than fulfilling the potential we explored on this blog in March. According to Microsoft Corporate Vice President Jeff Teper, at the recent SharePoint 2014 conference, Microsoft’s Office 365 has completed its 18th consecutive quarter of triple-digit revenue growth.

Two clouds are better than one. With Mimecast as a strategic secondary cloud service alongside Office 365, organizations can reduce the risk associated with a move to the cloud and benefit from additional new functionality at the same time.

Two clouds are better than one. With Mimecast as a strategic secondary cloud service alongside Office 365, organizations can reduce the risk associated with a move to the cloud and benefit from additional new functionality at the same time.

No wonder – the Office 365 proposition is now even more compelling with new iOS apps being well received and next generation business tools like Office Graph capturing the imagination. So, with momentum building, when CIOs consider switching to Office 365 surely the answer is a simple ‘yes’?

For enterprise organizations, it’s actually more complicated.

For these companies the choice of third party on-premises services, like downtime contingency and multi-layered security, reinforces their core Microsoft services to meet their requirements. However, there isn’t a simple migration path to Office 365-compatible equivalents of these usually complex and costly point solutions.

So what’s the answer? It’s certainly not to wait – moving to the cloud is inevitable and to delay adoption of Office 365 would mean your business would miss out on improved agility and reduced cost of ownership. But equally, you don’t want to run the risk of critical business systems like email being exposed to attack or interruption. The fact is, when it comes to your data, any risk is too much risk.

The answer is actually a blended-cloud approach.

A secondary cloud service, like Mimecast, can work seamlessly with Office 365 to enhance security and help ensure business continuity, data redundancy and archiving requirements are met. This is why today we announced a range of new services for Microsoft Office 365 that address some of the concerns CIOs have had about moving to the cloud, paving the way for a swift and risk-free migration.

Mimecast Services for Office 365 will be available in July. Enterprises can select from a range of targeted solutions or opt for a bundle of risk mitigation services. A blended-cloud solution combines the benefits of two clouds into a single, multi-layered service offering, diversifying risk across more than one vendor. Enterprises get key capabilities that help them adopt cloud solutions faster, and allow them to benefit from cloud innovation and agility. If you’d like to find out more about Mimecast Services for Office 365, take a look at our video here.

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The Power of Corporate Memory – Is the Legal Profession Ready?

I ran a panel session last week at the Legal Week Strategic Technology Forum on ‘Information Governance Best Practice’. I wanted to explore how concerned legal CIOs are about security threats and spear phishing in particular.

Mimecast’s Chief Strategy Officer, Matthew Ravden, ran a panel session last week at the Legal Week Strategic Technology Forum on ‘Information Governance Best Practice’ focusing on security threats and spear phishing in particular.

Mimecast’s Chief Strategy Officer, Matthew Ravden, ran a panel session last week at the Legal Week Strategic Technology Forum on ‘Information Governance Best Practice’ focusing on security threats and spear phishing in particular.

Also, how on top of compliance they are in terms of managing the huge amount of data they have and applying policies to it; and finally how predisposed they are to the idea of retaining more, rather than less, so they can apply business intelligence technology to deliver insights to the business.

On security, the reaction was unsurprising but also gratifying. No law firm wants to be the first to suffer a major breach, so there was a great deal of concern about the growing threat of spear phishing, as well as more mundane things like new strains of nasty viruses hovering at the gateway. But – and I have to declare that my panel consisted of three Mimecast customers – it was quite clear that these guys were happy to entrust the job of keeping out bad stuff, and bad people, to us. I talked about the fact that the Snowden/NSA saga seems to have created something of a cloud backlash, but most of the CIOs I spoke to here said that they felt sure that their data was safer in the cloud than it would be if they held it on-premise. This had a caveat – provided you choose the right cloud vendor. This was music to my ears, because we’ve heard a lot about companies insisting on holding encryption keys on-premise because they don’t want the cloud vendor to have theoretical access to it. And it’s ironic to hear this view touted as part of the post-Snowden paranoia, since Snowden created this furor by leaking documents from within.

On compliance, it’s quite clear that legal CIOs have their hands full getting a handle on the data management. And it’s not just data in digital form. Rooms full of files, CDs lying unencrypted in drawers. Lawyers who don’t want to listen to new ideas on good practice for managing data (and not leaving it on buses, or dictating loudly into machines whilst on trains). There’s a lot of cooperation going on between IT and risk and compliance teams, and that would seem to be a very good thing. But getting the information under control, perhaps into a single repository as opposed to multiple siloes, is a long and painful task.

By the time I got to the idea of ‘digital preservation’ vs. ‘defensible deletion’ it was pretty obvious that these firms, on the whole, have enough on their plates without entertaining ideas like ‘corporate memory’ and the suggestion that all data is useful, and it should be kept in perpetuity! Of course, it’s not that simple in the legal sector. Much of the data in the archive belongs to the law firm’s clients, rather than the law firm itself. So keeping it – and worse yet – analyzing it, could cause all sorts of complications.

They will get there, though. There was a presentation at the conference about the use of business intelligence tools to analyse data – albeit mostly financial data – to help the law firm get a handle on how much profit each lawyer is contributing to the business, and how well managed each case is from a commercial point of view. This may seem like baby steps, but if analysis of data in its early iteration can contribute directly to bottom line performance, then we’ll see more and more of it being deployed.

And I fully expect next year to be a different story altogether.