THE Universal Communication Client?

March 25, 2009


I imagine that I’m not alone in that I depend on several communication clients: Outlook for email, Jive & SharePoint for collaboration, Tweetdeck for Twitter, Trillian (Y!, Live, GTalk, and Office Communicator if the network isn’t letting Trillian work) for IM, iPhone for text messaging, WordPress for my blog, and Netvibes for feeds.

I’m not sure that integrating all of these communication channels requires integration at the protocol or web services level. That might be nice, if possible…but it probably isn’t.

What I do believe is that we need to keep track of all of our conversations in a better client. So, to restate the title of this post in a different way:

Why isn’t there one communication client that works with all these protocols?

Why all the fuss? Why do I care? Why should you care? Why is this painful?

If only ____ would work with ____!!!!!

If only ____ would work with ____!!!!!

Let’s take Twitter as an example. I have no archive of my previous Tweets; nothing in a usable way as I do for sent email. I can’t see threaded discussion like I can with collaboration software. I’ve seen attempts at it, but nothing that can be depended on for business. Email, on the otherhand, solved these problems long ago — and did it on the client side.

It seems to me that, after looking at the components of the various message formats, they share a common pattern. They are either single part or multi-part discussions:

Single part examples:

• Twitter
• IM

Multi-part examples:

• Email
• Blog posts
• Feeds
• Collaboration Software

Some have attachments. Some have addresses. Some have meta data like tags. I don’t think I’m oversimplifying it in believing a single data entry form could cover them all.

As a communicator, I need solutions that allow me to live a layer above the protocols. Don’t get me wrong…I’m not a luddite…and am always trying to stay ontop of what is the latest and greatest tool for my trade. I just want software to do the heavy lifting of staying on top of protocols for me.

Who do I think is best positioned to create the universal communication client?

The Leaders

Microsoft’s Outlook already integrates RSS feeds. They also have a calendar, address book, and project management features. Now they just need IM, Twitter, mobile, and a blog editor. The drawbacks are that it’s not consistent between Mac and PC and, even with the advances with their 2007 release, still needs a more refined UX.

Tweetdeck is on it’s way with support for multiple services such as Twitter,, Scoop, and more. They have good integration for adjacent services like URL shortening and media sharing. All they need now is a feed reader, IM, blog editor, and mobile integration. My biggest concern is that it’s an AIR client, which is a resource hog and it is notorious for memory leaks.

Emergent Challenges

The biggest challenge to figuring out how to integrate all of these messages is how to bring them into a unified view. This problem doesn’t emerge until one attempts to unify the inbox…have you ever tried to use ALL the services available with Exchange Server in only outlook? If I have to switch between applications or inboxes within the system, then it doesn’t really help me see my communications any more clearly.

We need visibility, which ideally means our theoretical inbox is just a view for the linked conversation that exists in a central, scannable place. We need the ability to track open conversations and prioritization of what we read and respond to. Tracking means we need conversations to be logged in our CRM system. We also need analytics to know how our communication supports or detracts from our business objectives which helps up prioritize. To effectively prioritize we need more robust filtering and linked messaging.

At the moment, I can use a number of free and paid tools to help me listen. I wish they were powering my feed reader. I also wish I had those kind of tools for Twitter, email, SMS, and IM.

In addition to the universal communicator, we need to employ tactics that cut down on bad communications, such as writing good emails, collaborating on documents using wikis, and not emailing stand-alone files. But, those tactics are the subject of other blogs posts. :)

Universal Communication Client Business Requirements:

Supports linked conversations
Tracks and prioritizes open conversations
Supports CRM integration
Works with analytics tool
Allows for easy filtering

If you could order this dream communicator, what else would you define as the business requirements?


I’d agree it would be nice, but I’ve also gotten used to the idea that I have to check 5 different websites to stay in touch these days. The lack of a stream/convo history/whatever you call it in Twitter is frustrating, but it walls off an area of the web that allows you to interact with strangers without worrying so much about posting a racy photo that costs you a job. Facebook, on the other hand, is intimate and just for you and your homies, if you want it to be. What I want most out of an email is to be able to use a client that allows me to work with my messages off line — I don’t want to go web-based only. And I also need a spam account for buying stuff, though this is probably the least pressing need these days, what with spam pretty well corralled. I could probably condense to Facebook, email and Twitter but I’m not crazy about rolling them all into one.

From Winston Ross on March 25th, 2009 at 5:48 pm

Winston, I completely agree with your comment about not wanting to go web-based only. I also think that behavioral training to deal with the mess isn’t a good answer either. In looking at your comment it seems like the business requirements you have are:

Must be available offline
Must handle spam effectively
Must handle ‘multiple identities’

Is that a fair characterization?

From jascha kaykas-wolff on March 25th, 2009 at 6:31 pm

I find your post to be really compelling. The challenge I face is that that as I catch up with the advances, new advances come on-line. That is not necessarily a bad thing. It is simply the reality of today’s technology. Business technology is evolving so quickly that it certainly can cause some irritation. But, I find there is also a tremendous opportunity for good old fashioned leadership to be such a premium deliverable. This is because, in the final analysis, people aren’t looking for new technology. They are looking for faster technology to find the people they need to deliver leadership and optimism to their businesses.

Great post. Cheers!

David Porter
The BullsEye Leader

From David Porter on March 25th, 2009 at 7:38 pm

Fallon Worldwide recently released ‘Skimmer.’ A Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Youtube, Blogger reader. It is buggy as all get out (it is beta after all) but visually stunning and easy to set up.

The more interesting thing is that it was made by an Ad Agency, not a tech or software dev firm. It is a promotional piece, a showcase of Fallon’s talent.

I’m hoping they will fix the bugs and add more services to the mix (like a pure RSS reader).

From David on March 25th, 2009 at 8:15 pm

Great post Jascha. I often think about this from a business perspective. How can social media can be integrated into a CRM-type tool. Tracking visitors to my website is daunting enough… this ideal tool would theoretically be able to measure conversion events that happen away from the home-base, and out there in the conversations.

How can we integrate leads, influencers, commentators, mentions in social media etc into a database tool to get a better idea of how PR/Marketing/”Social” are all influencing the presence of a brand online.

From a personal standpoint, I believe these tools are coming… The Cosmic Machine has an app for Mac called EventBox to track RSS, Flickr, Facebook, Twitter, etc. I’ve tried it, but didn’t really give it a proper spin, as the tools it integrates aren’t the ones that I want put together.

Mash this up with Adium and Mail… and you may have your killer app after all.

From Neil Bearse on March 25th, 2009 at 8:36 pm

Skimmer is cool! Thank you for sharing David. Neil I don’t have my mac in the office so i’ll have to check out eventbox later this evening. David, you couldn’t be more right about leadership being the driver…it’s an ingredient that is needed for anything or anyone to be successful.

The running Business Requirements list with new addition:

Flexible and rooted in data visualization principals
Must be available offline
Must handle spam effectively
Must handle ‘multiple identities’
Supports linked conversations
Tracks and prioritizes open conversations
Supports CRM integration
Works with analytics tool
Allows for easy filtering

From jascha kaykas-wolff on March 25th, 2009 at 8:57 pm

Can we also get one battery charger across all my gadgets? Laptop, BB, iPhone, Sony PSP, etc. I will work on the value add of my comments. Great post Jascha.

From Colin Crook on March 25th, 2009 at 9:55 pm

Colin. Your answer is here:

From jascha kaykas-wolff on March 25th, 2009 at 10:32 pm

Ooh I like Skimmer!

From Winston Ross on March 25th, 2009 at 11:35 pm

I received a note from a friend via facebook. He suggested I checkout I’m checking it out and will let you know how it works.

From jascha kaykas-wolff on March 26th, 2009 at 1:40 am

Update: Wow. Aside from digsby not connecting into exchange nativly and the UI being a bit too ‘web’ I’m very impressed with my first 10 minutes of using it. I’m off to check out the logs it generates and offline record keeping.

From jascha kaykas-wolff on March 26th, 2009 at 2:01 am

Digsby is not the answer, it’s more like trillian on steroids with a million notifications from other services. I had high hopes after my first interaction and will probably continue to use it however it is not the universal communications client. That is for sure.

From jascha kaykas-wolff on March 30th, 2009 at 2:10 am

I read your posts for a long time and must tell you that your posts are always valuable to readers.

From Vince Delmonte on April 15th, 2009 at 9:55 am

[…] Jascha Kaykas-Wolff wrote about the need for this kind of aggregation almost a year ago in his post THE Universal Communication Client? In this post Jascha predicted Outlook as the logical platform on which to build a portal that […]

From Outlook’s Social Connect: Social isn’t just AIR toys anymore! | Official Webtrends Company Blog on February 18th, 2010 at 1:13 am

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