Conversation conclusions

This blog is part of a series called Challenging Communication Norms

Conversation conclusions are a simple way to communicate resolution to all participants.

They are necessary to stop conversations rambling on into irrelevance with the discussion bearing no resemblance to the original subject line.

"Is that the time?" "It's getting late." "I shouldn't outstay my welcome."

In person, reality dictates that all conversations must eventually come to an end.
If not, the participants may well doze off, get hungry or even die (possibly of boredom).

This natural process has never translated well into digital asychronous communication.

Conversations can go on for days, weeks or even months with no end in view.

In some ways, this is the strength of asynchronous communication but it is also its weakness. However, concluding conversations is a totally new behaviour in asychronous communication.

A balance between benefit and inconvenience

In the very first version of Plum Mail, any user could permanently conclude any conversation for all participants.
We found that users liked to test the conclude feature on the first message they received which rather brought testing Plum Mail to a halt!

Version two of Plum Mail's conclusion feature is a whole lot smarter.

First, we do not allow a conversation to be concluded with any less than two messages in the thread from different participants.

All conversation participants must have read the messages in a thread before a conversation can be concluded and, each participant is given a vote on the conclusion.

In other words, only once all the conversation participants agree a conversation is concluded can it be formally, and irreversably concluded.

However, the one exception is the conversation owner - the user that started the conversation. They can overrule and conclude a conversation at any point after the first two messages have been sent and read.

Arbituary conclusions was clearly the wrong approach and did not achieve a balance between benefit and inconvenience.

The revised approach achieves a better balance where the benefits of concluding a conversation are enjoyed and the inconvenience of starting a new thread for your new topic of conversation results in a better quality conversation anyway so is worth it.

Recording the value

In time, concluding email conversations will become as normal as saying goodbye after dinner. What a nice feeling it will be to see an inbox full of concluded conversations representing a good days' work.

In order to capture the positive benefit of this new behaviour, Plum Mail offers the concluder the option to summarise the conversation in one line.

Say you've been conducting a review of your website design and you used a Plum Mail conversation to discuss which design everyone in the team likes best.

When you've all settled on a design, conclude the conversation and in the summary write: 'Design A chosen by popular vote.'

Plum Mail will also show you how many messages were sent in what time to reach that conclusion. Real data demonstrating measurable progress.

Striking the balance between benefit and inconvenience as well as demonstrating the value of concluded conversations will help to change user behaviour as they seek out the rewards that conclusions offers.