This meeting could have been a wiki page

1 minute read

There is a popular meme which is used as a response to “useless” meetings: “this meeting could have been an email”. I think replacing meetings with emails would be a good start, but replacing it with a wiki page would in many cases be even better.

Replacing a meeting with an email is problematic for several reasons.

  1. Emails allow for communication with a bounded and clearly defined audience only. It is the responsibility of the sender to determine who can access the information in it. There is no way for people to “subscribe” to emails related to a certain topic (although they could sign up to a distribution list; it is still up to the sender to decide whether or not to include that list in the recipients). This setup is not great for the sender (who has to make a decision before sending), the recipients (who have no control over the decision to receive this information), and everybody else (who have no control or visibility over the decision as well as the information; e.g. they are completely unaware the information exists).
  2. There is no (easy) way to add emails to a shared archive which can be searched and accessed later by anyone outside the recipient list (distribution lists are again the exception to the rule here). This sort of fungible communication can be useful at times—for example when the content of the meeting is sensitive in nature—but it is also a (often unnecessary) restriction which limits impact and opportunities for feedback and improvement.
  3. Email doesn’t support commenting, copy editing, updating, collaborative editing, or versioning very well. While “reply all” does allow for discussion, long email threads with inline comments are difficult to follow (Outlook makes this doubly so, because it does not natively support interleaved posting, which forces people to resort to using font colours—”responses below in red”—like it’s 1999) and the recipients cannot (easily) opt-out of the conversation.

If the purpose of the original meeting was only to send information to a limited audience, then these limitations of email might not be a problem. But if any sort of interaction was expected—or if the audience has a fuzzy boundary (e.g. in the future someone else might be interested in the content discussed)—then I would argue a wiki page would be a better fit.