Posey's Tips & Tricks

Will Microsoft Loop Change Email?

The ability to collaborate on email could have some resounding implications on how we communicate.

Microsoft Loop represents one of the most significant changes to Microsoft Office in quite some time. For those who might not be familiar with Loop, Loop is a collaborative tool that can enable real time collaboration at the document level. Microsoft has created a number of different Loop components, such as checklists, tables and other document elements. These elements are embedded into Microsoft 365 documents, but the Loop component itself is stored in the cloud.

What this means is that anyone who has a copy of a Loop-enabled document can make edits to the Loop-enabled portion of the document (and everyone else's copy will be updated in real time). In the case of a Loop-enabled Word document, for example, it would mean that the next time that a user opens the document, it will automatically convey any changes that others have made to the document's Loop content since the last time that the user opened the document.

The thing that makes this so significant is that the document does not have to be centrally stored and shared by multiple users. There can be multiple copies of the document in various locations and those documents (or at least the Loop-enabled portions of the documents) will remain synchronized to one another.

Interestingly, Microsoft has added Loop support to Outlook. Outlook Online is already Loop enabled, but the desktop version of Outlook will soon be getting Loop support as well. This means that users will be able to embed Loop content into email messages. I am actually having a hard time wrapping my head around all of the implications associated with having Loop-enabled messages, but there are several things that immediately come to mind.

Adoption and Compatibility
I am guessing that most user probably aren't going to start embedding Loop content in their email messages on day one. For one thing, it is going to take users a while to get used to Loop and what it offers. Additionally, not every email message can benefit from Loop content. The most recent message that I have sent, for example, was a message to a friend, telling him that I am going to be on the road this weekend. There was nothing to collaborate on, and so there would not be any benefit to adding Loop components to a message like that.

I'm not saying that Loop is useless for messaging. Quite the contrary. The point that I am trying to make is that some messages are more suitable to loop use than others and that it might take users a little while to figure out how best to use Loop.

Another thing that users will have to consider as they learn about Loop is the compatibility issues involved in using it. One of the things that makes email so great is that it is universal. You can send a message to anyone with no regard for their device type, operating system or mail client. That won't be the case for Loop-enabled messages. At first, only the users within an organization (users who share a common Microsoft 365 subscription) will be able to share Loop content. Over time that will probably change. Even so, Loop-enabled content within a message will only be viewable using Outlook or Outlook on the Web.

Regulatory Compliance
Another thing that organizations are going to have to consider is their regulatory obligations as it pertains to email retention. Message retention mechanisms (including those that are included with Microsoft 365) were never designed to deal with Loop content. Loop, by its very nature, is highly dynamic and it would be nearly impossible for a messaging retention system to keep pace with the changes that are made within Loop-enabled messages. At least for now, organizations that are required to retain email messages will probably have to prevent users from including Loop content in messages.

How Email Is Used
Perhaps the biggest thing that comes to mind with regard to Loop-enabled messaging is that it has the potential to completely change the way that users use email. By making messages interactive, email messaging has the potential to turn into something far different from what we are all used to.

Imagine for a moment that a user sends an email to a few coworkers and includes a Loop-enabled poll in the message. The recipients would not necessarily even have to respond to the message. If they complete the poll, everyone else's copy of the message (including the sender's) will be automatically updated with the new data. As such, email messaging could become almost like a mashup between small collaborative applications and instant messaging.

My prediction for Microsoft Loop is that we will inevitably see issues around compatibility and compliance, especially at first. However, if Loop becomes well adopted then it has the potential to drastically change the way that email is used in corporate environments.

About the Author

Brien Posey is a 22-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site.


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