Death of an Inbox

July 26th, 2007 30 Comments

inbox.jpgIn a comment on my first post about the slow death of email as a communication medium, Julie asked:

I guess you are talking about email in the context of personal communication rather than business? What are your thoughts on IM for business use, as a replacement for email?

My position is that email is dying off completely, for work and personal purposes, and being replaced by messaging within another system, e.g. a social network. As uptake of social tools like Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Pownce, etc. increases, we will all ask ourselves the question: Why do I need email?

To be clear: 1) Businesses will be much slower to adopt other communication media, but I think communication within enterprises in 3-5 years will be a lot less email-based than it is today and 2) I’m talking about standalone email, not email from within a social tool, like what Facebook is rumored to be developing.

Let’s think way back to the initial appeal of email.

Now, let’s think about email today.

Email has become a nuisance, capped off by a rash of email bankruptcy declarations (Fred Wilson, Jeff Nolan, and others). I know loads of people who complain about too much email and too much spam. What used to good about email has made it a chore. Emptying your inbox is like cleaning the garage.

Business people complain about bloated inboxes all the time. I used to organize my inbox, creating folders, moving messages, diligently keeping a clean inbox. In 2001, when I returned to Oracle, I decided I wasted too much time on email organization. So, I only file messages in Trash; everything else is in the inbox. My inbox has 25,000 or so emails, one flat list. I use Google Desktop to find stuff, and overall, I’m much happier than I was with incessant message filing and inbox cleansing.

Businesses adopted email because it was cheaper and easier than phone communication; ideally, users could more easily focus on work, rather than being interrupted by a ringing phone. Today, I would debate that email is still cheaper, what with compliance issues and eDiscovery problems. Email in today’s business world is a time and money sink.

So, what’s the future? Typically, business has been a slow adopter of consumer technology trends. Young people prefer social messaging over email. Social messaging has the advantage of providing all speeds of communication: slow (social network message boxes), medium (Twitter-like, short bursts), and fast (IM). Social networks have also had some success against spammers, although let’s be honest, there is no stopping the 419ers of the world. Spam will find a way.

I see businesses adopting a platform that provides all these to employees, with VoIP and old-school email. From an administration (and compliance) perspective, a single system with logging is much easier to maintain and track and deliver to a court if subpoenaed.

So, a long answer to your question Julie. For giggles, I’ll send future me an email, and if it bounces, I’ll assume I’m right.


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30 Responses to “Death of an Inbox”

  1. Tim Says:

    Hey Jake
    I can’t see it. We use AIM now for the likes of a ‘Hey Jake, Whats the answer to X’. Thats of course if I can find you online at the time I want to talk.
    I could not see it for weightier issues where you need to get information out to multiple folks and garner opinion from them and be able to record that opinion.
    Yes, I bitch about my inbox all the time and have also pretty much given up on foldering – GoogleDesktop is the best thing since sliced bread in my opinion.
    But email is going to be here for a long time … now about that mail you sent me last week, I’ll get back to on AIM later :o)
    Tim

  2. Tim Says:

    Hey Jake
    I can’t see it. We use AIM now for the likes of a ‘Hey Jake, Whats the answer to X’. Thats of course if I can find you online at the time I want to talk.
    I could not see it for weightier issues where you need to get information out to multiple folks and garner opinion from them and be able to record that opinion.
    Yes, I bitch about my inbox all the time and have also pretty much given up on foldering – GoogleDesktop is the best thing since sliced bread in my opinion.
    But email is going to be here for a long time … now about that mail you sent me last week, I’ll get back to on AIM later :o)
    Tim

  3. Paul Pedrazzi Says:

    I hate to disagree with one of my AppsLab bretheren, but here goes.

    The question is not whether one mode of communication is “dead” or not, but rather which mode will become the dominant mode. There will always be multiple ways to communicate and we’ll pick the one that seems to make sense at the time.

    Phone and email are dominant today for a single reason: everyone has them. This is also the single reason messaging in Facebook, Twitter, IM, Pownce, or any other tool won’t become dominant. Phrased a different way, it is the challenge they must overcome to win. (if they care to at all)

    Even under the scenario (albeit highly unlikely) that an organization adopts a single social platform for internal communications, those employees still have to interact with others outside the org who are using a separate system (probably email and phone).

    Don’t get me wrong, I love the new modes of messaging that are out there and they all add a little something to the mix, but to take over email or phone you need ubiquity.

  4. Paul Pedrazzi Says:

    I hate to disagree with one of my AppsLab bretheren, but here goes.

    The question is not whether one mode of communication is “dead” or not, but rather which mode will become the dominant mode. There will always be multiple ways to communicate and we’ll pick the one that seems to make sense at the time.

    Phone and email are dominant today for a single reason: everyone has them. This is also the single reason messaging in Facebook, Twitter, IM, Pownce, or any other tool won’t become dominant. Phrased a different way, it is the challenge they must overcome to win. (if they care to at all)

    Even under the scenario (albeit highly unlikely) that an organization adopts a single social platform for internal communications, those employees still have to interact with others outside the org who are using a separate system (probably email and phone).

    Don’t get me wrong, I love the new modes of messaging that are out there and they all add a little something to the mix, but to take over email or phone you need ubiquity.

  5. Jake Says:

    Facebook is reportedly building just such an email system into their social “utility”, i.e. one that allows the fbook member to communicate with external networks and email addresses.

    If they break down the barrier externally, why wouldn’t an enterprise go for a single solution? Especially if it offers other desirable social features?

    Think about it. Do you prefer Twitter/Pownce/Jaiku + Pidgin/Trillian + Outlook/TBird or One Platform for all Types of Communication?

    Email dominates now. I won’t go away completely, but mark my words, 3-5 years out, we’ll see this unified platform push it to the fringes.

    Jake

  6. Jake Says:

    Facebook is reportedly building just such an email system into their social “utility”, i.e. one that allows the fbook member to communicate with external networks and email addresses.

    If they break down the barrier externally, why wouldn’t an enterprise go for a single solution? Especially if it offers other desirable social features?

    Think about it. Do you prefer Twitter/Pownce/Jaiku + Pidgin/Trillian + Outlook/TBird or One Platform for all Types of Communication?

    Email dominates now. I won’t go away completely, but mark my words, 3-5 years out, we’ll see this unified platform push it to the fringes.

    Jake

  7. keanu Says:

    before the death of email is happening, one ironic fact is ignored that user still need an email account to complete registration on social network websites.

  8. keanu Says:

    before the death of email is happening, one ironic fact is ignored that user still need an email account to complete registration on social network websites.

  9. Chris Muir Says:

    Sorry Jake, I dunno. You may have been caught up in the whole Web 2.0 marketing shmozzle, and my feeling your timing is far more premature than 3-5 years? I think more like 10+ years or not even then before you can walk into 50% or more businesses and seeing email not being used in replacement of some other computer specific technology. I’m not saying the other technologies wont make an impact, but predicting the death of email is premature.

    In my experience, most workers are still coming to terms with email, including IT staff, let alone the other social network tools — and it will take a long time for the older ones to move on. Just because teenagers, web-Ajax coding monkeys, blogosphere and the new 2007+.com crowd think this area is the beez-kneez, in reality we’re all the tip of the iceberg. Our experience is not the majority’s experience and business moves waaaaaaaaay slower then the cool internet stuff. And remember the majority of people in business couldn’t really give a st*ff about the technology, they have a business to run.

    In turn organisations have invested heavily in email servers, but I’ve been at a number of sites where messaging services (and more) can’t even be used, thanks to firewalls and lack of standards (in terms of messaging services, and adoptance of new technologies)…. and managers have no interest in wasting (the preceived) time on it…. this is not the case everywhere, but is definitely the majority of my experience.

    In turn, especially in IT, once a technology becomes so main stream such as email, it’ll take it a long time to drag it down.

    So in summary I guess I just disagree.

    Cheers,

    CM.

  10. Chris Muir Says:

    Sorry Jake, I dunno. You may have been caught up in the whole Web 2.0 marketing shmozzle, and my feeling your timing is far more premature than 3-5 years? I think more like 10+ years or not even then before you can walk into 50% or more businesses and seeing email not being used in replacement of some other computer specific technology. I’m not saying the other technologies wont make an impact, but predicting the death of email is premature.

    In my experience, most workers are still coming to terms with email, including IT staff, let alone the other social network tools — and it will take a long time for the older ones to move on. Just because teenagers, web-Ajax coding monkeys, blogosphere and the new 2007+.com crowd think this area is the beez-kneez, in reality we’re all the tip of the iceberg. Our experience is not the majority’s experience and business moves waaaaaaaaay slower then the cool internet stuff. And remember the majority of people in business couldn’t really give a st*ff about the technology, they have a business to run.

    In turn organisations have invested heavily in email servers, but I’ve been at a number of sites where messaging services (and more) can’t even be used, thanks to firewalls and lack of standards (in terms of messaging services, and adoptance of new technologies)…. and managers have no interest in wasting (the preceived) time on it…. this is not the case everywhere, but is definitely the majority of my experience.

    In turn, especially in IT, once a technology becomes so main stream such as email, it’ll take it a long time to drag it down.

    So in summary I guess I just disagree.

    Cheers,

    CM.

  11. Graham Says:

    I can see this working on “stable” networks, for example within a department, or across departments in a single company but I’m still struggling to see how this might work in a sales situation.

    If we took an example where there was a “XYZ Supplier” network who were trying to sell product FGH to customer ABC then how will the communication work and be filtered? Visibility is the big problem here because if it’s done wrong then either XYZ Supplier would get to see all of ABC’s internal messages, or perhaps even worse might then be considered “within” the network and so could talk to anyone in ABC.

    It doesn’t mean that this is impossible, it’s just that the movement of information across “untrusted” domains and relationships is a “hard” problem and it might take 3-5 years in order to get something that many business communities will actually put their trust into.

  12. Graham Says:

    I can see this working on “stable” networks, for example within a department, or across departments in a single company but I’m still struggling to see how this might work in a sales situation.

    If we took an example where there was a “XYZ Supplier” network who were trying to sell product FGH to customer ABC then how will the communication work and be filtered? Visibility is the big problem here because if it’s done wrong then either XYZ Supplier would get to see all of ABC’s internal messages, or perhaps even worse might then be considered “within” the network and so could talk to anyone in ABC.

    It doesn’t mean that this is impossible, it’s just that the movement of information across “untrusted” domains and relationships is a “hard” problem and it might take 3-5 years in order to get something that many business communities will actually put their trust into.

  13. Jake Says:

    This is good stuff. I’m glad to get everyone’s feedback. It seems I’m in the minority, but that’s fine. Glad people are taking part in the discussion.

    Keanu love the pithy observation. Funny too, considering the future me email service reminded me of your namesake in Bill & Ted’s. “Remember a trashcan.” Good stuff.

    Jake

  14. Jake Says:

    This is good stuff. I’m glad to get everyone’s feedback. It seems I’m in the minority, but that’s fine. Glad people are taking part in the discussion.

    Keanu love the pithy observation. Funny too, considering the future me email service reminded me of your namesake in Bill & Ted’s. “Remember a trashcan.” Good stuff.

    Jake

  15. Paul Says:

    Its interesting how people get used to modalities, and can’t imagine anything better … until some guy comes along with something new and says “look at my gooflogimr … it’s not email, IM or a blog, wiki or facebook … its better …”

    Email as a mode of communication is a relatively young thing, but it has been incredibly successful because is is/was so much better than the alternatives and so simple. But the email mode was invented at a time before all of the content uploading/publishing came to be. Bringing us to a stage now where we are starting to feel cramped by the artificial walls between these different facilities, and forced to do really stupid things by convention (like mail MB files to 20 collegues, who then change and mail back to the group).

    Which makes me feel that this we’re not seeing a “battle of modes”, because that assumes the modes are somehow fixed. I think what we’ll be surprised by in the years to come is how some smart cookies bend and morph the modes into something new and better.

    In other words, I’m sure I’ll still be using gmail in 5 years time …. but it won’t be a “mail client” in the sense we understand it today.

    Perhaps another interesting question is whether I’ll still have a _corporate_ “mail” facility in 5-10 years time..

  16. Paul Says:

    Its interesting how people get used to modalities, and can’t imagine anything better … until some guy comes along with something new and says “look at my gooflogimr … it’s not email, IM or a blog, wiki or facebook … its better …”

    Email as a mode of communication is a relatively young thing, but it has been incredibly successful because is is/was so much better than the alternatives and so simple. But the email mode was invented at a time before all of the content uploading/publishing came to be. Bringing us to a stage now where we are starting to feel cramped by the artificial walls between these different facilities, and forced to do really stupid things by convention (like mail MB files to 20 collegues, who then change and mail back to the group).

    Which makes me feel that this we’re not seeing a “battle of modes”, because that assumes the modes are somehow fixed. I think what we’ll be surprised by in the years to come is how some smart cookies bend and morph the modes into something new and better.

    In other words, I’m sure I’ll still be using gmail in 5 years time …. but it won’t be a “mail client” in the sense we understand it today.

    Perhaps another interesting question is whether I’ll still have a _corporate_ “mail” facility in 5-10 years time..

  17. Jake Says:

    I love a good debate. I truly believe the business world will be turned on its ear in the next 3-5 years as newly minted college graduates flood the workspace.

    I know all of you remember the beginning of the Bubble, about 10 years ago. I was right out of college, full of great ideas, wanting to share interweb goodness. Then I hit the corporate wall.

    Oracle’s 10.6 SC was the rage then, but guess what? In the next year or so, 10.7 NCA replaced it as we embraced the interweb. So, maybe I have a bleeding edge job, but still, I think social networks will take over business communication.

    They are really easy, and you can pre-populate them with all your employees. Plus, there are other benefits.

    Dunno, I hope we can do a check in 3 years from now. So I can say “told you so”.

    Jake

  18. Jake Says:

    I love a good debate. I truly believe the business world will be turned on its ear in the next 3-5 years as newly minted college graduates flood the workspace.

    I know all of you remember the beginning of the Bubble, about 10 years ago. I was right out of college, full of great ideas, wanting to share interweb goodness. Then I hit the corporate wall.

    Oracle’s 10.6 SC was the rage then, but guess what? In the next year or so, 10.7 NCA replaced it as we embraced the interweb. So, maybe I have a bleeding edge job, but still, I think social networks will take over business communication.

    They are really easy, and you can pre-populate them with all your employees. Plus, there are other benefits.

    Dunno, I hope we can do a check in 3 years from now. So I can say “told you so”.

    Jake

  19. Siva Jayaraman Says:

    I am really not sure to say a yes or a not to death of email but for sure there is going to be a consolidation of the medium of communication… today there are many of them with a AIM (replaced by Pidgin), Oracle Messenger, Pownce,Facebook,google talk, email from a communication perspective,though IM hasnt completely replaced email. Whats happening is one medium is taking a preference over the other and agree with Paul there….I think there is going to be a convergence and what stays and what doesn’t… your guess is as good as mine…:)

  20. Siva Jayaraman Says:

    I am really not sure to say a yes or a not to death of email but for sure there is going to be a consolidation of the medium of communication… today there are many of them with a AIM (replaced by Pidgin), Oracle Messenger, Pownce,Facebook,google talk, email from a communication perspective,though IM hasnt completely replaced email. Whats happening is one medium is taking a preference over the other and agree with Paul there….I think there is going to be a convergence and what stays and what doesn’t… your guess is as good as mine…:)

  21. Jake Says:

    Siva,
    You guys are so rational and level-headed. Did you know that companies like Ingersoll Rand have good-sized Facebook networks? You should browse the company networks pages. I think you’ll be shocked.

    I found a case study here at Oracle, a guy 2 years out of college with a robust network of college friends. He doesn’t care about work creeping over into Facebook. He’s not as active as before, but he uses it to stay in touch with college friends. I need to ask him about his thoughts on email.

    Anyway, work is already all over Facebook. It’s become a way to maintain professional relationships too. It’s a communication medium for millions of people. Facebook has designs on being an interweb within the interwebs, and they’re leading the charge right now. LinkedIn and MySpace are following the platform approach.

    Dunno looks like q.e.d. to me. But I’m not above making a wild prediction just to get your attention :)
    Jake

  22. Jake Says:

    Siva,
    You guys are so rational and level-headed. Did you know that companies like Ingersoll Rand have good-sized Facebook networks? You should browse the company networks pages. I think you’ll be shocked.

    I found a case study here at Oracle, a guy 2 years out of college with a robust network of college friends. He doesn’t care about work creeping over into Facebook. He’s not as active as before, but he uses it to stay in touch with college friends. I need to ask him about his thoughts on email.

    Anyway, work is already all over Facebook. It’s become a way to maintain professional relationships too. It’s a communication medium for millions of people. Facebook has designs on being an interweb within the interwebs, and they’re leading the charge right now. LinkedIn and MySpace are following the platform approach.

    Dunno looks like q.e.d. to me. But I’m not above making a wild prediction just to get your attention :)
    Jake

  23. Siva Jayaraman Says:

    Hi Jake, I completely agree there is going to be a lot more of writing going to happen on the walls of facebook (ref your comment on “Check out Oracle Events”) but if that is going to be the writing on the wall for email, we will have to wait and watch:) You are far more deep into the world of web 2.0 and your prediction has more credibility than mine for sure.
    Cheers

  24. Siva Jayaraman Says:

    Hi Jake, I completely agree there is going to be a lot more of writing going to happen on the walls of facebook (ref your comment on “Check out Oracle Events”) but if that is going to be the writing on the wall for email, we will have to wait and watch:) You are far more deep into the world of web 2.0 and your prediction has more credibility than mine for sure.
    Cheers

  25. joel garry Says:

    This morning I went to intuit to order the cheap quickbooks, which oddly enough the local mortar Fry’s hasn’t had in stock in weeks. I tried putting in some expired discount code, which seemed to stimulate it to ask if I wanted to chat with a salesperson. Seemed like a reasonable thing to do, so I clicked on the yes tab, which crashed IE 7 XP java code, losing my half-done order. So I called and waited and waited, eventually getting some guy in AZ who was nice enough to waive the shipping charges.

    Business needs a solid infrastructure, folks. Used to be I could make a phone call and be reasonably assured it would work. This creaky interweb thing with no non-repudiation or predictable response/availability is gonna come crashing down.

    As far as all the new stuff, eventually everyone is going to realize the key to personal stress reduction/productivity maximization is being able to control the rate and volume of information. At one extreme, there’s the Cuckoo’s Egg guy, who simply turned off all access. At the other extreme there’s twittervision. In between we have email bankruptcy, various techs-of-the-moment that come and go, and hucksters. Trust is the essence of all business, the sociobiologists even think it is hardwired into us. So what are you going to trust, email? Meatworld face-to-face salespeople? Your own personal Jesus in the video booth? People you got high with when you were a teenager? [A-Z,0-9*]logs?

  26. joel garry Says:

    This morning I went to intuit to order the cheap quickbooks, which oddly enough the local mortar Fry’s hasn’t had in stock in weeks. I tried putting in some expired discount code, which seemed to stimulate it to ask if I wanted to chat with a salesperson. Seemed like a reasonable thing to do, so I clicked on the yes tab, which crashed IE 7 XP java code, losing my half-done order. So I called and waited and waited, eventually getting some guy in AZ who was nice enough to waive the shipping charges.

    Business needs a solid infrastructure, folks. Used to be I could make a phone call and be reasonably assured it would work. This creaky interweb thing with no non-repudiation or predictable response/availability is gonna come crashing down.

    As far as all the new stuff, eventually everyone is going to realize the key to personal stress reduction/productivity maximization is being able to control the rate and volume of information. At one extreme, there’s the Cuckoo’s Egg guy, who simply turned off all access. At the other extreme there’s twittervision. In between we have email bankruptcy, various techs-of-the-moment that come and go, and hucksters. Trust is the essence of all business, the sociobiologists even think it is hardwired into us. So what are you going to trust, email? Meatworld face-to-face salespeople? Your own personal Jesus in the video booth? People you got high with when you were a teenager? [A-Z,0-9*]logs?

  27. Jake Says:

    Ha, meatworld. I’m going to have to borrow that one. I don’t plan to declare any type of bankruptcy, although I may blog about how others have done that. It’s tought to keep up with the firehose, but it’s fun.
    Thanks for reading,
    Jake

  28. Jake Says:

    Ha, meatworld. I’m going to have to borrow that one. I don’t plan to declare any type of bankruptcy, although I may blog about how others have done that. It’s tought to keep up with the firehose, but it’s fun.
    Thanks for reading,
    Jake

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