In 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.
- It brought distant people together, cheaply; in college, I used email to keep up with high school chums in other states, saving my phone bill.
- It was dead easy and way faster compared to snail mail. I would gladly type 10,000 words rather than hand-write 100. Plus, stamps, envelopes, mailboxes, all a bit too much effort.
- It had a cool factor. Remember when email was cool?
Now, let’s think about email today.
- How many tools are there on the Interweb to bring folks together, and how does email compare to a social network?
- It’s still faster than snail mail, but other media are faster like IM, Facebook wall posts, Twitter.
- It’s so not cool.
- Spam, spam, spam, spammity spam, wonderful spam.
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.