By John Dodge
Posting in Technology
Is e-mail dead and what will replace it? Facebook, Twitter, Google Wave, texting and instant messaging are all out there. Which are on the rise or on the decline?
A Wall Street Journal article Monday "Why E-mail No Longer Rules" has triggered a long overdue discussion about the future of e-mail.
Does e-mail have a future? Is it dead? Are texting, Facebook, instant messaging and Twitter pushing it aside? What will be the impact of Wave, the new Google communication and collaboration tool that is out now in limited release? I have requested an invitation to try it out, but have heard nothing and await to hear back on a second request.
E-mail as we know it isn't dead and will almost certainly co-exist with the other mediums for some time. In some respects the way we communicate are simply new fast-growing forms of e-mail so one could contend the differences are simply semantical. But that's a weak argument. The very public Facebook Wall certainly isn't e-mail nor is texting which in its current incarnation is instant messaging over cell phones.
However, e-mail has become a cluttered and inefficient mess. The first thing I do in morning is delete the junk e-mails that are largely the result of newsletters or alerts that I signed up for, but am fearful that if I unsubscribe I will miss something. There's just too many e-mail newsletters and news alerts from Google and newsletters, but as a tech journalist, I am probably tracking a wider variety of topics than most. As for spam, Gmail does a great job is cordoning it off so it's not a problem.
After the mass deletions, I open the ones that look important enough to read. And many are important. I approach people I want to interview through e-mail. I do interviews on e-mail. I conduct personal and financial business through e-mail. I invoice clients through e-mail. I get jokes on e-mail.
It would be an interesting experiment to shut off my e-mail and see how I'd get along without it. Fact is, many key contacts could not reach me nor I them. That's why e-mail remains the first place I go in the morning and check dozens of times throughout the day, something I don't do with Facebook and Twitter.
A thoughtful piece on Techcrunch by MG Siegler introduces the idea of "passive aggressive communication" where can you have your e-mail and eat your instant messaging too. In other words, you can read and respond at your leisure which is passive like e-mail or act in read and respond instantly which is the aggressive. And you can do it all in one place.
"You can actively (aggressively) engage in threads in real-time, or you can sit back and let messages come to you at your leisure (passively)," he writes. He claims Google Wave comes close to this idea.
"We’ve been slowly building up to a system like this. Whether Google Wave succeeds is really irrelevant. More important is if the idea of Wave does," he says. What if Google Wave took off to the point where Google didn't offer Gmail anymore? Anything is possible.
Some of the key people I communicate with don't use Facebook or Twitter and when it comes to privacy, e-mail is my first choice. E-mail will be around for a while, but like all things in technology, something better will come along. We just don't know what it is yet.
Usage for some mediums will go up while others taper off. We've already seen instant messaging slacken and texting skyrocket. The other unique dynamic about these mediums is that they free or in the case of texting, very cheap. The costs for using them isn't a factor, meaning they'll hang around as long as they are offered.
How have your communication patterns changed? I'd love to hear so please comment here and I'll be passively and aggresively back at you.
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Oct 14, 2009
2+ years since this was written, email is still alive and well. It may be a little less sprite than it was younger, but it's still here, and if it's not king, it's at least still in the monarchy. (snailmail on the other hand is suffering. the USPS is considering cutting back to 5 days of service, instead of the 6 days it delivers at the time of this message... oh, no flying cars yet, and that whole HOPE thing turned out to be pretty disappointing) a message from the future, to an article in the past.
These two comments are solid votes for e-mail. But GenXers will take over from us 50 and 60 somethings. The shift away from e-mail could be generational. It wasn't too long ago when e-mail wasn't considered an appropriate medium for biz and legal comm. What's next?
For the Gen X crowd, or what ever we are referring to the late teen - early twenty something group of kids, they are definitely hooked on texting. But, in business and government, email is now the newer form of legally acceptable communication, so it will be around for a while...supplanted with text and video messaging, especially with our continued quest to increase the data stream(ing) coming about with the constant improvement in technology... Eventually we may have implanted computer chips that will immerse us in a 4d experience of live communication with anyone in the solar system...
Email is still the very first thing I do in the AM and last thing I do in the PM (which by this is the early AM). Twitter and Facebook are things I check when I have extra time during the day, which isn't really extra time, but it's in between time, i.e. waiting for a train, waiting in line at the store, etc. I can't live without email but I can live without Twitter and Facebook. I don't see that changing for a decade, if that. I'm interested in tools that help me get more out of email however, and have built one which helps make email feel more like the engagement of Facebook.