January 03, 2012

E-mail is the Universal Platform

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As Contactually is a professional relationship manager for your e-mail contacts, it's of course in our best interest to proclaim that e-mail isn't dead.

There's been a recent dust-up over a big IT firm declaring their intent to drop e-mail. But, would we really have built a tool that lives and breathes streams of e-mail? There are of course some great articles defending e-mail's everlasting presence. We could of course look at some great infographics, but let's add on some additional thoughts based on our experiences and user research.

Our belief
We believe that e-mail is the universal communication medium. It is the best way to reach anyone, anywhere, for whatever reason. Your e-mail account stores the greatest knowledge repository outside of your brain - who you're talking to, about what, when. Regardless of the communication medium you may use primarily in an individual relationship, any meaningful communication touches your inbox at some point.

Why e-mail needs to live

    • It's ubiquitous. Every device. Every kind of network. Every system. Every person. Everyone has an e-mail address.

    • It's asynchronous. All stream-based collaboration tools are all about communication at the moment. When I sign on to our team portal in the morning, I easily could miss everything posted since last night, focusing on what I can see in the window. IM is even worse, if I'm not signed on at the moment, that message is gone. E-mail is designed to be asynchronous.

    • It is democratic. E-mail as a standalone product has no central controlling authority, unlike a Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter.

    • It is open. While spam filters keep out the garbage, and do an increasingly good job at it - it's still the most reliable way to reach out to someone, especially a new contact.

    • It's dirt cheap. Sending an e-mail costs nothing. Sending lots of e-mail, you're paying an e-mail marketing company fractions of a penny per contact in order to ensure deliverability. What would happen if you tried to send it out to your list on LinkedIn?

    • It (can be) forever. I'm not sure I ever sent any messages on Friendster, but what would happen if they shut down? Any communication and contacts I made that were locked into that platform would be gone forever.

Where will e-mail die?
A big flaw in most arguments against e-mail's future is putting all e-mail usage into one bucket. While we think that e-mail will still be a universally accepted, we know there will be cases where e-mail usage is and will decrease.

    • Team Collaboration - Almost every startup team I know, client project I've been involved in, or other kind of team uses some kind of tool to communicate internally. Communication tools like Chatter, HipChat, Campfire, and Yammer are awesome for working in small teams. Internally, we use HipChat. We're on it all day, every day. Our other tools all feed messages into HipChat. We still use e-mail from time-to-time, but we notice that usually used more for long-form asynchronous communication, which we're starting to use Basecamp for. We have another blog post coming up all about the ridiculously awesome setup we use internally.

    • Distribution Lists - I'm pretty sure if Craig were to want to set up a distribution list for his friends today, he would most likely create a Facebook group. With increasing regularity, I'm seeing more groups utilize Facebook groups as opposed to e-mail lists. The important ones can go right to your e-mail inbox to alert you. The less important ones... disable e-mail updates and check it once a week, if ever.

    • Friend Updates + Pure Social - There's very little need for me to e-mail updates to friends + family (of the current generation). A simple post on Facebook/Twitter does the trick.

tl;dr - While e-mail may decrease in usage in some applications, it's role as a universal platform for interacting with others will, and should, continue to live on.

The Pitch: Contactually is a professional relationship manager that directly integrates with your email. We listen to your e-mail conversations, and help you turn e-mail contacts into valuable relationships. We'll track your e-mail patterns, and help you follow up with the right person at the right time. There is no software to install. We work with Gmail, Google Apps, any IMAP mail server, and also work with your CRM (Salesforce and Highrise currently supported). Sign up for our private beta at https://www.contactually.com, and drop us a note on Twitter for an invite code.