July 23, 2012

Why email isn't going anywhere


Is email really dying? There have been a few posts here and there poopoo-ing email. The most recent one is Nick Bilton of the New York Times with his "Life's Too Short for So Much Email" piece:

This month alone, I received more than 6,000 e-mails. That doesn't include spam, notifications or daily deals, either. With all those messages, I have no desire to respond to even a fraction of them. I can just picture my tombstone: Here lies Nick Bilton, who responded to thousands of e-mails a month. May he rest in peace.

Is it possible that there are too many emails sent? Of course! Collectively, we in the office can send well over 500 emails a day, on a slow day. Interestingly enough, if you count other means of communication, you can double or even triple that number.

Email is inherently associated with businesses, but it's used by average people just as much, albeit for probably different reasons. And yet, it's email all the same. Fun fact: email use among consumers is actually growing faster than it is in the corporate world. What's more, it is also being used by 93 percent of teens, which is on par with Facebook usage. Wild, right?

When email was first invented, people didn't have another way to communicate with people in text form -- that is, unless you wanted to wait 2-3 business days for a letter. But now, we have a plethora of ways to hold asynchronous text conversations: text message, Facebook, and Twitter are just a few options.

There's a shift in how people communicate, and it's evident that people are texting, Facebooking, and Tweeting the people they know more and more each day. But where does that leave email? Simply put, email is still email. It'll still be vital to how people communicate in the future, but just like the telecommunication's shift from landlines to cell phones, it does need to evolve with the times.

But why won't it go anywhere?

Email is dynamic. Email can be different things. It is personal. It is one-on-one, and yet it is among many. It can be accessed just about anywhere. It is where you get all of your most important things sent to. And looking at the main ways people communicate, is there a single solution that looks to replace that? Absolutely not.

But I do agree that email needs to change and that, at times, it can feel antiquated. It needs a revamp in the worst way. It's a different time now. Email now serves old problems, and not new ones. It doesn't scale well with the increasing number of email messages we receive. This harkens back to the personal assistant piece I wrote a little while back -- we need email to be smarter with how it aggregates and sorts what we see and don't see right away. Heck, I'll even take "smart enough." But that's an argument for another day.

Email doesn't have to remain in the form we know now -- it shouldn't. In a way, text messaging is a mobile, short-form version of email. As are tweets. Extrapolating that and inject it into email now, you could have something compelling.

Now, it's up to some really intelligent people to solve that problem. Maybe Google and Sparrow?