The death of email
“People are beginning to understand just how unproductive email really is,” says David Christopher, founder of StopThinkSocial, a website that focuses on social networking in business.
Christopher has invited scorn with his prediction of the death of email by 2018, but believes the claim stands up to scrutiny if only people will take a leap of faith and accept that alternatives are possible.
“Email has only been the key tool for the past 20 years, and that’s what people have been using,” he says. “But email isn’t really a collaborative tool – it’s a linear communication tool.
“It isn’t as necessary as it used to be, and we hold onto it only because of fear – people don’t want to change. I talk to a lot of people about email, and how it could be gone by 2018, but only 20-odd years ago email never even existed. That cycle means it will be replaced by something better.”
Email isn’t really a collaborative tool – it’s a linear communication tool
In his day job as a team leader at a large IT provider, Christopher says that his team has managed to reduce email use by 95% by switching to Twitter, Facebook and enterprise social network tools such as Yammer, which enable more open communications.
While email productivity studies have focused on the workplace, the ideals are equally applicable elsewhere, with personal inboxes also clogged with advertising and only intermittently checked.
“It’s partly generational – but I’m of an age that grew up with email tech,” says Price. “Yet in my personal life – what I do at home or on the train – I look at Twitter, Facebook or Google+. I might look at email, but most of the stuff on email is spam or marketing from retailers – it isn’t the way I communicate in my personal life any more.”
Perhaps it’s no surprise that much of the shift away from email has come not from businesses but from youngsters embracing new technology, as they did with SMS, and later RIM’s BBM messaging service. Experts agree that IM suits the quick snippet, often involving multiple chats at once, with instant responses creating a more natural communication platform than premeditated messages constructed in email.
The ability to combine instant messaging with a social network where people can gather with friends, and communicate in real-time, means that many no longer even bother with email at all. Why have an address that people have to remember when they can interact directly through a personal page?
While time spent in webmail has dropped, social networking accounted for 16.6% of all time spent online at the end of 2011, according to web metrics firm comScore. The shift to social network communication is also highlighted by an Econsultancy paper, showing that among marketers who rely on email as a communications tool, 75% admitted social networks made their work outlook “challenging” or “very challenging”.
Why is email so ugly?
Part of this is due to the fact that social platforms are better suited to always-connected mobile devices, which teenagers are far more like to own than PCs. Research from consultancy Intersperience showed that 75% of 18 to 21-year-olds regard laptops and smartphones as their most wanted devices, with only 5% naming desktop PCs as most important to them.
“Mobility holds the key to device popularity, particularly among the younger generation of ‘digital natives’ who demand an always-on internet connection,” says Paul Hudson, CEO of Intersperience. “The PC is still an important device for the older generation, but our data points to a sharp demographic divide on how PCs are regarded.”
The reticence to use a medium that belongs to their parents’ generation can cause problems as children begin to enter the adult world.