Email is dead?

Radical? Not really, but communication is changing and that does mean the use of email as the defacto communication medium is coming to an end. Ask anyone under the age of 21 how they communicate and they’ll mention Text, Facebook and MSN but hardly ever mention email. To the Generation Y population email is just how “some old system work when I lose my password” and it’s not uncommon for today’s teens to send and receive a thousand electronic communications in a week and not one of those would be an email.

So where does this leave email then? The problem with email began the minute it started being used as it was adopted by tech savvy people who actually had an interest in how data and information moved from A to B. Most were “sold” on the basis that you could send a file to your mate and he or she would have it on their desktop within a minute. It was great for sharing ideas, information, plans and thoughts. The tech savvy peeps now have a myriad of toys to play with including collaborative applications (Basecamp, Google Apps etc), social media portals (Facebook, LinkedIn, Flickr etc) and private places to share information – these place are far better at organising the information, tagging it and allowing easy access. Email by comparison is just a pain in the arse.

By way of example, it’s now easy to use, say, LinkedIn to send and receive your business network information; you can share it easily in the groups and you have a great trail of what was said by whom and when. Why would you want to faff around creating an email folder called “LinkedIn” and then tag every piece of communication. You just don’t need to.

Attempts to move email into the “instant” social-media world have historically not worked; shown recently by the spectacular failure of Google Wave and it’s closure.

Spam now represents over 90% of the email sent and this is really not helping. ISPs have developed ever more aggressive filtering systems that, as often as not, remove legitimate email and with so much crap floating around your inbox it’s highly likely that you won’t see or read all of your email properly. For email to survive it probably needs to move to a permission-based approach whereby senders need to get explicit consent to send information and this permission needs to be renewed every month or so.

The corporate is just starting to wake up to the true cost of email. At it’s inception, remember that email pre-dates the web, it was THE killer application for Local Area Networks; it was going to revolutionise corporate communication. It did, it has and now it’s crushing the companies that embraced it. The true cost of email runs into millions of wasted hours every year in the UK alone with the average corporate mail account growing by 10mb per day. It’s nuts. It’s not just the cost of time to scan, filter and read the email there is a very real disruption cost. How many times a day do you check your email, how long for? Do the maths and it very quickly adds up to a significant percentage of your day and therefore a significant part of what you are paid to do…can that be right?

The social media revolution has definitely helped to undermine email. The nature of social communication is not well suited to email which better fits a point-to-point communication. Point-to-point conversations are becoming rare these days and the big social boys are keen to encourage group-think, sharing and publication which will further erode the role email plays. Facebook’s COO went on record to say that email is dead and whilst that kicked up a shit-storm of hate criticism from the traditionalists you really cannot fault her logic.

The reality is that email won’t actually die (in the short term) but it’s role as universal-communicator is now over. Organisations need to adapt to this change and adopt multi-communication routes that encompass the needs and wishes of the audience. This is not a new theme for organisations stuck in their ways.