Coming out of our ‘smtp is dead, long live smtp’ brainstorming session I am thinking that we need to be talking about messaging, not email.
Email is a subset of a much larger messaging market. What we’ve seen over the past 10 years is that internet messaging (primarily text but let’s not make that distinction) has evolved from predominantly email to a host of other systems
We seem to be having yet another round of “email is dead” going on.
Nope. But Fred Wilson has the gist of it here. Email is a protocol, a specific way to communicate. Good communication transcends a protocol (or should), because there are many different needs and priorities to communication.
The reason email is so endemic is because — for about 20 years — it was basically all we had. And so it was made to fit all of those needs, even when it wasn’t really good at doing it. That’s why email on most mobile devices up until the last year or so really sucks — emails a bad model for most of that, and so comes the rise of SMS. On the other side, using email for group discussions REALLY sucks, because the typical email-based mailing list gets way too chatty and email is inherently an interruptive protocol (it comes when IT wants, and you get interrupted and you have to go and decide whether the incoming message warranted being interrupted for; by the time you figure out it’s not, it’s too late). The technologies invented for limiting those interruptions, from digest-formatted mailing lists to mail filters, are all band-aids on the larger problem. That’s why web forums have really supplanted lists, and RSS and other pull technologies are increasingly key in distributing these messages.
And that’s one reason why blogging has succeeded. Can you really imagine being subscribed to, say, 300-400 mailing lists where every time a blogger posts it ends up in your email? Of course not, you’d go crazy. you might want 5 or so KEY blogs in your email, and the rest out of the way until you decide to go visit them.
Which is the key. Email is still a core communications technology. Will be forever, I think. It just won’t be the ONLY one, and “death of email” is a misinterpretation of the fact that communications that aren’t well suited to email are finally moving to other services better designed to distribute them appropriately.
(I’ve talked about this stuff more than once; here are some previous rants: 2003 when RSS was replacing email (hah!) (also here), and 2006 on revamping Yahoogroups)
Update: Mathew Ingram chimed in:
Email may not be dead, but it certainly isn’t looking too healthy, and hasn’t for years. As Zoli points out, the best approach is not to replace email with other things like IM or Facebook messages — which have their own flaws — but to make use of as many different methods as possible, depending on the situation. In some cases a wiki makes more sense, or a Google document, or a live chat, or (God forbid) even a phone call.
That may seem so, but in reality, email isn’t any more challenged than any other tool on the internet, except for the ones so small or so niche that the spammers and crackers don’t bother. The problems with email aren’t email’s problems, but simply the way email makes visible the problem that the internet has in general.