Have we reached the point where email's influence over our electronic lives is waning? It is hard to imagine, especially for those of us who grew up in the minicomputer/PC era. For two generations, email was the killer application. It delivered information reliably and within a few minutes.
But today the properties that made email so attractive for so long are now a liabiliity. "A few minutes" for a response is so last year, driven in no small part by texting and cell phone ubiquity. At the same time this was happening, wikis, blogs and social networks have begun to erode email's document exchange role. The notion of sharing photos or a slide presentation using email attachments is becoming quaint.
Now, the Internets have gotten faster, and seconds matter. Amazon offers same-day deliveries in a few cities. Motorola's new Cliq Android phone aggregates all your messages together. And email just can't keep up.
Jessica Vascellaro's WSJ article about "Why Email No Longer Rules" cites that more people are on Facebook and other social networking sites than use email (it is a questionable statistic, to be sure). She claims that email is losing out to the immediacy of the real-time nature of social networks feeds and presence-aware apps like Twitter. Even Instant Messaging isn't instant or capable enough, since it was designed for one-to-one chats. Today, the real-time Internet means that conversations need to happen with multiple people and happen quickly. The fact that this constant stream of presence information is being collected and sold, eroding one of the few aspects of privacy we control is lost on this generation, apparently.
I asked my friend Dave Piscitello to help collaborate on this article, and we agreed to share our thoughts and come up with the overall piece.
We have begun to notice in the past month or so more of our network is responding to our respective publications - weekly email Web Informants and the SecuritySkeptic.com blog - via Facebook and not via email. Adapting to the needs of our audience, we have both begun “pushing” our publications using email, Friendfeed, Facebook, and occasionally Twitter. We’ve experimented with podcasting, webcasting, and video too.
This is admittedly a shotgun approach to publishing, and begs the question of which of these communications tools, if any, are the right one for publishing? It also begs whether any of these alone are sufficient, and if not, what combinations can be used effectively? More importantly, how do we measure influence and reach, given that people can reach our blogs, Tweetstreams and FaceLinkedNingSpace networks, text or IM us, or heaven forbid, actually speak to us using a phone!
We honestly don't know for sure, but we asked ourselves some questions and share them here for you to consider for your situation:
If you send out a weekly email newsletter, is it better to have the CEO as a subscriber or have four or five direct reports on a subscriber list who will send the same email to the CEO to act on when we touch a topic near and dear? The former puts your name on the CEO’s radar *if* he makes time to read enough of your messages, while the latter puts the decision of what is near and dear in the hands of a (presumably trusted) underling.
Is it better to post something to our FaceLinkedNingSpace pages, because that post provides personal context, starts conversation that the rest of our friends can follow along and helps you steadily build an audience over time; to blog amid a topic-based community, where a your post may "go viral" on the blogosphere and get thousands of “one time” hits and trackbacks; or is it worth the effort to use blogging and social networks in combination by drawing the attention of your friends and followers to your blog via a post and URL from your social network pages?
Is the link you embed in a Tweet going to pull audiences to your content? If you get 10% clickthrough when the industry average is a couple of percent, what can you learn and leverage from that Tweet or all Tweeted content? Is the viral effect of reTweeting or Tweetstreaming useful in growing your audience or will you disenfranchise long time followers who have become accustomed to receiving email responses “in a few minutes”?
We have a lot more questions than these, and are still searching for ways to meet our individual needs and aspirations. We both agree on how to answer the question at the top of this post: we don't think email is dying, it’s merely settling into the roles it was always best suited to play. Email is not being replaced entirely for notification, messaging, and collaboration by these other technologies, nor will any of the newcomer applications succeed email as the single killer application. For the moment, there *is* no killer application. We need to experiment more with the existing and emergent set of applications going forward to get a better handle how we all interact online.
In the meantime, please share your thoughts with us both, using whatever technology is appropriate.