What would a post-e-mail world look like?

E-mail may be on the decline, but its archival abilities can't be matched by any current contender

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For Geck, e-mail will probably not exist as a separate messaging channel. "The future will be in aggregation and smart helpers to sift through unwanted content more efficiently," he stated. As an example of the type of service he foresees, Geck highlighted Google Wave, the now-defunct unified messaging and collaboration platform launched by the search giant and later discontinued. While Wave exists now as an Apache Software Foundation incubator project, Geck sees elements within it that presage the type of service/messaging platform that could be the next-generation messaging tool.

proffitt-email.jpgSource: Wikipedia
Google's Wave combined e-mail with other forms of messaging

Primarily, Wave's unified aggregation of messaging via chat, e-mail, and document sharing is a good example of the kind of service Geck envisions. It did have its problems, he points out -- users had too many permissions to edit past messages in a given stream, for one thing, thus damaging the tool's ability to create true archives. But Wave had quite a few things going for it. It is no accident, surely, that many of the multi-service elements found in the standalone Wave service are now found within other Google services (Google Talk within Gmail, or Video Hangouts within Google Plus, for instance).

Geck is also looking at one Web solution that might tie all of these communications channels together into one meta-channel.

"There is some silver lining on the horizon in the gestalt of Schema.org," Geck said. Schema.org is an initiative from Google, Bing, and Yahoo, launched in 2011 "to create and support a common set of schemas for structured data markup on Web pages. Schema.org aims to be a one-stop resource for Webmasters looking to add markup to their pages to help search engines better understand their sites," according to the service's announcement.

Technology designed to make Web pages easier to search may seem like a bit of reach to apply to a communications channel, but Geck believes that working towards a unifying structured data scheme for Web pages will ultimately be of use for communications as well. If communication services are ultimately to be hosted on the Web, then it stands to reason that definitions of important data, such as the identity of messaging service users, will also be unified.

Schema.org can provide this capability, Geck emphasized, adding that it will accomplish this in a far more standardized way than the XML-oriented Semantic Web proposed by the W3C, which Geck feels is not yet mature enough to be implemented as Schema.org's plan.

Geck's skepticism of an XML-based solution is apparent; XML can be defined with many variations: "HTML should not be a second-class citizen when it comes to integration of [messaging] services. If it is good enough for our users, it should be good enough for service integration. Because content not relevant for users is not relevant at all."

Under a structured-data Web, aggregating messaging clients would be able to determine who was whom on whatever (Web-based) communications channel they used. Thus, if you wanted to send a message to Brian Proffitt, Geck said, you would just send a message to his identity and let the client determine which communication channel(s) to use.

E-mail, in Geck's vision, would not go away, but rather become a much more transparent communications channel that would be one among many possible ways to connect with a person and share documents.

The transition will be disruptive to be sure, but ultimately not fatal to e-mail, which will remain a key component of business communications for some time to come.

Read Brian Proffitt's Zettatag and Open for Discussion blogs and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Drop Brian a line or follow Brian on Twitter at @TheTechScribe. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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