Monday, October 19, 2009

more on the "e-mail dying" meme

There appears to be a bit more content of late in the "e-mail is dying" meme.* Probably this is driven by the Google Wage phenomena which purports to be e-mail as if had been invented today rather than last century. A shift from e-mail being yesterday to other communication tools--Facebook, Twitter and Wave, foremost--is said to be catalyzed by the always on capability of the Internet and handheld devices. The argument goes that the asynchronous nature of e-mail is now outdated, an artifact of a time when the desktop reigned as the hub of our electronic world. Today the desktop is more of a periphery, with the handheld becoming the personal communication device that we live with 24/7. My own BlackBerry barely leaves my body. It charges each night on my nightstand (in the new BlackBerry "bedside" mode). These always on and attached-to-the-body devices allow instant response. As declared in a WSJ article titled Why Email No Longer Rules, "Why wait for a response to an email when you get a quicker answer over instant messaging?"

But this whole "e-mail is dying" argument misses the point that you don't always want "instant" and even with 24/7 attached devices, can't always have it. Ever tried instant oatmeal? Icch! Ever been slapped for e-mailing in a meeting? Ever tried to say something comprehensive on Twitter?

The point is that the "e-mail is dying" meme is just silly. What's of course happening is that modes of communication are proliferating and some of them displace e-mail in certain circumstances. Despite Facebook, Twitter and Wave, e-mail will be with us for a very long time.

And there's still lots of room for innovation around e-mail. GMail is of course the best current example. Whenever I go back to using e-mail on Outlook, I do indeed feel like I'm in the last century. The product is slow. It crashes on me frequently, probably because I've got a few add-ons (Salesforce, Linkedin, Skype). It uses an old database form, allowing messages to be in only one place at a time via folders instead of infinite places via tags. Threading doesn't include outgoing conversations. Search is abysmal. When I use GMail, it's a joy. Spam is mostly killed before it comes to me, thanks to Google's servers. Conversations are threaded beautifully. The product gets continual tweaks, many of which I can toggle on and off via the "labs" function and all of which work perfectly, with no effect on performance. And there's even a great GMail app for my BlackBerry, though it doesn't offer the instant "push" of normal BlackBerry e-mail. I have to wait for it. But when I do, I can search for any e-mail in my database, I get to see conversations threaded, and the product just works. And I can take a few breaths before I have to respond. Someday, perhaps, the forced asychonysity of e-mail will be appreciated again for what it is after all the hyped up alternatives begin to taste like too much cotton candy.

* David Strom (LINK) and Jessica Vascellaro in the WSJ (LINK) on the "e-mail is dead" meme. And Farhad Manjoo on Slate has a nice little takedown of Wave (LINK).


David Strom said...

Joe, thanks for your post and link. I would get rid of the LinkedIn Outlook app, that could improve your reliability 10x. I do agree with you, Gmail is so much better than any desktop email client that I have used, I have even forgotten there ARE desktop clients. Email will be with us for many, many more years.

Joseph said...

Thanks David! Nice to be able to reference you as I've been following you for years. I mostly use Outlook for contact management, as a conduit into and out of Salesforce (base level version) and into and out of BlackBerry. So, Linkedin is actually a tool I do make use of--but you're right, probably slowing things down.