Email Will Last Forever

By on September 02nd, 2014

A wave of new companies have recently tried to replace the communication channel people love to hate: email. Slack pretends to be “an email killer”, Asana promises “teamwork without email” etc. But the promise of a world without email is a fantasy.

1. Email is the most powerful communication channel

 

To understand how powerful email is, let’s go back to the basics. Email is a protocol that was invented 45 years ago and that can be described as the communication layer of the Internet. Like Internet itself, a defining feature of email is its interoperability: two persons can use different systems and still exchange emails. If you send an email from Hotmail, someone using Gmail will be able to open it, read it, and reply to it.

 

For this reason, email is the best and most reliable way to reach anybody on the planet. Many companies have built tools based on this protocol: Gmail, Hotmail, Outlook, Yahoo!, AOL and more, and today email is a key component of our daily life:

 

– There are over 2.4 billion email users and 3.9 billion email accounts today

– People spend on average 2.5 hours per day on their emails

– Workers check their emails an average of 74 times a day

2. Email is very flexible

 

The email protocol is simple and flexible. If you want to start building your own email service, you’ll be able to choose whatever feature you want and whatever interface you like. So when people complain about email and say it’s outdated, they are wrong: it’s not email’s fault, it’s the fault of email interfaces.

 

– Email is overwhelming? Make smarter interfaces. Even though the technology is decades old, people have always found ways of fixing problems as they appeared: from Gmail spam filters to smart inboxes, to services like unroll.me, which lets you unsubscribe from unwanted newsletters in a click.

 

– Email is not adapted to the enterprise world? Make it more collaborative. Here at Front, we introduce productivity and collaborative features in a standard email client and let companies work as a team on all their incoming emails.

 

– Email is not sexy? Design beautiful interfaces. Mailbox has managed to make email light, fast, and mobile-friendly. Sparrow was creating the most intuitive and pleasurable mailing experience etc.

 

Email is a platform that still has room for innovation, and better yet, without changing the basic premise of how email works.

3. Email will remain in the professional world

 

I’m not saying that email will always be the most suited tool for the professional world as long as you add better interfaces, far from it. Email began as a simple communication tool and is now used to coordinate schedules, collaborate on projects, store files, manage and track tasks – business activities that email programs alone are not designed to manage. As time passes and a business grows, email is more and more ill-suited for those task and some other tools do a pretty good job at replacing it:

 

– For team collaboration: Asana, Yammer, Basecamp

– For customers interactions: Intercom, Customer.io

– For team internal communication: Slack, Hipchat

– For file storage and collaboration: Box, Dropbox, Google Drive

 

But the growth of these tools doesn’t mean the demise of email, for two reasons.

 

First because all these tools rely on email: either because they are built on top of it, or because when something noteworthy happens within one of those tools, guess what? you’ll receive an… email notification.

 

Second, because even if companies use every tool in the list internally, they will still have to deal with e-mail for tasks and requests coming from outside of their team. You can’t expect all your professional contacts to switch to Whatsapp or add you on Skype. For 1-to-1 external communication email as we know it today will remain. It is dominant, it’s the default professional means of communication, it’s standard, and it’s expected.

 

Conclusion

 

Yes, email is being replaced for some types of communication (personal and professional). It’s nothing to be worried about. We have more choices for how to communicate today, and can cherry-pick the best tool for every situation . It doesn’t mean email is dying. It simply means that the communication ecosystem has expanded.

 

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23 responses to “Email Will Last Forever”

  1. dinglefuk says:

    All the hipster startups trying to “kill” email suffer from sheltered-ness and illusions of grandeur!

  2. aaronbassett says:

    Keep in mind that early email did not have the interoperability we take for granted now. The receiver had to be running the same email system or using the same proprietary protocol as the sender. For some systems you had to be on the same LAN or host. Sound familiar?

    I’m not saying any of the startups listed will ever replace email, I actually highly doubt it. That said I don’t think email is forever either, but rather than looking at some startup as an email killer I think it will be a new protocol, or the wide adoption of an existing protocol such as XMPP.

  3. mikesabat says:

    Thanks for writing the article. I’m curious, why no mention of SMS? I’m not arguing that it could kill email, I’m wondering why it is disqualified out of the gate.

  4. Conor says:

    yep, the car didn’t stop walking… social media won’t stop email 😉

  5. I think it’s important to make the distinction between having something like email, and having the email system we see today.

    I think it’s true that text-based communications will likely always remain as primary (for a long time, anyway), but that doesn’t mean it’ll be SMTP and associated protocols doing the work.

    The experience could remain the same, with interoperability still intact, while the backend changes significantly.

  6. @h0zae says:

    As a father of a pre-teen, I can see why its assumed that email is perceived as as dying. Email is simple to isolate from personal communications (my preference). My child and his friends only communicate in iMessages (SMS) and Direct Messages within Apps. They only have email for verification purposes. My assumption is that academia, followed by a career, will force him to use email, but even then, it will be isolated from his personal communication streams.

  7. David Yasnoff says:

    Agree, Email is a powerful tool + very sticky. Like the internal combustion engine it may be flawed but it has been forced to function by layers and layers of incremental innovation. SMS is also powerful, so is voice calling and social messaging. @ SendSmart.com we believe the future is in Unified Cloud Communications (bringing all contacts and all communications all together). No business has the luxury of disorganized communication with customers, or favoring any one channel.

  8. You forgot one important thing: email is the primary authentication method on the Internet.

  9. Hmm, I would use email more if just for communication. But nowadays 95% of my email is random notifications for hundreds of different companies. If I need to speak with a colleague I will just HipChat them. It’s all about efficiency at the end of the day.

    • Panos Kougiouris says:

      I found that using a good spam filter and opting-out from notification e-mails either when ordering/signing up or by following the UNSUBSCRIBE link at the bottom of the e-mails makes this a small issue. Of course e-mail does not need to be the only way to communicate online (see my other post in this page), HipChat is probably another great way in the context of your company.

  10. […] talked before about why we truly believe that email is not dead. We know have the data to back it up. We’ve analyzed in details the top 100 email users who gave […]

  11. Panos Kougiouris says:

    Very well said!! E-mail is here to stay and deserves so.

    I recently elaborated on how I would expect one to use all the available ways to communicate on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/article/20140828032801-332875-on-reaching-out-and-keeping-in-touch-in-2014

  12. […] to take on this challenge. Because let’s face it, even if email does have its flaws, it’s still the most powerful tool on the internet. Now we just have to trust these companies to reinvent the way we communicate today. Any […]

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