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The Decline of Email (again)

December 8, 2011

Everything is cyclical.  First comes an emerging technology and if it’s worth its weight in code it is refined, implemented to exhausting ends then vanquished once a more useful technology comes around.  Queue the theme song from The Lion King.  While making my rounds of geek tech sites in recent months I’ve picked up on the “email is dead” theme more than once.  Ok, I’ll bite.

It seems like email has been around as long as computers and for many of us that might as well be true.  Why has email been able to avoid the same cycle as many other technologies (or at least enjoy an extremely long cycle)?  The answer is simple: it has always worked.  Conversation tracking, a sort of document storage with the use of attachments, calendaring and task management also grew out of email in an almost organic way.

I guess it’s not fair to talk about the ying of email without talking about the yang.  Expensive software licenses, servers and a small army of IT support personnel are required to maintain the email of a firm.  Additional software is often purchased to limit the amount of spam received and automatically archive older messages.  All of this adds additional administrative overhead when it comes to security and email policies.  Oh well, all necessary evils right?

Even considering the administrative and monetary costs, if email ultimately works why are some declaring it to be on the decline?  There are varying answers that all lead to the same conclusion: when it comes to technology, we are all more sophisticated now.  Social media is more mature today providing many of the features only found in email just a few short years ago.  Calendaring, document sharing, task management, search and filtering have all found their way into the social media landscape.  The ability to chat (video or otherwise), message, schedule meetings, etc. is leaving more and more organizations to ask: Why do we need email – at least internally?  Why deal with all the spam of email when it’s not necessary?  Why worry about managing the cost of software, servers and support when everything seems to be moving to the cloud?

Of course we’re not ready to put email to pasture just yet.  There are still kinks to work out and questions to answer but the rumblings among peers are getting louder.   When you want to email a link to this blog to a friend or coworker, will they have moved on to a more current method of communication?

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