E-mail still innovating but social comms stealing limelight

Still indispensable for most users, e-mail sees innovations on smaller scale and less fanfare compared with real-time communications on social platforms, insiders note.

Electronic mail continues to be an indispensable communications tool for many but innovations on the technology have slowed in pace and are mostly geared toward improving usability and accessibility, which do not generate as much hype as social-based, instant communication, industry observers noted.

Since the first message was sent by Ray Tomlinson more than four decades ago, "interesting changes and notable improvements" in e-mail have transformed it from being used solely in the academic world to a rich-featured tool for people to use in their personal and work arenas, said Krishna Baidya, industry manager of ICT practice at Frost & Sullivan Asia-Pacific, in his e-mail.

He added: "At this point, e-mail innovations may be slow but it has surely not reached its end. It's just that the scale and kind of innovation is of a much different nature today. [Developments will not have] big bang impact--which is unlikely on such a mature platform--but rather lots of smaller tweaks to enhance a user's experience."

This is why developers today are more focused on innovations that optimize inbox and folders, quicker access to e-mail messages, including on mobile devices, as well as better collaboration, enhanced security and spam control, Baidya elaborated.

Benjamin Cavender, associate principal at China Market Research Group (CMR), concurred: "E-mail isn't going to go away. It's indispensable and too important for too many people."

In an e-mail interview, he said the e-mail innovation is going to shift toward usage, such as integration with social networking sites, mobile computing and instant chat platforms.

E-mail innovations also no longer have the "wow" factor, Cavender pointed out. Ten years ago, the ability to access e-mail on a mobile phone was "exciting" and not generally available to many users. Today, though, the concept is "passé" and has becomes less exciting, he explained.

Social messaging rising star over e-mail
Jake Saunders, ABI Research's vice president for forecasting, also pointed out that it's not so much whether e-mail is innovating or stagnating. Rather, it is the basic function of sending a message between two people that is evolving with other platforms to allow mass, Internet-based communication of messages, he said in a phone interview.

"So there will always be micro-innovations as e-mail evolves into other messaging platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, which are the ones taking up more of people's time."

Cavender concurred, saying there has been a major shift in the way society shares information and communicate. This can be seen especially among the younger generation, who have "effectively given up on e-mail" in favor of more instantaneous forms of communication such as SMS (short messaging service), Twitter or instant messaging, he added.

Christopher Blake, Lotus collaboration executive at IBM Asean, pointed out that today's key innovation trend is to bring together all forms of communication into one unified, cross-platform, cross-device interface, which is centered on knowing a person's status. He explained that this means seeing whether someone is available to communicate via instant messaging on a particular platform, or if he or she is away, decide what other modes of communication are available to reach them.

One example of such innovation is activity streams that are separate from the standard e-mail inbox, he noted. This stream will display a mix of status updates that will enable users to blend social networks and enterprise application, delivered to them in a synchronous manner through a client that can also access the e-mail, he added. This is also aligned to Big Blue's vision of its Lotus e-mail client, under "Project Vulcan".

With these functions, enterprises can leverage the technology to drive productivity and differentiation in engagement with their clients and suppliers, Blake said.

Xavier Pereira, director of enterprise marketing, Microsoft Asia-Pacific, added that people increasingly use technology to gain flexibility in how they work, and e-mail plays a big role in driving this flexibility.

"Microsoft Outlook is one of the most widely used business productivity applications in the world. Today, Outlook works with Lync, SharePoint, and the rest of Microsoft Office to help people get more out of their e-mail. Within Outlook, customers have access to use enterprise voice, instant messaging and Web, audio and videoconferencing. This helps productivity," he said in an e-mail.


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