A Wall Street Journal article Monday "Why E-mail No Longer Rules" has triggered a long overdue discussion about the future of e-mail.
Does e-mail have a future? Is it dead? Are texting, Facebook, instant messaging and Twitter pushing it aside? What will be the impact of Wave, the new Google communication and collaboration tool that is out now in limited release? I have requested an invitation to try it out, but have heard nothing and await to hear back on a second request.
E-mail as we know it isn't dead and will almost certainly co-exist with the other mediums for some time. In some respects the way we communicate are simply new fast-growing forms of e-mail so one could contend the differences are simply semantical. But that's a weak argument. The very public Facebook Wall certainly isn't e-mail nor is texting which in its current incarnation is instant messaging over cell phones.
However, e-mail has become a cluttered and inefficient mess. The first thing I do in morning is delete the junk e-mails that are largely the result of newsletters or alerts that I signed up for, but am fearful that if I unsubscribe I will miss something. There's just too many e-mail newsletters and news alerts from Google and newsletters, but as a tech journalist, I am probably tracking a wider variety of topics than most. As for spam, Gmail does a great job is cordoning it off so it's not a problem.
After the mass deletions, I open the ones that look important enough to read. And many are important. I approach people I want to interview through e-mail. I do interviews on e-mail. I conduct personal and financial business through e-mail. I invoice clients through e-mail. I get jokes on e-mail.
It would be an interesting experiment to shut off my e-mail and see how I'd get along without it. Fact is, many key contacts could not reach me nor I them. That's why e-mail remains the first place I go in the morning and check dozens of times throughout the day, something I don't do with Facebook and Twitter.
A thoughtful piece on Techcrunch by MG Siegler introduces the idea of "passive aggressive communication" where can you have your e-mail and eat your instant messaging too. In other words, you can read and respond at your leisure which is passive like e-mail or act in read and respond instantly which is the aggressive. And you can do it all in one place.
"You can actively (aggressively) engage in threads in real-time, or you can sit back and let messages come to you at your leisure (passively)," he writes. He claims Google Wave comes close to this idea.
"We’ve been slowly building up to a system like this. Whether Google Wave succeeds is really irrelevant. More important is if the idea of Wave does," he says. What if Google Wave took off to the point where Google didn't offer Gmail anymore? Anything is possible.
Some of the key people I communicate with don't use Facebook or Twitter and when it comes to privacy, e-mail is my first choice. E-mail will be around for a while, but like all things in technology, something better will come along. We just don't know what it is yet.
Usage for some mediums will go up while others taper off. We've already seen instant messaging slacken and texting skyrocket. The other unique dynamic about these mediums is that they free or in the case of texting, very cheap. The costs for using them isn't a factor, meaning they'll hang around as long as they are offered.
How have your communication patterns changed? I'd love to hear so please comment here and I'll be passively and aggresively back at you.