Email is Dead, Long Live Email

Posted on March 2, 2008
Filed Under Web 2.0 Kool Aid |

If you were to listen to prominent Web 2.0 personalities at the FOWA conference, you’d probably get the impression that email was dying. According to Caroline McCarthy of

The way people have been talking about e-mail at the Future of Web Apps conference, you’d think it were a cell phone carrier or a domestic airline. It’s antiquated, it’s backward, and everybody hates it.

Erick Schonfeld, who moderated what did turn out to be a useless 45-minute brainstorming session, stated:

It was clear that the panelists think these communication modes that we rely on every day may very well be in the process of breaking down.

If you happen to be a poor soul who works at a company or in an industry where Twitter is not the preferred choice of communication (which right now includes just about every company and industry except for a small, bizarre region just south of San Francisco), the notion that email is dying is probably pretty amusing., while obviously possessing an audience that is technology-minded, is a bit more mainstream than that of other Web 2.0 hangouts that I won’t name. So it’s worth noting that the vast majority of the responses to Caroline McCarthy’s article were not very favorable to the Web 2.0 proponents:

Web 2.0–let’s see: reader comment from johnwbaxter
Posted on: February 29, 2008, 6:25 PM PST
Story: The future of Web apps will see the death of e-mail

Let’s see. ActiveX vulnerabilities (including social network site image uploaders). JavaScript: designed to be insecure. Flash vulnerabilities. Quicktime vulnerabilities (how many updates this year?). RealPlayer vulnerabilities.

Sounds like a perfect recipe for replacing email.

(I didn’t mention Silverlight: a great test of whether Microsoft is serious about security: new product built in the new era of security assurance process. Too soon to tell whether it moves up the to the first paragraph, or not.)

Email is dead: reader comment from rcrusoe
Posted on: February 29, 2008, 4:16 PM PST
Story: The future of Web apps will see the death of e-mail

Right, just don’t tell that to corporate America who consider it second only to oxygen.

And what’s this about spam being a problem? Spam was eliminated in 2006.

right: reader comment from 42istheanswer
Posted on: February 29, 2008, 5:35 PM PST
Story: The future of Web apps will see the death of e-mail

about corporate. You wanna mess with someones karma turn off their email. Facebook, MySpace and the like are fads. Youngsters like it cuz it’s cool and the fuddy duddy’s are boring email users. They’ll graduate to email eventually. Their paycheck will depend on it.

“the younger generation doesn’t use email”: reader comment from kgsbca
Posted on: March 1, 2008, 12:40 AM PST
Story: The future of Web apps will see the death of e-mail

I don’t think all of the “younger generation” doesn’t use email, just the ones who don’t have jobs. email is a pretty useful form of communication, and it will go away just after phones die out. it may not be the best way to tell of of your friends what you think at any given moment, but it works well for point-to-point communications.

These comments sound like the “younger generation” in the last decade that responded to challenges to their their dot-com excel business plans with “you just don’t get it”. Yeah, the web was new, but not every site was destined to be profitable. And the “web 2.0″ isn’t the answer to everything.

sorry for the extensive use of ” “, it’s just that way too many people talk in cliches.

How will you sign up for facebook without email?: reader comment from vaporland
Posted on: March 1, 2008, 6:36 AM PST
Story: The future of Web apps will see the death of e-mail

Last time I checked, all of those nifty Web 2.0 message delivery mechanisms required email addresses in order to register.

Call me old fashioned, but I think the ubiquitousness of email will endure at least a little longer.

Chatting, et. al., has its place; so does email.

And as others have noted, with a little effort and forethought, you can virtually eliminate spam.

Agreed: reader comment from photolarry
Posted on: March 1, 2008, 9:37 AM PST
Story: The future of Web apps will see the death of e-mail

Email will not die. Its the main way businesses still communicate. And for that matter friends and family are going to be using it a long time too. Some of us do not use more tech savy ways of messages like twitter that are more reserved for geeky nerdy types (like myself).

also: reader comment from sevenalive
Posted on: February 29, 2008, 3:58 PM PST
Story: The future of Web apps will see the death of e-mail

Twitter? This is so stupid, just because 15 year old girls do it, doesn’t mean the rest of society does. Myspace and Facebook are mostly for chicks, guys don’t really do it. I have them both, i don’t login often, i only have it so high school friends can find me (i am 20.5 now). The only guys on those sites are trying to add as many girls as their friends then try to get their number, lets be realistic here.

DO you see the logic here? Oh so i gotta create an account at (w/e) and message you. Sounds like email, but email is better. At least with email, i only need your email address, not your username + site your at, then gotta create an account, then add as friend, then after approval we can EMAIL each other using their own private system.

Good luck with your job using facebook.: reader comment from hunter_jc
Posted on: March 1, 2008, 5:51 AM PST
Story: The future of Web apps will see the death of e-mail

Yeah i would love to see how the “younger” generation will tell their boss, Can everyone just have a facebook account so we don’t have to use email?

Not the future, but a function of age: reader comment from AeroJonesy
Posted on: February 29, 2008, 3:55 PM PST
Story: The future of Web apps will see the death of e-mail

Younger folk may be forgoing email for messaging through Internet applications, but I don’t see them as a replacement for email. People migrate through social networking sites as they get older. They are going to want a central address where they can always be reached - similar to the reasoning behind mobile phone number portability.

Apps may be good for quick short messages to arrange meetings or phone calls, and for casual conversation, but they aren’t going to be a replacement for true email accounts.

While looking at comments on is in no way a scientific method for gauging mainstream public sentiment, I do think it’s worth noting that of 20 comments on Caroline’s story, not one supported the notion that email is on its deathbed and that nonsensical Web 2.0 “solutions” like Twitter represent its replacements. So much for the “everybody hates email” perception apparently held by most attendees at Web 2.0’s latest sausage fest.

I won’t deny that email can be frustrating for many. The truth, however, is that the frustrations we experience with email are not borne of problems with the technology but of the way we communicate with each other today. Yes, most of us are inundated with more emails than we’d like and it’s difficult to keep up, but this is a reflection of our information-overload society and poor communication habits, not email itself. In other words, we should blame the messengers, not the medium.

When one recognizes that communications bottlenecks are more often than not the result of how humans use communications technology, especially in a day and age where people talk more than ever but say less than ever, one easily recognizes at the same time that any mainstream communications medium is likely to fall victim to an unpleasant noise to signal ratio.

If you are unsatisfied with your email experience, change the way you use email and set boundaries so that the people you communicate with using email do the same when they email you. It probably won’t be easy, but it will be a lot more effective than hoping that a switch to Twitter will solve your problems or that a Web 2.0 celebrity like Kevin Rose will come up with email’s replacement once he gets around to it.

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3 Responses to “Email is Dead, Long Live Email”

  1. Cyndy Aleo-Carreira on March 2nd, 2008 6:06 pm

    Don’t they know we are all going to OpenID? Which, of course, requires an email address to sign up.

  2. Adam on March 3rd, 2008 1:43 am

    Good post.

    I don’t often chuckle out loud at anything less than a hilarious movie. But some of the things said here (IE - the quotes) made me do just that.

    I don’t think we’ve spent decades getting used to electronic mail just so some outfit with a couple of bored designers and php developers can replace it with a cooler, “better” tool.

  3. E-mail 2.0 | WOWNDADI on March 11th, 2008 5:06 am

    […] like twitter and pownce to get away from the torrent that floods the inbox. Some even proclaim that email is dead (or maybe […]

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