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Analysis
Death of Email

The death of email

Posted on 18 May 2012 at 14:23

Teenagers are switching off email in their drives. Will it even have a place in tomorrow's workplace? Stewart Mitchell investigates

You have 138 unread messages – and you’ve been away from your desk for only two hours.

Without getting any further than the subject line, 95% of them will be deleted. You’ll reply to two of them, and dump the rest. And these are only the messages the spam filter and folder redirects actually let you see. Is it any wonder that the younger generation has already received the bigger message: email is dying.

It isn’t only the young – with their MSN accounts, BlackBerry Messenger and Facebook pages – that are shunning their inboxes. Amid a wave of newer communication and collaboration tools, some companies are already moving away from the electronic mail system that’s been a mainstay of business for almost two decades.

Is it any wonder that the younger generation has already received the bigger message: email is dying

Technology company Atos recently put into action plans to kill off internal email within two years. The email server may soon be keeping the fax machine company in the basement store cupboard.

According to research from comScore, webmail usage fell by 6% in 2011. The drop-off was much steeper among the young, with usage for 12 to 17-year-olds plunging by 24%.

Although this was mitigated by an increase in mobile email, it reflects a trend that prompted Facebook to exploit email dissatisfaction among teenagers when in 2010 it launched an email-like service for messaging through the social network.

“High-school kids don’t use email, they use SMS a lot,” Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg said at the time. “People want lightweight things such as SMS and IM to message each other.”

For a generation that’s only just got its head around electronic communications, the looming sell-by date on email may be frustrating. Eventually, however, email could become as marginalised a medium as the written letter it’s all but replaced.

Killing the messenger

Email – despite dating back to the early 1970s – has only been a central part of our communications repertoire for fewer than two decades.

Back in 1991, there were only three million accounts, a figure that’s since climbed to more than 3.1 billion, according to figures from eMarketer. Each year there are more than 90 trillion messages sent to and from those accounts. Along the way, it’s almost killed off the fax, and made phone calls a courtesy rather than a necessity.

It sounds irreplaceable, but there are considerable downsides. According to email provider Sendmail, 90% of those messages are spam, and although filters sift out the majority of junk, the average inbox is still peppered with annoying and time-sapping clutter.

A 2010 survey from computer services company Star claimed that one in five UK workers spends more than an hour each day managing their inboxes, which is the equivalent of 32.5 working days per year.

Find out more

In defence of email

The time wasted dealing with these emails was one reason behind Atos’ plan to eradicate email from its internal communications by 2013, with CEO Thierry Breton claiming that, on average, staff were receiving more than 200 emails a day – and 15% of them were actually wasting between five and 20 hours a week handling email. Surely, the company reckoned, there must be a better way.

“Email has been adopted as the single tool for everything,” says Rob Price, a director involved with the mail switch-off strategy at Atos. “People spend too long sifting through all the information included in an inbox.”

The emergence of more inclusive, collaborative tools has put the squeeze on email. SMS and instant messaging have long been popular with the younger generation due to their low cost, and also their immediacy. Now perceptions are beginning to change in the workplace.

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User comments

Erm...

What a load of bBull*&hit.

By deetem on 18 May 2012

I agree

What a load of bull.

All those other mediums which try to replace email will come and go and we'll still have email for many more decades to come, (hopefully with less spam).

By DaChimp on 18 May 2012

I wouldn't go as far as deetem, but I can't see why IM, Social networking, Twitter and E-mail can't exist side-by-side. Just because something newer comes along, doesn't make the past technology obsolete (TV and Radio).

I think email will probably reduce in popularity, but still remain dominant amongst us oldies. I can see why Facebook and IM are more popular amongst the young though: little spam, less formal and can be directed at specific individuals or groups easily.

In the end they're all just ways to communicate in words, so whatever becomes most popular we'll still be talking to each other.

By pbryanw on 18 May 2012

Alas

Some of the messages contained in this piece are problematical.
The article talks about systems being used at enterprise level and messages being sent by "high school kids", collaborative tools and plain messages.
Many of the conclusions you draw may apply to one area but giving examples across such different areas dilutes each conclusion you attempt to draw.
Also, you don't delineate each of your paragraphs clearly so one is left with the impression you're trying to create a cumulative effect - which isn't justified given the disparate nature of each of the elements.
Also, you might consider the wisdom of quoting from companies whose purpose is to sell solutions.
An article should stand on the strength of your argument - the quotes you use lack credibility because they come from some companies whose purpose is to convince people to buy there solutions. Also, there is a danger that by presenting these quotes in your piece you lend credibility to their solutions and the (I hope) erroneous idea that PC Pro is more than happy to help out some companies with a marketing piece for their solutions.

By simontompkins on 19 May 2012

One Good Use of e-mail

I can't see e-mail dying for one good reason - court cases.

Can you imagine trying to prove or disprove whether Google was infringing Oracle/Sun's Java copyrights by trying to pull together IM, facebook messages or tweets?

I'm sure e-mail will be required for business communications for some time to come.

By Penfolduk01 on 19 May 2012

Proof reading is certainly dead and gone

"Teenagers are switching off email in their drives."

"Droves" possibly

By davidk1962 on 20 May 2012

E Mail the enemy of productivity

I've been using email for over 20 years.

When I worked for a large organisation (up to 5 1/2 years ago) the number and quality of mails was so wearing I set up rules to automatically bit more than 50% and guess what it never caused me any problems (or the company for that).

Whether it is email, SMS, Blackberry messaging or any other medium reducing things to a human scale is vital.

As for Facebook etc replacing email how about ditching most of it getting back to basics.

By kaneclem on 20 May 2012

Not buying it

By deejerox on 21 May 2012

The problem isn't the medium...

It isn't the medium being used which is the problem - it's the users. The same people will still send the same crap whatever the messaging system. I am constantly trying (without much success) to get people to use the 'all staff' distribution group a bit less!

By valeofyork on 21 May 2012

Daily Mail takes over PC Pro

In a dramatic turn of events Pc Pro's editing team were usurped by the Daily Mail. Sporadic "Death of", "Shock" and "Diana" headlines started to appear in the once highly regarded magazine.....

[Just kiddin' folks]....

I sent one e-mail to all my clients along the lines of "To aid my productivity I will no longer be replying to e-mails on demand. I will reply to all e-mails first thing when I arrive at my desk. Do not be offended if I don't reply to your e-mail until the next day if you send it to me after 10.00 a.m. I have found that this aids my productivity. If you have an urgent request then by all means call me. I'll be happy to chat to you."

And I'm pleased to say that it worked. Not a solution for all, but one that works for me.

By CraigieDD on 21 May 2012

Was i dreaming

because this article is talking like Facebook invented IM/SMS, instead of being something i was using as a kid joining secondary school over 13 years ago. Yes as a teenager all that time ago i would have said email was dead, but here we are over a decade later and its still used every day by millions, which i doubt will change much over the next decade either.

By Mccers on 21 May 2012

It's just not going to happen

Just because swaths of young new users prefer to use social media commenting for communication, doesn't sound the death knell for e-mail. Who wants confirmations for transactions and orders posted on their twitter stream, bills and other accountancy items posted on their facebook feeds?! It's ridiculous, e-mail is used for such a variety of uses by such a variety of users, that I cannot see it ever being fully replaced, just like telephone conversations will still be around as long as we can all care to predict the future. Companies look to phase out internal emails, because it's a time waste, in a similar way they look to block social networking sites. As a business user, I couldn't manage without email, I wouldn't considering conducting 99% of my communications via media sites, because it is highly specific to each person I work with. As for companies bemoaning supporting users via e-mail, this is usually because they have a lacklustre support site/forum which doesn't cover the myriad of faults they need to deal with. Presumably these companies wouldn't be against speaking to someone over the phone to assist?! Ridiculous.

By isofa on 21 May 2012

Journo Hack Drivel

Sometimes you want directed, sometimes you want shared. Not all communication is appropriate to be commented on by all. Can you imagine Twitter or Social Media being used by the CPS or a Solicitors office?

This is up there with food pills and flying cars. The truth is ALL systems of communication will be used if they serve a distinct purpose. Email is useful for greater privacy and a more established paper-trail, ergo it will still be used. Twitter, text and Social Media are more useful for commenting and general debate.

I wish hacks wouldn't concentrate on non-stories.

By Pirran on 24 May 2012

Journo Hack Drivel

Sometimes you want directed, sometimes you want shared. Not all communication is appropriate to be commented on by all. Can you imagine Twitter or Social Media being used by the CPS or a Solicitors office?

This is up there with food pills and flying cars. The truth is ALL systems of communication will be used if they serve a distinct purpose. Email is useful for greater privacy and a more established paper-trail, ergo it will still be used. Twitter, text and Social Media are more useful for commenting and general debate.

I wish hacks wouldn't concentrate on non-stories.

By Pirran on 24 May 2012

Diversified communications

email is becomming the new written letter, complemented by the trivial social communications of IM and facebook. The premise of the article that email is dead is ridiculous. Business communications will continue to use email for all formal messages.

By acoastwalker on 27 May 2012

"A 2010 survey from computer services company Star claimed that one in five UK workers spends more than an hour each day managing their inboxes, which is the equivalent of 32.5 working days per year."

Ah, all those calculations.. Each time I see lost productivity numbers, I only think about time we all spend here during work hours reading PC Pro articles and writing comments. Not to mention billions gazillions of pounds lost on toilet trips, smoking breaks and lunches. It must be a miracle that our civilisation hasn't collapsed yet due to all this lost time and money.

I also wonder how will Atos contact with anyone outside their organisation? Will all customers and partners be required to set up Facebook account and like each other, or perhaps buy some bespoke IM system that Atos has?


Death of email, right..

By radnor on 29 May 2012

"A 2010 survey from computer services company Star claimed that one in five UK workers spends more than an hour each day managing their inboxes, which is the equivalent of 32.5 working days per year."

Ah, all those calculations.. Each time I see lost productivity numbers, I only think about time we all spend here during work hours reading PC Pro articles and writing comments. Not to mention billions gazillions of pounds lost on toilet trips, smoking breaks and lunches. It must be a miracle that our civilisation hasn't collapsed yet due to all this lost time and money.

I also wonder how will Atos contact with anyone outside their organisation? Will all customers and partners be required to set up Facebook account and like each other, or perhaps buy some bespoke IM system that Atos has?


Death of email, right..

By radnor on 29 May 2012

@ Penfolduk01

Absolutely right. All the legal standing issue is that it's written down, so there's absolutely no difference -- "legally speaking" -- between a tweet, an email and a wadded up napkin with pen on it.

However, just as businesses tend not to have systems in place to keep track of all their written-on napkins there's little way to get your hands on a tweet you sent two years ago when you need to sue someone for breaching the contract.

By steviesteveo on 6 Jun 2012

Not covered...

Whilst the article blithely talked about "alternatives" to E-Mail, the one thing it didn't cover, at all, was the legal aspects of the alternatives.

For a starter, as others have noted, having financial information appearing in your Twitter feed is a non-starter, as is personnel information appearing in your Facebook feed.

The company has a duty to keep such information private and internal to the company - in Germany, personally identifiable information cannot be handed over to someone outside the EU without the written permission of the affected person, likewise financial information cannot be stored on servers outside of Germany - without a special dispensation from the equivalent of the Tax Office.

Add to that that all business and financial relevant information has to be stored in UNALTERABLE form for at least 10 years, that makes IM, Twitter and Facebook illegal for company based information exachange - even older / simpler mail server fall foul of this requirement, because the mails can generally be edited or deleted, only newer products, such as Exchange Server 2007 or newer meet these requirements. I haven't seen Twitter or Facebook offering any guarantee that information posted on their service will be held in unalterable form for 10 years, without the possibility of it being deleted by the user...

For casual information exchange, some of these other services might be useful, but for anything with "business relevance", they are a non-starter, unless they have been built from the ground up with business needs and internal security in mind.

By big_D on 6 Aug 2012

Sorry...

The server wasn't responding yesterday, just displayed a blank page.

By big_D on 7 Aug 2012

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