There’s been a lot of talk about e-mail in the last couple of days first with the news that Yahoo is looking to turn its mail program into some kind of hybrid Social Network and then today where Slate declares “The Death of E-Mail” (at least in title, the actual article is a bit more balanced)
One of the things I don’t think people realize is how prevalent the e-mail system is in the mind of an IT manager like me. My systems run almost every function on my campus but if any of those systems were to go down for an hour I doubt anyone would be all that upset (not that I’m planning to let that happen). But if the exchange server is down for more than 5 minutes I have at least 3 people telling me about it.
E-Mail is still the life’s blood of just about every modern company.
So now that I’ve given you a brief understanding of where I’m coming from I’d like to quickly address two aspects of the e-mail discussion that have been brought up in the various blog posts I’ve read.
Point #1: Slate says that e-mail is dead because kids don’t use it and businesses usually end up adopting what the kids do rather than the other way around. To that, I say hogwash (though half of that is just because I don’t get to use the word “hogwash” anywhere near as much as I’d like).
Here’s the thing, I’m in my late 20s and when I was a kid I didn’t use e-mail. People seem to forget that IM has been around since the 70s and in some popular form for the last 12+ years (I used Compuserve, ICQ and eventually AIM when I was in high school). So why isn’t e-mail already dead?
Two reasons, One teenagers only talk to who they want to talk to where as adults have to deal with people they (a) don’t know and (b) don’t like. When you are an adult dealing with one of those two scenarios it helps to have e-mail. Two, adults sometimes need to document their conversations where teenagers do not. At work I e-mail as much as possible because I want to be able to trace the day I said a certain thing or prove that someone was told something they claim they never knew. Bottom line, e-mail will get adopted by today’s teenagers because it is the best tool for the jobs they will face as adults.
Point #2: E-Mail needs to die because it doesn’t work. I agree that e-mail doesn’t work as well as it should but rather than kill it I’d like to address0 how it can be fixed. The reality is that modern day e-mail doesn’t work very well because of the mountain of Spam that most people get. 2/3rds of the e-mail that we get through our mail server is spam (and those are only the ones the filter is catching).
The reality is that e-mail isn’t going anywhere so we have to look at a way to fix it and that is going to mean that the industry has to get together and adopt one of the many secure e-mail proposals out there. Everyone hates spam but I some times wonder if people realize how easy it would be to fix if vendors just cooperated with each other and defined some kind of trust standard at the server level.
Sometimes in our modern arrogance we forget that time tested ways of doing things are still the best. Letter writing and its successor E-Mail are still the best way to convey a lot of information and I think we’d all be better off trying to save it than we are pretending its about to die.