Email isn't dead - It's only sleeping

February 29, 2008 · · Posted by Greg Lloyd

Caroline McCarthy has a wonderful post The future of Web apps will see the death of e-mail. She quotes Kevin Marks:

Kevin Marks, a Google engineer and Technorati veteran, said in a talk about the company's OpenSocial project and Social Graph APIs that e-mail is a "strange legacy idea."

"E-mail has died away for a group of users. for the younger generation, they don't use e-mail," he said, talking about the young Web users who have started to abandon e-mail for Facebook messaging and mobile texting. "They see it as this noisy spam-filled thing that annoys them every day...they see it as how you talk to the university, how you talk to the bank." Marks pointed to technologies like OpenID that promote the notion that online identities these days are defined by so much more than e-mail addresses--URLs and social-networking profiles, to name a few.

I don't exactly think email is dead - and don't think point-to-point email will ever go away - but as a medium for broadcast collaboration it should be considered as lively as Mr. Praline's parrot.

In yet another conversation on "is email dead?" I settled on: No - it's just a "strange legacy idea" that's tragicomically inept for collaboration.
February 17, 2009 | # | Greg Lloyd

Blogs, wiki's and IM displace use of broadcast email for group working communication. Email is a great medium for one to one - back and forth - communication, but it's a terrible medium for group collaboration. Clay Shirky says:All enterprises have more knowledge in their employees as a group than any one person, even (especially?) the CEO. The worst case is where one person has a problem and another knows a solution, but neither knows the other – or that the other knows. Despite e-mail’s advantages for communication, it falls down as a close collaboration tool on complex projects: E-mail makes it hard to keep everything related to a particular project in one place; e-mailed attachments can lead to version-control nightmares; and it’s almost impossible to get the Cc:line right. If the Cc:line is too broad, it creates “occupational spam” – messages from co-workers that don’t matter to everyone addressed. If the Cc:line is too narrow, the activity becomes opaque to management or partners. -- Social Software: A New Generation of Tools by Clay Shirky, Release 1.0 Vol 21, No. 5, 20 May 2003 (.pdf)

Social software needs to be just as simple, and substantially more effective than email when used for working communication within and across groups. If the software is simple to use, it can be much easier to post what you want to say - or a question you want answered - to a place where others who have the same compelling interest can read it, than to craft an cc: list and force each individual to deal with a rat's nest of replies interleaved in a week's worth of email. -- From Blog73: Personal Knowledge Management: Building Actionable Content from Collaborative Publishing

Andrew McAfee has a very good analysis of email's strengths and limitations as a channel oriented communication medium, summarized in Flip Test 1971 | Email versus Journal

Buy your own Dead Parrot toy here. Puzzled by the Mr. Praline reference? Read about the Dead Parrot sketch. Or just watch it:

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