Sunday, 15 March 2015

Is e-mail dead?

I don't think so (as I've argued in the past). Not yet. But it has seen better days, at least as a means of personal communication.

'Colourful Correios postboxes,
Coimbra, Portugal
' by Pranav Bhatt
under a CC license
Undoubtedly, the mainstreaming of e-mail has transformed communication among people or businesses. While it has been no substitute for phone calls or actual meetings, e-mail has improved several attributes of conventional mail, such as speed of delivery, distribution of copies, inclusion of attachments, confirmations of delivery, etc. It has proven to be much more flexible that facsimile. One of its major drawbacks had been the lack of a legally-binding signature model but this has recently been addressed, either by employing digital signatures or by attaching documents in some kind of trusted, tamper-proof format.

However, with the rise of SMS and, in particular, the various social sites and the numerous instant messaging applications, e-mail has been loosing audience. That is partly due to the fact that the younger ones amongst us favour instant messaging over e-mail, a trend fuelled, to some extent, by the increasing availability of smartphones and tablets.

Instant Messaging vs. Email

It has also been suggested that instant messaging might, altogether, be better for (work-oriented) collaboration than e-mail. Reasons include the facilitation of idea distribution in a raw, unhindered way, the flattening of hierarchy and the avoidance of the CC-ing syndrome (or 'cover-your-arse' syndrome) on top of the typical qualities of instant messaging. Of course, in the majority of businesses, procedures and rules are in place to ensure involvement of the hierarchy in the communication chain, traceability and communication archiving. As long as such policies persist, e-mail's existence is safe.

But what about personal use? I'm afraid that there, e-mail as we have known it, so far, has little added value to offer. Also, for personal communication, instant messaging 's drawbacks don't feel too severe. Perhaps e-mail's strongest point is compatibility: most people have active e-mail addresses but not all people use the same instant messaging application (they are many of those). And, for some reason, the developers of such applications have done little to ensure cross-connectivity.

Surprisingly, however, the fact that the operation of smartphones is normally associated to one or more e-mail accounts, may be giving e-mail a new boost. Also, with smartphones using push notifications for their associated e-mail accounts, e-mail has become rather "instant", as well. This encourages us to use e-mail as an instant messaging application, which, technically is 100% feasible.

It seems, after all, that the fight between e-mail and instant messaging will continue for the years to come.

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