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What is the Future of Email?

Posted by on March 13, 2012

Gartner has an interesting graphic they created which I stumbled upon after reading a CMSWire article.  The image helps explain the email paradox which is email is not the best method for information sharing and distribution yet it’s not going to go away.  The image compares email with social networking and looks at several variables.  The most important portion of the visual which explains why email is not going to go away is ubiquity, this in my opinion is the greatest factor that is keeping email alive.

So if email isn’t going to go away what’s going to happen to it?  Well there are a few interesting things that I’m seeing.  Vendors such as are actually leveraging email as the basis for a collaboration platform and embrace it.  Other companies like the new Fluent, actually hook into your email (not for enterprise use yet but works with Gmail) and turn it into what looks like an activity stream with lots of interesting features; it basically takes email and makes a type of social network out of it, something which I find very interesting and believe we will see more of, especially around enterprise applications.

Other vendors out there are trying to get users away from email and companies such as Atos Origin are actually pledging to be a zero-email company within a few years, a daunting task.  I don’t think email is going to die but I think it’s use as being the central tool for communicating and sharing and distributing information is going to change; especially within the enterprise.  The challenge of course comes not just from interacting with employees but also with customers.  Employees can easily rely on these types of collaboration platforms but what happens when a customer or prospect wants to get in touch with the company with a comment, complaint, or concern?  Currently in this situation email still appears to be the most efficient tool BUT employees are now able to manage and respond to these emails via their internal collaboration platforms.

In other words, email may just start to act as the middle-man or routing system that moves information around between individuals but does so behind the scenes without us having to log into something such as Outlook.  It can also become a simple notification system or a type of “pager” instead of an actual information sharing and communication platform.

When thinking about the future email it’s important to remember that email and phone numbers are currently the two unique identifiers that we as individuals have so it’s hard to imagine that email will completely die off.

What do you think the future of email is?

  • jonathan schlackman

    Email has long since become an intermediary for pushing out information. Instant messaging like iChat basically takes care of message to message functions, while emails usually give you a link to an sm platform, blog or even auto-download to present the real info the sender wishes to present.

    • Thanks for the comment Jonathan.  Email has been much more than an intermediary though, it’s been used as our central collaboration/communication platform for everyone and everything.  It’s actually ironic that even today many of the enterprise collaboration platforms we use ask for email in order to register.

  • Teije123

    I agree with tour final remark. Email as a sort of identifier. Social media will take over communication function that is stille largely being fullfilled by emil, especially business wise. However we see more and more FB or li accounts being used aa identifier to create accounts.

    • Yep, people are starting to get identified via their LI, twitter, or FB accounts but I don’t think it’s still at the level that email is.  FB may have somewhat of a decent chance at being able to change this in the future especially since they are about to hit a billion users.

  • Here’s another reason email is not going away so soon: privacy.  Consider the next time you order books online, or better yet, medications.  Or maybe you are applying for a job somewhere. You’ll be asked to provide some contact information — probably an email to get some sort of receipt, confirmation, and notification of the transaction status.  Do you really want to give those companies access to your social network? of course not.  Do they want access to it? of course they do.

    There are some things we hope don’t find their way on our social networking sites. Sure, email is not necessarily immune to being disclosed beyond your reach either — but it’s better than having your drugstore posting it on your twitter feed or facebook wall that they have your rash creme ready for pickup :-).

    • Yep, another good point.  Email is certainly not immune from viruses and security issues but it certainly is effective for privacy (unless of course we’re talking about Google and their ads within Gmail).  

      Perhaps we will see these networks start to tackle this challenge?

  • From my point of view, no one can stop email from being used. Yes, there are alternative ways to communicate, but none have the same level of security as an email. I completely agree with Gil! We use it for privacy. Most of these social media sites don’t guarantee privacy. These are focused on helping users make friends and giving out information about the users. And yes, I would love to see emails get more and more innovative with privacy features.

    • Hi Erwin,

      Great to see another comment from you here.

      It’s true, at this point email is far from going away but in some instances, such as collaboration, we do have more effective tools.  Email on the other hand still has its place within the enterprise.

  • Love this post, Jacob. Thanks for writing it. As an email marketing guy, my reply may be somewhat biased, but I’ll add the following: 

    Email is the digital glue that holds social media together. Nearly every social media site out there requires and email address to create an account. Many – including Facebook and LinkedIn – have email address as part of the login process. 

    Many of the alerts social networking sites send out are through … email.

    I also really agree with your point about the ubiquity of email. How many times do you hear “Can you email that to me?” vs. “Can you tweet me that?”
    Great post. Great.

    • Thanks for the comment DJ.

      Email has pretty much become the default identifier which we use.  But it still doesn’t make it a great collaboration/communication tool for all situations.   We will have to see if the new social/collaboration tools are able to change any of that1