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Email is dead…

Or so the WSJ technology blog would have us believe.

Email has had a good run as king of communications. But its reign is over.

In its place, a new generation of services is starting to take hold—services like Twitter and Facebook and countless others vying for a piece of the new world. And just as email did more than a decade ago, this shift promises to profoundly rewrite the way we communicate—in ways we can only begin to imagine.

We all still use email, of course. But email was better suited to the way we used to use the Internet—logging off and on, checking our messages in bursts.

That really misses the mark, I think. There are a lot of reasons email is more useful for communication than the other technologies mentioned in the article (Twitter and Facebook specifically). Social networking sites are great for quick one offs, really fast questions and organizing get togethers. What they lack is history and permanence.

I have, at my fingertips, email archives going back to 2005. With a little bit of effort I could dig up archives from 1999. It’s history that isn’t as built into social networking. Twitter doesn’t keep more than a certain number of your tweets. I don’t even know if you can search Facebook walls for certain keywords and discussions. It’s the relative permanence of email that keeps users coming back to it.

A number of others have also commented on the WSJ article. FastCompany addresses the value of email and how well it fills its role in communication. They also point out a lot of things that you can’t do in other media that you can do easily in email.

  • You can’t embed a file directly in a Tweet.
  • Would you trust Facebook, with its odd history of rights control, with a corporate Excel file?
  • Legions of gray-surfers have adopted email as a way to keep in touch–they won’t be switching.
  • While email is usually formatted informally, it’s still more formal than social networking norms–important in a business setting.
  • Millions of BlackBerry and iPhone users will testify to mobile email’s convenience.

The Email Service Guide points out other significant differences between social networking and email.

Email is used to contact people other than our friends, to talk about more than what we did for the weekend, and to get real work done in a neutral setting. Facebook and Twitter mix our communication with more people and more play and while that is a fantastic and fun thing, it’s just not a substitute for email.

Long live email.

9 comments

  1. Structured Wiring says

    I do not think twitter will rewrite the way we communicate but I do believe it has a little part in it. Social networking is not all that new now and these sites will come and go…its all about marketing.

  2. Byron says

    Try to get a Facebook or Twitter or any other account WITHOUT an email address…

  3. Best of the Blogosphere: Embedded Video & the Slow Death of Email? says

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  4. Chris Wheeler says

    Or, try to use your social network without an email address receiving a stream of updates? While some do, I don’t have time to sit and monitor my social networks constantly. While I don’t really have the time to do this with email, either, it is at least one place I can go to for a repository of communications from everywhere else. At the end of a busy day, I check my email usually to see what’s happening in the other media and whether I need to hop on.

    Also, as an fyi, you can save/archive your tweets using: http://backupmytweets.com/

    @ChrisAWheeler (seemed apropos!)

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