Given the recent rise in popularity of social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, with quick, short messages between users like those popularized by SMS messages, some believe that e-mail may be dying out. After all, it’s so much easier to type in a person’s name, write out whatever it is off your chest and hit “Send”. You don’t have to worry if the email address is correct or up-to-date, and you can be pretty much guaranteed that they will have seen it, even if you don’t get a reply straight away.
It’s pretty surprising to say, but even today, 12% of the American and 39% of the European population still don’t have access to the Internet, according to the latest penetration figures for 2011. As those users, and the kids growing up today, come online, it would seem that they’ll adopt to using social networks by default, skipping email entirely and hastening its demise. But I believe that e-mail certainly isn’t dying out – in fact it’s more popular than ever.
Social Networking is Still Great … a Great Addition to Email
Now I’m not putting down Facebook and Twitter at all – I use both frequently and both of course have their advantages and disadvantages. But I would certainly feel a bit worried if I wanted to send private information via these networks. With email, you’ve got (in my eyes) slighly better security and although it’s by all means not impossible to hack into both a user’s Facebook or Twitter profile and an email address, I feel slightly more assured with email that my private conversations are kept just that – private.
Even aside from secure communications, the death of e-mail is a long way off. Think about businesses. Although some, such as the French IT company Atos, which is replacing internal e-mail with instant messaging and good old face-to-face chatting, are switching towards other methods, e-mails are still the main way to communicate in business. The average employee sends and receives around 112 e-mails a day and e-mail marketing is still extremely profitable – on average $1 invested would return back $44.25 in 2011.
You’d have thought that with the introduction of Facebook’s new Social Inbox, with one place for all your messages, e-mails (with your @facebook.com e-mail address) and chats that this would have started the demise of providers such as Gmail, Hotmail and Yahoo, but far from it, in my eyes anyway. I hate Facebook’s messaging feature (but unfortunately, there’s really no other option to talk to your mates on Facebook) and I would certainly not replace my beloved Gmail account with it. There’s no support for attachments and even the basic concept of sending messages back and forth screws up every now and again.
Editor’s Note: Plus, comically, you can reply to Facebook messages and comments with emails, letting you actually manage your social networks via email – something I actually do. Even for business networks, such as Yammer and Basecamp, I often find myself replying to in-app messages in email, since it’s just quicker for me in Gmail or Sparrow.
Email Still Makes the Most Sense on Mobile Devices
But recently, there has been a big transformation for e-mail from the desktop to the mobile platform. In 2011, there were 1.2 billion mobile broadband subscriptions and 85% of all handsets shipped globally included a web browser, or capable of receiving e-mail. Go down to your local AT&T or Verizon store and have a look through the phones on offer – they are almost all smartphones from Apple, Samsung, HTC, RIM or whatever. I check and respond to short messages via my iPhone (Sparrow FTW!) and for anything longer, I turn to my trusty laptop.
E-mail is, in my eyes, still powering along, especially when you consider its advantages over other forms of communication. There is almost complete compatibility with the recipient no matter which e-mail client or service is being used (unlike IM protocols such as iMessage or WhatsApp) and e-mail allows you to manage your time better – you decide when you reply to it rather than instant messages or phone calls, where an almost instant response is expected.
E-mails also give you the chance to structure your thoughts a lot easier due to the pretty much unlimited space and the formatting tools available to you, and it still works even if the recipient isn’t there at the time of sending – all your messages go into an inbox for you to sort out later. E-mail can also be recorded and referenced easier, depending on the architecture used. And in a weird twist of fate, emailing a file to yourself can often be the easiest way to move a file between apps in iOS, thanks to its lack of in-app file system access.
Is e-mail here to stay, then? Well, yes it is, just like our readers predicted in our recent poll on email usage. We are sending more messages than ever before (3.15 billion in 2011, up from 1.88 billion in 2010) and although both Facebook and Twitter have a combined 1 billion users between them, I personally think that there’s going to have to be a pretty good alternative before we ditch our beloved e-mail. The popularity and ease of it, along with the great options offered by some providers (Gmail‘s 10 GB of free storage, for example) make it still the most popular way of communicating using the Internet and one that will surely remain for many years to come.