Have we reached the point where email’s influence over our electronic
lives is waning? It is hard to imagine, especially for those of us who
grew up in the minicomputer/PC era. For two generations, email was
the killer application. It delivered information reliably and within a
But today the properties that made email so attractive for so long are
now a liabiliity. “A few minutes” for a response is so last year,
driven in no small part by texting and cell phone ubiquity. At the
same time this was happening, wikis, blogs and social networks have
begun to erode email’s document exchange role. The notion of sharing
photos or a slide presentation using email attachments is becoming
Now, the Internets have gotten faster, and seconds matter. Amazon
offers same-day deliveries in a few cities. Motorola’s new Cliq
Android phone aggregates all your messages together. And email just
can’t keep up.
Jessica Vascellaro’s WSJ article about “Why Email No Longer Rules”
cites that more people are on Facebook and other social networking
sites than use email (it is a questionable statistic, to be sure). She
claims that email is losing out to the immediacy of the real-time
nature of social networks feeds and presence-aware apps like Twitter.
Even Instant Messaging isn’t instant or capable enough, since it was
designed for one-to-one chats. Today, the real-time Internet means
that conversations need to happen with multiple people and happen
quickly. The fact that this constant stream of presence information is
being collected and sold, eroding one of the few aspects of privacy we
control is lost on this generation, apparently.
I asked my friend Dave Piscitello to help collaborate on this article,
and we agreed to share our thoughts and come up with the overall
piece. Ironically, we did using email.
We have begun to notice in the past month or so more of our network is
responding to our respective publications – weekly email Web
Informants and the SecuritySkeptic.com blog – via Facebook and not via
email. Adapting to the needs of our audience, we have both begun
“pushing” our publications using email, Friendfeed, Facebook, and
occasionally Twitter. We’ve experimented with podcasting, webcasting,
and video too.
This is admittedly a shotgun approach to publishing, and begs the
question of which of these communications tools, if any, are the right
one for publishing? It also begs whether any of these alone are
sufficient, and if not, what combinations can be used effectively?
More importantly, how do we measure influence and reach, given that
people can reach our blogs, Tweetstreams and FaceLinkedNingSpace
networks, text or IM us, or heaven forbid, actually speak to us using
We honestly don’t know for sure, but we asked ourselves some questions
and share them here for you to consider for your situation:
If you send out a weekly email newsletter, is it better to have the
CEO as a subscriber or have four or five direct reports on a
subscriber list who will send the same email to the CEO to act on when
we touch a topic near and dear? The former puts your name on the CEO’s
radar *if* he makes time to read enough of your messages, while the
latter puts the decision of what is near and dear in the hands of a
(presumably trusted) underling.
Is it better to post something to our FaceLinkedNingSpace pages,
because that post provides personal context, starts conversation that
the rest of our friends can follow along and helps you steadily build
an audience over time; to blog amid a topic-based community, where a
your post may “go viral” on the blogosphere and get thousands of “one
time” hits and trackbacks; or is it worth the effort to use blogging
and social networks in combination by drawing the attention of your
friends and followers to your blog via a post and URL from your social
Is the link you embed in a Tweet going to pull audiences to your
content? If you get 10% clickthrough when the industry average is a
couple of percent, what can you learn and leverage from that Tweet or
all Tweeted content? Is the viral effect of reTweeting or
Tweetstreaming useful in growing your audience or will you
disenfranchise long time followers who have become accustomed to
receiving email responses “in a few minutes”?
We have a lot more questions than these, and are still searching for
ways to meet our individual needs and aspirations. We both agree on
how to answer the question at the top of this post: we don’t think
email is dying, it’s merely settling into the roles it was always best
suited to play. Email is not being replaced entirely for notification,
messaging, and collaboration by these other technologies, nor will any
of the newcomer applications succeed email as the single killer
application. For the moment, there *is* no killer application. We need
to experiment more with the existing and emergent set of applications
going forward to get a better handle how we all interact online.
In the meantime, please share your thoughts with us both, using
whatever technology is appropriate.
David Strom is an expert on Internet and networking technologies who
was the former editor-in-chief at Network Computing, Tom’s
Hardware.com, and DigitalLanding.com. He currently writes regularly
for PC World, Baseline Magazine, and the New York Times and is also a
professional speaker, podcaster and blogs at strominator.com and WebInformant.tv