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Email IS Dying

Posted by Brian Kelly on 25 May 2007

I gave a talk entitled “Email Must Die!” at the ILI 2005 conference in London back in October 2005 and followed this up with an Ariadne article with the rather more hesitant question “Must Email Die?“.

I can recall that the title of the talk was felt to be rather controversial at the time. So I was interested to read an article entitled “Firms to embrace Web 2.0 tools” in the Computing newsletter (which was also picked up by IT Week) on a recently released Gartner report.

The report states that:

MySpace and FaceBook are the most successful community environments on the planet because they have pulled people away from email, which is the one thing that nothing else has managed to do so far’.

I should add that I was the not the only person to predict this trend. In a UCISA Poll on Instant Messaging a correspondent from the University of Bath stated that “mail seen by younger people to be ‘boring’ ‘full of spam’, IM and SMS immediacy preferred” – and this was back in 2004.

Are mailing list services just for old people, I wonder :-)?

11 Responses to “Email IS Dying”

  1. ajcann said

    I agree that email is dying. Many of our students no longer check their inboxes in the same way they don’t check their pigeon holes, but MySpace and Facebook (and Bebo) combined are small potatoes in comparison with the traffic going across IM and SMS. Microsloth messenger was the “killer app” after Netscape.

  2. I agree with this entirely. We’ve stopped sending out mass emails to our students because they simply don’t read them! Online noticeboards, forums and the social networking sites are much more effective. We don’t utilise IM and SMS as much as we’d like too (yet!) but this is certainly the direction we’re heading in to communicate with our students.

  3. Not necessarily all email… but yes for one-way communication (eg announcements) and a HUGE YES to list-servs. Or rather, if only. They seem to be dying a slow tortuous death rather than a quick painless one.

  4. Oops, in the Facebook view of my blog Phil Wilson was incredulous at my statement that “I should add that I was the only person to predict this trend.” This should have said (as I’m sure Phil realised, I menat to sat “I should add that I was not the only person to predict this trend” – and I’ve corrected this typo.

  5. The problem with email is that it became a catch-all for every type of communication. What has happened is it has split into more functional technologies: RSS feeds replace listservs, IM replaced the instant communication, social networking replaced the distribution lists, etc. There is still a place for email, in formal communications and the like.

    I do think email will go away very, very slowly though. In the last couple of years, if anything, institutions have been investing MORE in email, not less. One of the major reasons is things like gmail. Students and staff ask difficult questions of institutions like “how come I have 2 Gigabytes of space on my free account on gmail but only 50 or so Megabytes on my official University account” and this leads to more investment in email even though anyone with common sense can see its a battle institutions can’t win.

    I think a massive, key point in your article, “Must Email Die?” is “The technology should not, however, by forced upon the user community”. This is exactly right – there is no point putting in an institutional-wide Jabber service if you block access to the other IM networks, no point trying to force an institutional-hosted social network on users if you block Facebook, etc, because you simply will not be creating the sort of service users want.

    Talking of which, I’d be really interested to hear your viewpoint on those idiots at Keele and their nonsense, hamfisted handling of social networking recently ( You can guess my viewpoint!

  6. AJ Cann said

    “In the last couple of years, if anything, institutions have been investing MORE in email, not less.”

    The behavior of HE Institutions is not a good guide to current trends. ;-)

  7. I think email is changing and waning for use in peer to peer communications and socializing for students. I’ve certainly observed this first hand. More of the communication seems to be many to many (skype, IM, facebooking with groups of friends) and real time or semi-public: wall posts. Many of the high school students I know, for example, are always “on” so real-time communication tools fit their lifestyle best.

    I also agree that students use email less and for University direct “email” its no longer an effective channel. I suspect that institutional email is seen as a form of spam … intrusive and not important. The real email action is happenning on a non-University account and I think they do still have those. It’s less important than texting, IMing etc and it’s for more official or formal communication or talking to the “elders”. Email as channel is becoming more like postal mail: more impersonal: statements (ie. your grades), receipts for tuition payments, applications for jobs, etc.

    Pew Internet and Life just released a study looking at email and stated:

    “What Spam Means to the Institution of Email

    When we first wrote about spam four years ago, we highlighted survey results that suggested spam was threatening at least some email users’ overall willingness to keep using electronic communication.5 The Federal Trade Commission also expressed concern about the long-term fate of email as notable numbers of Americans objected to spam.

    Revisiting the issue now, we find that that the vast majority of internet users still rely on email. In February of 2003 and 2007 both, 91% of internet users said they were using email. Further, fewer email users now say that spam has eclipsed their email habits. In this survey, 19% of users said spam has reduced their overall user of email, down from 22% in 2005, 29% in 2004, and 25% in 2003.

    Not surprisingly, the people who are most likely to report reduced email use are those who say spam is a big problem for them.”

    The report includes just one table that shows a breakdown by user categories on page 4 but it’s hard to zero in on just college students. Daily internet users and users with a college degree find spam the most annoying.

    Click to access PIP_Spam_May_2007.pdf

  8. […] the other hand,  in response to a post on Email IS Dying the initial two responses felt that: I agree that email is dying. Many of our students no longer […]

  9. […] (and the Wall Street Journal), email is not dead. It’s not even dying, regardless of what some may say. The argument posed by WSJ columnist Jessica E. Vasscellaro back in October was that email just […]

  10. […] un voeux que je partage manifestement avec quelques autres… au risque de peiner certain(e)s de mes […]

  11. […] years later, in May 2007, a post entitled “Email IS Dying” referenced an article on “Firms to embrace Web 2.0 tools” published in the Computing […]

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