Email has been around for nearly fifty years, the first email being sent in 1971. The end of email was first predicted in 1989. Since then people have been predicting its demise as a means of communicating, latterly by being killed-off by social media. In this article we look at its popularity, whether there are any real alternatives, and why we still choose to use it.
Well, to continue the tradition of misquoting the words of Mark Twain….. email’s death certainly doesn’t appear to be likely anytime soon. On the contrary, in its “Email Statistics Report 2019-2023” the Radicati Group predicted steady growth for email traffic at over 4% per annum, exceeding 347 billion per day in 2023, with the number of users expected to increase by 3% annually, to exceed 4.3 billion by the end of 2023.
We can be confident email will be around for a very long time yet.
What about the alternatives?
Email is certainly not the only game in town. You will have heard the names Skype, Slack, Yammer, and about instant messaging (WhatsApp, Messenger etc), and still be familiar with that quaint alternative: meeting up, face-to-face.
Slack describes itself as “team communication for the 21st Century” and that highlights the difference to email – without doubt, it is good for colleague-to-colleague conversations and messaging groups of people, but will it replace email?
Importantly, Slack’s co-founder Stewart Butterfield is widely quoted as saying:
“Email is not going away anytime soon, it’s the lowest common denominator, it’s the way you get communications from one person to another, there isn’t really an alternative”
You might be surprised to hear that what Slack does has been around since 1988, when it started with Internet Relay Chat (IRC). In the 20 odd years that it was being widely used it never outdid email. IRC features are surprisingly similar to Slack’s, although, of course, Slack has done an great job modernising the user interface, making it a lot more sophisticated than it was!
Yammer markets itself as an enterprise social network, again aimed at the enterprise to allow users to work in groups. Instant messaging (IM) apps such as WhatsApp are a great alternative for talking to colleagues without the formality of emails. However, for them to work, individuals need to use the same app, which is very different to emails which can be handled by whatever email management software suits you best.
Other drawbacks when using instant messaging in the workplace include the possibility of immediate miscommunication – it’s an easy way to send the wrong message within a very short time-span, aggravated by the use of abbreviations common to this method of communicating. Chat tools also create a significant amount of “noise” – too many groups, too many topics and too many comments have lead to some employees wanting to opt out in order to focus better on their tasks in hand. Chat is a great tool for one on one conversations, or those in a small group, but for sharing company wide information, documents, etc. email or an intranet are probably better options.
Team communication is however most definitely still available to those using email. Collaborative software, such as our own CompassAir, is the key to unlocking productivity and efficiency. Such software enables the sharing, processing and management of data, documents and files between team members. It makes communication transparent, allows teams to work together on joint projects and share resources. For a more detailed insight see our article on the benefits of using such software.
When it comes to communicating with other organisations any alternative to email is hard to find.