Not Dead Yet, Email Finds New Life Through Digital Assistants

People have been predicting the end of email for many years. Already in 2009 the Wall Street Journal was arguing that the reign of email was over in Why Email No Longer Rules...  But email has stubbornly resisted every attempt to replace it.

As a marketing tool it is still effective, even though there are better alternatives and spammy email universally despised, a topic I covered in 2013 in Why a 40 Year Old Marketing Tool is Still Relevant. As a business communication tool it has also proved to be more resilient than it's successors like the now defunct Google Wave, a theme I discussed in 2014 in Why Email Isn't Dead or Dying Anytime Soon. In this post I argued that email would persist because you can email anyone anywhere using anything, almost. Other apps might be more elegant, but while some people use messenger others use WhatsApp. And you can email from an iPhone6 to an old Windows desktop. You can't do that with Snapchat.

But now there another trend is giving email a few more years yet: the rise of email-based digital assistants. Concur's Tripit, for example, takes all the emails concerning your travel plans, parses them and prepares for you a logically organized itinerary. All you have to do is forward a copy of all your confirmation emails to the Tripit email address and the rest is automatic.

Google's Inbox smart email client provides a similar service, automatically collecting all the messages concerning a trip and extracting the essential information for easier access. This works better than you might expect and I have been pleasantly surprised when Inbox has added to a trip folder some detail that I had forgotten. Google is also testing a version where Inbox can suggest replies for incoming messages.

Now a startup called x.ai is testing a new email-based digital assistant called Amy who schedules meetings for you. All you have to do is copy Amy on emails about meetings and she will check the calendars of all the participants and suggest a suitable time and date. This might look creepy at first but if past experience is anything to go by we will not only get used to this we will start to rely on it.

So email is far from dead, but perhaps the future isn't in humans reading email, but with email becoming just a universal infrastructure for transferring messages to any device. Digital assistants will then read the mails for us, presenting only the information we need, scheduling our meetings and maybe answering simple mails for us. But the best part is that if someone in the loop has only an ancient desktop running Windows 3.1 and a dialup connection they can still read the raw text of incoming emails and process it themselves, so digital assistants based on email actually maintain this backward compatibility that has kept email alive for almost half a century.


Lectures, Workshops, Coaching and Writing

Andrew Hennigan provides lectures, workshops, one-to-one coaching and writing about email and other communication topics. For more information you can reach him by email, of course, at conseil@andrewhennigan.com, by phone at 0046 730 894 475 or 0033 6 79 61 42 81. There is more contact info and background information on his website http://andrewhennigan.com

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