Why Email Isn't Dead or Dying Anytime Soon

Five years ago the Wall Street Journal declared the end of the reign of email in the article Why Email No Longer Rules...  They were not the only people to announce the death of email. At the time everyone thought that email was finished and that soon the stuffy old timers who persisted in using it would see the light and move to new tools. Some said that we would all be using new communication tools like GoogleWave, launched with great fanfare in 2010 as the future of mail but then shut down three years later. Others said that we would all use Facebook, Twitter or other social sites. They were all wrong.

Now more than forty years after it was introduced email shows no signs of going away and indeed there is no credible alternative on the horizon. You could, people argue, use Facebook messenger instead, except that not everybody has Facebook messenger. You could, others say, use WhatsApp, except that not everyone has WhatsApp. You could use instant messaging, a few argue, but there are dozens of incompatible messaging systems and the lack of a permanent "paper trail" makes them unappealing for business use.

And therein lies the problem.All of the common alternatives to email are products that you can only use if you install the client or the app. In most cases they can only be used with a limited range of hardware -- try, for example, installing WhatsApp on a Linux desktop or an old Windows laptop. Most if not all also rely on a single service provider that might go out of business or simply discontinue the service, as happened to the now-defunct Shortmail service.

Email is different. It is and never was a product. It is instead a suite of standards -- like the World-Wide Web -- that simply define how messages should be exchanged between computers. As long as your email software respects these standards it can communicate with any other device that follows the same standards. This means that you buy hardware from any vendor and install software from any vendor and you will still be able to communicate with everyone. As an added bonus you have the time-machine effect that equipment from different eras can also communicate thanks to these standards.

You can send an email from an old Windows desktop to a new MacBook Air. You can send a message from an old Handspring PDA to your iPhone 6, or even to wearable devices not yet on the market. And you can, of course, send your mails anywhere in the world and at least one off-Earth location -- I understand that the International Space Station is equipped to send and receive standard Earth emails.

No "walled garden" single product is going to replace this standards-based approach. And today's email standards have such a large user base that it is going to be extremely difficult to replace it with a newer standard -- every single device will need at least a software update. This means that we are effectively stuck with email as a universal mean of exchange for quite a while yet, though in the meantime we can use better tools to contact the people around us. Effectively email has become another of these immortal standards like QWERTY that could have been replaced many years ago but never will because of inertia.

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching, Writing

These thoughts about the immortal life of email are taken from a workshop Writing Effective Emails in a Global Business where I teach people how to use traditional email is the most effective way possible. This is available in half and full day versions plus a shorter lecture format. For details of this and other communication workshops, lectures, one-to-one coaching and writing you can contact me at conseil@andrewhennigan.com, through my website http://andrewhennigan.com or by phone on 0046 730 894 475 pr 0033 6 79 61 42 81.


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