Email: The Nail in the Coffin

I have been musing for a while now about the seemingly imminent death of email, but last night I became convinced that personal email is already dead, we are just hammering the nails in the coffin.

Yes, there is no doubt that business email is still alive ( and broken and annoying)- but that is another post. Let’s focus on Personal email.

I was on a phone call with my mom when the ringing of the hammer sounded clearly.

“We decided to talk to Verizon and get off of AOL and just use our Verizon email.”

Excellent news! AOL ( stop cringing) was the right choice for my parents back in 1990, when the web was new and there were not many user friendly email interfaces. Now, it just inevitably led them to clicking on links in ways that launch that horrid AOL browser and things were broken. Plus, it is spending money on a service they really don’t need. Times are tight and money is not free.

“Your Dad was reluctant and is concerned about how the email will look, but I told him it really did not matter, hardly anyone we know uses email any more. When I look at my email, it is almost all junk or ads or things people forwarded me. We don’t have many people who send us stuff any more- you all moved to Facebook”.

Wow. Astute for a basically computer challenged person who strongly resists change of any kind. She was not happy about the shift, mind you- ( I did not even want to boggle her with the plethora of social networks where I have a home… we will just leave it as Facebook for now).

“I am going to have to get on Facebook if I want to keep in touch, and just when I learn it, you will all probably move someplace else. But there is no doubt that email is just dead.”

This from a 64 year old woman who is far from a computer analyst and does not know Facebook at all, apart from her grandaughters talking about it and the little bit we showed her over the Easter Holiday.

If she is not on Facebook soon, I have no doubt she will be on by the end of my daughters’ week-long visit with them the first week of June. Honestly, I think she will like it better than AOL email.. but for my sanity and hers, I hope someone solves the interoperability/open authetication/platform communication before they leave and migrate to the next great social networking platform and leave her behind on Facebook wthout a linkage.

The Future of Email is Bleak

I am battling to not fall into a generation communication/media gap. I have noticed for some time now that email use is declining, especially amongst teenagers. I honestly wanted to write this off as one of the follys of youth- “they can play around with their social network messaging now, but once they grow up and enter the real world, they will have to adjust to email”. It was a comforting thought to help me through the annoyance of logging into multiple social networking sites to check messages. I can not fathom my future spent in such an annoying way ( and I do still believe that the way that social networks interact will have to change for them to survive) .

Having my parents here over the past weekend and spending more than one discussion/argument over the shift from paper communication to digital/email has really made me accept that the shift to social network messaging is not just a folly of youth, but the next evolutionary shift in digital communications. It does not mean that email is dead. The generations of people and businesses heavily invested in email are not going to disappear overnight. But the change is coming and if you have a business or an interest in being able to continue to communicate to the next generation of adults, you had better be prepared. Just as my generation sends paper communications less and less, my childrens’ generation uses email less and less. This does not mean that I think that social network messaging is better than email, just that the current shift is rapidly moving away from it. For my part, it means that I am going to stop haranguing my children to check their email and trying to convince them that email is important to their future.

How do you communicate with the teenagers in your life? How is your business adapting to accomodate the shift in communication?

Breathing in the Social Networks

What will it take for social networks to become as pervasive as air? Charlene Li, the co-author of Groundswell, recently gave a talk at OReilly’s Graphing Social Patterns conference on the future of social networks that you can hear via the IT Conversation Network, (you can also see the slides to the talk on Slideshare) where she envisions a future where social networks become as pervasive as air- following us everywhere we go without effort.

I was listening to this podcast on my way back from the airport yesterday, and more than once during her talk wished I was at the conference to talk with her in real time.

The first time was when she was first defining “like air” as following you everywhere on the web- it sounds futuristic, but I immediately thought of my recent experiences with Glue. The more she talked, especially when she talked about wanting to “see friends reviews” on Amazon, the more I wanted to run up to her with my miniLaptop and say “look at THIS!”. In some ways, Glue does exactly what she was talking about in the realm of sahring recommendations and experiences online with friends, regardless of where you know someone from. If someone is listed as my friend on Glue, it does not matter if they looked at and reviewed an item on Amazon and I am on the BestBuy site, I will still get their feedback on that item. The thing that makes Glue less useful than it could be is the same thing that made Twitter less interesting 18 months ago… a lack of participants. But even with low numbers, I am already more excited about Glue than I was in the early days of Twitter. I am excited to envision what will be possible when my entire Twitter, Facebook and gTalk networks are on Glue. I am also looking forward to the first Glue Ap for my BB, where I can scan in a product barcode via the cell phone camera and have Glue give me back the feedback of my network who browsed it online.. and vice versa.

My second moment of wanting to share directly with Charlene was when she was talking about the current closed circle nature of socialmetworks and how this needs to change. It came fast on the heels of my attempt at explaining Facebook to my mom. Taking my mom on the Facebook journey was honestly not my idea, it came because my eldest daughter spent most of their visit this weekend trying to convince her grandmother to join, so they can communicate more easily. I had been reluctant to drag my mom into this, because I knew that her learning curve might not keep up with the shift in social networks. My teenaged daughter does not have much of a vision about life before (or after)Facebook and she has no idea that in other geo-ethnic groups Facebook is NOT the place to be, it might be Bebo or Hi5 or Orkut or one of a shifting group of social networks. My fear has been that just as my parents learn and feel comfortable on Facebook, their grandchildren will move on to the next hot thing in social networks and leave them behind again. I know there is a coming shift from email to social network messaging, but what we really need is an interface to bridge the gaps. I need a way to forward my daughter’s external email address to her Facebook inbox and she needs a way to send messages from her inbox to people she knows external to Facebook- either to an email address or to an inbox on another social network.

As Charlene points out, if the social networks themselves will not put this in place, there will be portals that start to agreggate and cross link the networks. This still needs better authentication schemes and ways of creating site and contact grooups to manage it. I do not want everyone I know to have access to everything I do, but I would love to be able to have a networking group called “professional” and when I add you to it, you automatically have access to me on LinkedIn, see my HPCMfg Blog feeds, are linked to the ZoneMfg blog, and send are in my “professional contact” group on GoogleVoice. Folks who get added as friends get added to Facebook, Twitter, LastFM, Glue,StumbleUpon, get the feed to this blog, and are in my “friends” contact group on GoogleVoice. Music Lover? You get connected to me on AmieStreet, Glue, iLike, LastFM, get the feed for my Vox music review blog, and get the feed for all things I tag “music” on Delicious. Family? Techie?CurtainCall? Kids? Gardener? WebSurfer? All of these would be configured as different subsets of my activity online and I could add someone’s ID to as many of these groups as I wanted to customize and fine tune their access and our interactions. If anyone out there is working on this today, I want to BetaTest it.

edit: Phil Windley kindly pointed out that although the Graphing Social Patterns conference was presented by OReilly, IT Conversations is not associated with O’Reilly. I have corrected the original post text. ( I was also excited to note when I looked up his Twitter page, that Phil uses Glue.)

Not your father’s email…

I love email. There is no denying it. The first time I discovered email (back in the 80’s…) I can remember a rush of electricity running through me. “the delivery time just went to zero” I remember thinking. “And I can CC: people… it is like a private bulletin board”. You can imagine how long I laughed when my daughter recently looked at me and said “Mom, email is dead- no one reads email anymore”. I tried to explain to her that I processed several hundred emails each day, there is NO way this is going away. Then I stopped and wondered if the people who used carbon paper on a daily basis felt the same way once upon a time. Was it possible that I was buried so deeply in my habits that I was not seeing a coming change in usage? I decided to take a moment, step back with an open mind and pay attention to how the teenagers around me were communicating electronically. Here are some of the insights I have gathered about our future workforce:

1) All electronic communication is one-on-one. Some communication is private and some is personal, but it is all on a one to one basis. I saw this first hand recently when I was drafting my 14 year old to assist with getting comments on an article in the HP Magic Contest on Chris Pirillo’s site. I asked her to contact her friends on Facebook and ask them to read and comment on the article. When I tackled this task, I wrote one message, CC’d it to any of my friends on Facebook and hit send. When she tackled this task, she typed up a message and sent it to one friend. Then she typed something slightly different and typed it to another. Then she typed a new message and sent it to another friend. Then she typed… you get the picture. I asked her what the HECK she was doing.. which led me to observation number two.

2) Only spammers CC: people. Laugh all you want at the naivete in this statement. I had to bite my tongue to keep from laughing. Who in business today does not CC: ( or even BCC:) people on a daily (hourly??) basis? Once you stop laughing, stop and think about this. If an entire age group of people think and believe a certain way, isn’t it likely to come true in the future? This is not just a misunderstanding of email, this is a philosophical stance being taken by a generation. What they believe and act on is the idea that all communication, even electronic communications, are personal interactions.

3)Messaging is ubiquitous, not a separate application. Email as an entity does not really exist. There is just the concept of messaging. Sometimes you send a private ( or public) message on Facebook, or MySpace. Or maybe you send a message in Flickr,, or from within a game you are playing. It might just be a text message on your cell phone. The concept of opening up a new application or web page JUST to do email is beyond silly (the actual term was “ridiculous”) to the upcoming generation.

I have to admit that I am still struggling to imagine my life without gmail or Outlook or Thunderbird, but if I am honest, I have to admit that a change is coming. This is a topic that will continue to watch and discuss with the teens who cross my path- and I will be writing more on this in the near future. In the meantime, I have to admit that although my business usage of an email application has not changed, my personal use of email has become more and more limited- more an more of my one on one communication in my personal life takes place on facebook or twitter or through blog coments and not via email.

Is your email usage changing? What would your digital life look like without an email application ??