Why Email Won't Go Obsolete

The Wall Street Journal argues that email is on the verge of extinction, but many bloggers aren't convinced

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On Monday, the Wall Street Journal's Jessica E. Vascellaro threw bloggers into a tizzy by proclaiming the dethronement of e-mail as the electronic "king of communications." Social media, instant messaging and Google Wave deserve crowns now, she said, because they are more suited to the modern expectations of real-time interactivity. While some bloggers found her arguments persuasive, many were quick to defend e-mail's lasting importance.

  • It's Definitely Done For, seconds Dave Parrack at Tech Blorge. He recalls the "fits and starts" of the dial-up days, or "a time not so very long ago when I'd receive emails every day. Family, friends, co-workers, bosses, casual contacts, and spammers would be fighting over themselves to send me multiple emails." These days are gone, he says, thanks to spam-filters, social media and the impending tsunami of real-time connectivity that is promised by Google Wave. Now, the only reason anyone still uses e-mail is work, and probably not for long.
  • 'The Reports of E-Mail's Death Are Greatly Exaggerated' argues TechBlog's Dwight Silverman. He accuses Vascellaro of succumbing to the "constant search for The Next Big Thing--and for big bursts of page views," thereby overlooking the facts the number of people using e-mail continues to increase "a healthy pace" as well as its centrality in the business community, where social networking has often been banned to preserve productivity. Chris Crum of WebProNews, meanwhile, points out a glaring fallacy in Vascellaro's logic that other e-mail defenders also noticed: "Correct me if I'm wrong, but don't all social networks also require logging on to use?" which is usually accomplished by entering one's e-mail address. He proceeds to offer 10 reasons why "email isn't going away anytime soon," including the e-mail like messaging services increasingly offered by social-networks.
  • Statistics Support E-Mail  Silverman also points out that Vascellaro isn't the first to have suggested that e-mail is on it's way out. Indeed, just last year bloggers were bemoaning e-mail's slowness and heralding the rise of "dynamic social networking." However, there is a new case to be made for e-mail: The much-discussed "explosive growth" of Facebook and Twitter users has just leveled off. As Mashable's Stan Schroeder explains: "Somewhere in June, however, Twitter stopped growing, at least according to Compete. The same thing happened to Facebook at the exact same time; at first we've attributed the traffic numbers to the summer slumber, but now that Compete's numbers for September are out, there's no doubt that both Facebook and Twitter are no longer growing, at least in the eyes of the (admittedly US-centric) Compete."
  • E-Mail Will Endure  Other bloggers have pointed to Kit Eaton's post at Fast Company as the ultimate rebuttal to Vascellaro's Wall Street Journal piece. Initially conceding that social-network use is growing at a much faster clip than that of e-mail, Eaton reminds readers that e-mail offers a host of advantages, not the least of which are the ability to embed files, convenient mobile access, and most prominently, simplicity and ease-of-use. "You can rattle off a quick email to one or many recipients in just a second or two. [Google] Wave, on the other hand, still possesses that ultimate geek quality: It's actually really hard to explain what it is, how it works, and what it's for."
  • E-Mail Is Just Like Radio, contends Greg Sterling at the Screenwerk blog. Or rather, e-mail is currently like radio was in the mid-20th century when television went mainstream. Television and film were widely viewed as superior media, and many expected them to replace radio, but instead they continue co-exist, each serving a different specialized need. As he writes: "I do use Twitter and Facebook to communicate in cases where once I would have used email. But the volume and frequency of email has not stopped or been supplanted by these sites. And Google Wave will need to incorporate email if it hopes to go mainstream, even though it offers much more functionality than conventional email."
  • E-Mail Is Just A Metaphor  Taking a more philosophical stance, Defrag blogger Eric Norlin views the question "Is e-mail dead or alive?" as inherently flawed because it misses the larger point: E-mail is just one of many metaphors which collectively describe how we presently communicate. We are still struggling to build metaphors for the new "messaging systems" like social networks that offer much more than just communication services- e.g. organization, filtration, collaboration. In his words: "Sure, we may be moving past the 'email era,' but I don't believe that we're moving into a new dominant era yet. There is no solidifying metaphor...So, in the meantime, we'll be in this liminal state - halfway between and struggling through option after option and partially formed metaphor after partially formed metaphor."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.