What’s the Latest Development?

As an innovative messaging system, email is dead. And for anyone whose job feels taken over by their inbox, this won’t come as bad news. Social media programers are already looking past email toward a communication media that better suits the demands of business and casual interaction. While email served as a good point-to-point too, social media has shown us the advantage of flow tools such as wikis, micro-blogging and internal social networks.

What’s the Big Idea?

Email is growing, to be sure. “Technology market researchers Radicati see the number of email accounts worldwide growing from 3.1bn in 2011 to nearly 4.1bn by 2015.” But its influence in our communication is set to decline, say business professionals and social media gurus. Dave Coplin, head of Microsoft’s Envisoneers team, says: “I think that email is dead when it comes to social media in the same way that snail mail was dead when it came to email.”

That’s a post from the editors of Big Think in its entirety. The title was “Email Is Dead. What’s Next?” Now, you may have noticed that little aside at the beginning of the second paragraph noting the startlingly life-like growth projections of email over the next few years. Lazarus, eat your heart out! But yes; perhaps you were puzzled by this. Perhaps, as I did, you raised a questioning finger in the air and said “Um.” Well, the editors provide a link telling you to read more at BBC News. So I did. Here’s a smattering of what I found (to be fair, they may have been too busy monitoring their Facebook and Twitter feeds to notice that Coplin had a lot more to say on the topic than the little bit they excised to suggest ambivalent support of their grandiose, trendchasing conclusions):

One man with more reason than most to have an opinion on the matter is email specialist Mimecast’s chief scientist Nathaniel Borenstein, co-creator of the Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions (MIME) protocol. This is the internet standard that lays down how messages are formatted. It lets your email contain different characters, have attachments, and contain other types of files, among other things. Mr Borenstein says it is used more than a trillion times a day.

“Email is still growing,” he says. “There’s no real sign that social is making a major dent in it. For the most part I think they fill different functions, but that they connect with each other. I think they’re symbiotic. I’m reluctant to cast them into opposition.”

…Not everyone is as sunny as Mr Borenstein when it comes to the future of email, however. Lee Bryant is co-founder of Headshift, the world’s biggest social business consultancy. He believes email’s dominance over business communications is coming to an end.

…Nevertheless he says he doesn’t see email going away anytime soon.

“You narrow down email primarily to what it was designed for, which is one-to-one communications.”

…Head of Microsoft’s Envisoneers team and self-confessed “social media luvvie”, Dave Coplin, is not impressed.

“I think that email is dead when it comes to social media in the same way that snail mail was dead when it came to email. Time and again, it’s always the same thing. Enter the bright shiny new technology stage right, therefore old boring technology must exit stage left. Of course it never happens that way.”

“The functionality offered by email is in many ways not well represented by social media. The asynchronous nature is really important, the ability to attach things, the ability to have a secure conversation, all of those things are crucial.”

But however shiny the future may be, email is in rude health in the present, according to Mr Coplin.

“The key thing for me is to dispel the myth that a lot of social media luvvies would have you believe, that email is dead. To me it’s shiny penny syndrome.”

I especially like how Big Think’s tagline reads: “A forum where top experts explore the big ideas and core skills defining the 21st century.” I guess core skills like contextual understanding and reading comprehension are just sooo 20th century.