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E-Mail Is Dead, Long Live E-Mail

In a provocative and well reasoned article in The Wall Street Journal, Jessica E. Vascellaro makes the case for why e-mail's reign as "king of communications" is over. Allow me to take the counter view.

In a provocative and well reasoned article in The Wall Street Journal, Jessica E. Vascellaro makes the case for why e-mail's reign as "king of communications" is over. Allow me to take the counter view.We're told that e-mail is being replaced by communications media that are faster (instant messaging), more convenient (texting), more focused and collaborative (wikis, SharePoint groups, and the like), wider-reaching (Facebook. Twitter, and other social networking sites), tailored to specific kinds of content (Flickr, YouTube), and just plain more fun. Of course, e-mail isn't the dominant medium it once was, but it will remain the workhorse of business communications for one main reason: push.

People, especially at work, need to be prodded. If you've got 20 priorities on your plate, you don't have time to flit from one site to the next scanning for the most pressing To Do item. There's a reason wiki and other professional group posts are usually accompanied by an e-mail alert. There's so much information out there that people tend to miss what's not shoved under their noses. It's worth noting that I was made aware of The Wall Street Journal's "demise of e-mail" story e-mail. IMs and text messages and RSS feeds also can push out alerts, but their functionality is more narrow than e-mail's. For all the other media's strengths, they bring weaknesses. Wiki threads, when you can find them, often turn into a mass of meandering posts on par with the worst e-mail strings. The Journal piece rightly notes that while social networking can make communication more open to more parties, it's also less personal. What you say to 500 of your closest friends is often less revealing and pertinent than what you'd say to a select few. And how are most Facebook and Twitter conversations taken private? By e-mail (or IM).

The Journal article notes that e-mail alternatives are growing faster than e-mail. It cites Nielsen Co. research showing that in August, 276.9 million people in the U.S., several European countries, Australia, and Brazil used e-mail, a 21% increase from a year earlier, while the number of people on social networking sites increased 31% to 301.5 million. But how many of those 301.5 million people "on" social networking have barely checked or initiated an interaction on those sites in months?

The e-mail kingdom may be changing; the lords and nobles are gaining in influence. But e-mail remains king.

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