Why Twitter and Facebook Will Never Kill E-mail

Twitter's on every tech-fan's lips, half the World's teens seem permanently plugged into MSN or Facebook, and seemingly every gadget's getting wired to a social network. With these big changes afoot, is email slipping into history?

StampFrom some Nielsen research published in The New York Times, you could certainly be forgiven for thinking so: In August this year, 276.9 million people in the U.S., Europe, Australia, and Brazil used email (that's equivalent to 90% of the U.S. population). Last year the same figure stood at 229.2 million, meaning a rise of 21% has occurred. But, on the other hand, this August some 301.5 million people used a social-networking type of site, outstripping email use and equating to a rise of 31% on last year's figure.

With growth like that, you could easily argue it won't be long before time-management issues end up pushing aside email usage altogether. There's only room for so much electronic communications in a day, and Twittering or Facebookmailing just seems quicker and more convenient than sending an email.

But this line of reasoning totally misses the point. Email has a purpose and is evolved to fit this purpose well. It's not going away any time soon, because while it's not ideal, it's almost infinitely more convenient than the paper-and-ink communications it replaced. And there's more:

  • You can't embed a file directly in a Tweet.
  • Would you trust Facebook, with its odd history of rights control, with a corporate Excel file?
  • Legions of gray-surfers have adopted email as a way to keep in touch—they won't be switching.
  • While email is usually formatted informally, it's still more formal than social networking norms—important in a business setting.
  • Millions of BlackBerry and iPhone users will testify to mobile email's convenience.

Some say the one technology that could seriously impact email as a messaging format is Google Wave, but the argument for the message aggregator's supremacy comes undone when its subjected to the favorite axiom of the digital realm: Keep It Simple, Stupid. Email is straightforward, easy to understand, and can be formal or informal. You can rattle off a quick email to one or many recipients in just a second or two. 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.

Email's actually still settling into the public's consciousness and becoming just another tool for digital communication among a range of different tools, each fitting its own niche. In other words, it's absolutely not an "end of an era" for email—it'll be around for ages yet.

[via The New York Times]

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  • Aidan Tracey


    I noticed you had referenced "people as a medium" in your post and I just wanted to correct the context you are using it in. I actually agree with your point that trying to monetize natural or organic socialization is likely a flawed strategy. The concept we are promoting at Mosaic XM is that paid product ambassadors (people) who are overtly representing a brand (think Coke sampling teams or other experiential marketing campaigns)can deliver a message/product with a known reach and frequency. This by definition is how much of media is measured and hence the idea of "People as a Media" was born. It is not meant to apply to the public but rather to paid employees working overtly (in uniform) on behalf of a brand.

  • Arun Krishnan


    Completely agree. Email is not like the dodo. It won't go away. It will evolve and be around for a while.

    To elaborate on Kortar Festmeney's comment, from a marketing perspective email actually helps social marketers


    (Full disclosure: The company I work for commissioned Harris interactive to conduct a study on the kinds of advertising consumers are receptive to.)

    Email works across platforms, is personalized, confidential, and (list adjectives). I like.

  • Cameron Nouri

    It’s hard to believe that the WSJ is now trying to make the case that e-mail is dead. Nothing could be further from the truth. According to Forrester Research email usage has actually been increasing over the past few years.

    Check out this post we put together to help answer this question — Is Email Dead?


  • kortars festmeny

    Once you have fully addressable advertising, tested with youth and filtering up into the older demographics, you have no need to pay people 5-10% commission on what their friends buy, as Vasanth Sridharan has suggested because people will all watch ads for free and, also for free, will influence their friends. What we're all doing by trying to monetize socializing (there's a reason I'm using this parlance) and measure influencers' value, then pay them for leveraging it ('people as a medium' in the words of Aidan Tracey from Mosaic XM) is killing our credibility all over again as marketers.