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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]