Is eMail dead?


I have always been a big fan of email (well, since email became prevalent, anyway). For me, it is a big help to be able to interact with people asynchronously – to be able to send questions or requests and let people deal with them when they have time (and them to me). This as opposed to a phone call or walking over to their office and demanding immediate attention, and interrupting whatever they are doing. I know not everyone shares my views on this. My peers at Whitehill felt pretty much the opposite about email – that it was a medium of last resort, and that face-to-face or phone communication were preferred. As with most things, I think the real answer is in balance and using the right tool for the context.

More and more, however, I am finding that email has become less useful. As a way of distributing specific documents within a team, it is still good. Same for setting up meetings. However, I have noticed a trend over recently (or longer than recently) for people to just ignore email. For the most part, unless a message is marked urgent, or is part of a project-specific interaction, I receive responses to only about 20% of email. I find it hard to believe that this could all be because of poor email etiquette (mine or others). I suspect the bigger problem is email overload – most of us receive far more email than we can possibly respond to. Perhaps email was more productive before it became so widespread. Then there were the years of spam overload, causing many to give up on email as a useful tool. Now (for me, anyway) email spam is no longer a problem. However, many people are still overloaded, even with spam eliminated.

So, is email as a useful business tool dead except for limited communications on projects?

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About

I have been working in the world of technology for 25-odd years. I am an entrepreneur and consultant, focused on software solutions, social networking, and innovation processes. Currently, I am a Principal Consultant with T4G Limited, specializing in Portal Technologies (including SharePoint), software/systems development, service oriented architectures, and many other things which I will probably not remember until I need to use them. Prior to that, I was VP of Technology at Whitehill Technologies, Inc., where I spent almost 9 years helping to grow the company from a start-up to one of the most successful private software companies in Canada. Prior to that I worked on internet conferencing using early VoIP, and on large military communications projects. Before even that, I worked in satellite control, and remote sensing. Going way back to university, my focus was on theoretical physics and astrophysics. Currently my interests revolve around most aspects of software development, from technologies to management, and in the area of defining sustainable, repeatable processes for innovation within technology organizations. I also have a particular interest in Tablet PC technologies – I have been using one for several years, and I love it. On the personal side, I still have a strong interest in all aspects of science, especially physical sciences, as well as philosophy and comparative religion. In addition, I am into music, playing guitar (badly, I am sorry to say), and reading almost anything I can lay my hands on. I am also a member of the IEEE/IEEE Computer Society, and of the Association for Computing Machinery.

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3 comments on “Is eMail dead?
  1. sbroox says:

    I was not one of the majortiy at WTI that preferred face-to-face. That’s an artifact of sales-heavy leadership, I think. I’m way with you on the value of asynchronicity, but I would add another factor in email’s favour – the elimination of the pleasantries that go with real-time comms. Even in IM, you have to go through the U there? Got a sec? Good wkend? I think it’s a time waster. But then, I treat my Inbox as my to-do list, so perhaps I’m projecting my OCD about answering every “real” email on everyone else.

    BTW, I finally got with the 90s:
    barmarbybroox.wordpress.com

  2. emailoverloaded says:

    People either ignore email or they have too much of it. I think it’s simply a question of priorities, and the lack of education on how to use email.
    Basically, every Tom, Dick and Harry “think” they can send an email, and while they do manage to click “new”, and “send” the part in between is normally useless. The subject isn’t a true indication of the content, and the content isn’t clear. It’s not the writers fault. No one has ever told him/her how to do it properly. Imagine you walk down the road and the sign outside a restaurant says “juiciest hamburgers in town” (the subject), but once you step in, you find they’re actually selling juice which tastes like hamburgers (the body). Doesn’t make sense right? Will you visit the store again? No! With emails, you are subjected to a communication “in your face” without your permission. I get so many emails, that I scan the subject and the sender. If I don’t care for the subject I don’t bother to reply to the message.
    The internet “gurus” should start educating the vast users base of emails how to correctly compose an email.
    Without trying to plug myself, I write about email overload problems and solutions in my blog emailoverloaded.wordpress.com

  3. I don’t think it’s dead. People abuse it just as much as anything else. The only reason people don’t respond to my e-mails is if they want to be lazy. They’ll even admit that’s why they didn’t respond. I use e-mail extensively here at work. With Google Desktop Search installed, I can quickly find the complete discussion of any topic. If I stuck with face-to-face, I’d quickly forget it or otherwise not be able to recall the complete details.

    That’s another thing: Co-workers cannot blame me for not informing them of a topic. I’ve had the support department try to blame me for not telling them how to resolve a certain issue with my software, or how to configure something. I’ll quickly find the e-mail I had originally sent and forward it to them (along with a notice to my supervisor).

    People in other departments abuse the ease of face-to-face or phone. As a software developer, I find it highly intrusive and usually repetitive. I’ve been asked the same questions more times than necessary. Sometimes I explicitly tell them to e-mail me the question so I can give them a “hard-copy” response. Also, it lets me answer at my convenience without having to drop what I’m doing just to answer a non-urgent question.

    I think e-mail will continue to be useful in the business world as long as information needs to be shared and searchable, but not necessarily collaborated on.

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Please keep in mind that any opinions, points-of-view, comments, or other content which I post to this site are mine and mine alone. They in no way reflect the views of my employer, my country, my dog, my cat, or anyone else you can think of. To paraphrase Monty Python, "That is the theory that I have and which is mine, and what it is, too."

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