Is It Time for the End of the E-mail Age?

Ann All

I have a love-hate relationship with e-mail. While I don't see how I could live (or at least work) without it, I sure would like to try.

I'm not alone. Writing on his Candid CIO blog, Will Weider, CIO of Ministry Health Care and Affinity Health System, offers several examples of egregious e-mail behavior (i.e. sending e-mail to the widest possible audience so each person can decide if they need the information rather than targeting it to the correct recipients). He bemoans the fact that "e-mail has become a crux for all of us" and notes some steps he needs to take, such as ensuring his organization's intranet is accessible and easy to update and investigating tools that can help manage e-mail. He mentions he is looking forward to Google Wave as a possible solution to e-mail ills.


Om Malik also mentions Wave in a GigaOm post. Even though e-mail is an unstructured mess, it remains "the hub of our Internet experience," writes Malik, with updates from Facebook, Twitter and other Web services showing up in our inboxes. He writes:

Given that these services are meant to be alternatives to long-in-the-tooth email, I find their relationship with the medium ironic, because these (and most web services) need the aging technology to get people's attention - not to mention the much-needed page views.

He also cites some scary figures from Radicati Group: Worldwide e-mail users will increase to almost 1.9 billion by 2013, compared with more than 1.4 billion in 2009. Worldwide e-mail traffic will reach 507 billion messages per day by 2013, almost double the 2009 figure of 247 billion daily messages.


If nothing else, Wave appears to aspire to a more radical rethinking of the standard e-mail client interface than we've seen before. Yet at least in the near term, it will still seemingly depend on e-mail, as Malik writes.


I found a FederalComputerWeek article that describes the efforts of several government agencies to reduce their dependency on e-mail, including the North Carolina Division of Child Development's introduction of Microsoft's SharePoint and the Navy's use of wikis. Said Robert Carey, the Navy's CIO:

E-mail is not a great collaboration solution [because] it isn't real-time. It's shotgun-broadcast. It is time-delayed since it is asynchronous store and forward. The new Web 2.0 solutions present real-time collaboration [and] messaging across many people.

Carey said a younger work force is another driver for considering collaboration tools other than e-mail.


Though a lack of clear-cut ROI is an often-cited reason for not using newer collaboration tools, the business operations manager of the North Carolina Division of Child Development said SharePoint is lowering costs for the division by reducing the need for e-mail storage.


New collaboration tools won't eliminate e-mail, most interviewed in the article agree, but they will streamline and better manage it. For instance, Booz Allen Hamilton last summer created a Web portal called hello.bah.com that includes blogs, wikis, threaded discussions and employee profiles. An employee looking for information on the company's Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command activities doesn't have to send a mass e-mail to the company's entire Navy team. Instead, he or she can use the portal to identify key contacts related to Spawar activity and send messages only to those people.

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Aug 28, 2009 2:44 PM Will Weider Will Weider  says:

Great post.  I know in the future we will mature to something better than email.  The more people talking about it, the sooner it will happen.

Sep 13, 2009 8:21 AM Glenn Glenn  says:

Thanks for your insightful perspective. The most unfortunate thing about email here in 2009 is its early success and adoption. Chances are that you have an email account even if you just barely know how to get on the web. As more of the knowledge workforce goes virtual, online collaboration is increasing several fold. You have already pointed out the failings on using email from a systemic level. Collaborating with email is a bad idea even at the team or individual level. The upshot is that email is great for making decisions with a short shelf life but terrible for making decisions about documents or artifacts to remain in effect for years.


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