I’ve been around long enough to have seen new technologies come and go, each one trumpeted on its arrival as The New Thing that will replace everything that has gone before. But each time the new technology has settled into its place, finally getting used for what it’s best at. And the older technology has continued to be used, again for the things it does best.
So what about social media, one of the newer kids on the block? Is it really going to replace email? People have been saying so for quite some time.
Well, we all know that young people seem to prefer social media - and this would seem to suggest that email could die out along with the older generation of web user. But what we don’t know is whether younger people’s use will change once they enter the world of work. Because in the working world, email still dominates, with more than a trillion emails being sent a day.
Why is email lasting? Its particular strength lies in its one-to-oneness and its privacy. The openness of most social media communication isn’t suitable for many business purposes. To quote Dave Coplin, Head of Microsoft’s Envisioneers Team:
"The asynchronous nature [of email] is really important, the ability to attach things, the ability to have a secure conversation."There are, of course, places where the very nature of email makes it less appropriate: for example, organisations whose business includes communicating with young people under the age of 18 are likely to find the openness and transparency of social media far more suitable than email, removing the risks that private communication can bring.
And social media clearly has a great deal to offer business. The ability to communicate with different groups and groupings of people has enormous potential. Nathaniel Borenstein, co-creator of the MIME protocol and clearly an email expert, believes its potential has yet to be unlocked and doesn’t think Facebook or Google + have found the answer.
Lee Bryant, co-founder of Headshift, the world's biggest social business consultancy, also believes that social media is set to become a powerful force in business.
"I think we've reached the stage where email as means of communicating is overloaded. I think we will see what happens on email today transitioning towards various kinds of both internal and consumer facing social tools: things like wikis, micro-blogs [like Twitter] and internal social networks, all of which allow a flow of information and communication."However, he agrees that email still has life in it.
"You narrow down email primarily to what it was designed for, which is one-to-one communications."This is supported by the stats. Right now, despite the surge in the use of social media, email use is still growing. According to Borenstein:
"There's no real sign that social [media] is making a major dent in it. For the most part I think they fill different functions, but that they connect with each other. I think they're symbiotic. I'm reluctant to cast them into opposition."I agree with this. And so does Dave Coplin, to whom I will give the final word, since he puts it so well:
“Everything has its place and it's really understanding which is the right tool for the job”.Read more
- Clash of the titans: Email v social media - http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-15856116
- Facebook subscribe: The safest way to interact with minors? - http://www.stumbleupon.com/su/2bWwYt/www.cultureofsafety.com/2011/10/facebook-subscribe-button/
- Happy birthday email! Long live email! - http://www.charitybuzz.net/2011/10/happy-birthday-email-long-live-email.html