The Future of Email

I have been emailing for around 25 years. It was the original killer app of the internet. Quick communication with immediate delivery. It has had a tremendous run, but I am starting to see signs of its demise. Here is a brief timeline of my email experience:

  1. Compuserve – You emailed people based on their ID. Like 23524556@compuserve.com. It was inhuman and lame. However, it was still better than sending snail mail.
  2. AOL – My cousin and I shared an account which was one of the first 1000 subscribers with the handle freeness@aol.com. It was a stupid name, but it was ours and it wasn’t a number. Humanity!
  3. Panix – My first raw ISP. Just a dial-up number an a flat email address. I don’t even remember my username. I used it for playing online text games called MUDs.
  4. University of Buffalo mail – it was this crazy text client called Pine. Kind of horrible.
  5. Lotus Notes – Mostly for business. It was actually a little hard to use. I used this while interning at Epic Records.
  6. Microsoft Exchange/Outlook – I actually installed this myself and had the server in my office. It was an awesome revelation that I could make things like email work myself.
  7. Hotmail – Web based mail – boy this got alot of spam. However, I didn’t need a server or a client. In the cloud! Woo hoo!
  8. GMail – Never delete anything??? Free storage – Wow. Ads? Who cares? I still use this service with a new UI called Google Inbox.

Ok, at this point, things have been really strong for email with no change in the underlying basics of TO, FROM and Subject.  But then things started to change. Here are the incremental disruptions:

  1. Instant Messenger. I have used AOL, Yahoo, MSN and Google. Many emails are eliminated with this quick communication platform.
  2. Facebook. The wall was is like a small group email list. Fewer Happy Birthday emails and more posts on walls.
  3. Twitter. (@glenlipka) No more Subjects and only 140 characters. It was public, but it displaced group mailing lists. Global chat!
  4. SMS Texting. Why email when you can text? Subject lines are unnecessary and conversations are the right way to talk.
  5. Google Hangouts. Mobile or web, this provided a rich way to collaborate either through conversational text or full audio/video.
  6. Slack. I no longer email internally at work. We use slack for everything within the company. It’s a better experience than email and the information is easier to index.
  7. LinkedIn Messages. Professional private chat. It’s not the right tool for long communication, but it’s great for simple introductions.

The one area where email is still king is in-depth cross-company communication. There is no tool like Slack that includes everyone.

Marketing automation tools still live and die by email. Even though landing pages, forms, events and data still are crucial, email is the king. We still get an enormous amount of spam each day from hundreds of companies using marketing automation.

I think this last frontier is ripe for improvement. At Engagio, I am working on making it easier for a company to communicate with its accounts.

There is no UX lesson here other than the practice of looking back and creating a map of how we got here. People should reflect more often. Wisdom comes from understanding the whole journey, not just the point in time.

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