Email is Dead. Long live Email!

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg boldy predicted email's demise at the Nielsen Consumer 360 in 2010. Guess what? Oprah lives; so does email.


TelegraphEmail has died more times than Freddy, Jason, and Michael Myers combined. Just in case you haven’t got your horror icons in order, that would be Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th Part II (not the first), and Halloween. Happy holidays everyone!

An article about a company that instituted a “zero email policy” recently caught my attention. I thought the basic idea was sound (too much spam and non-essential email can kill productivity), but the solution (banning it all together) is courting outright disaster. According to the CEO of Atos (74,000 employees, $11.5B, based in France), the company that implemented the draconian measure, employees only receive 200 messages per day that are useful; 18% is spam.

That’s interesting, no? 200 email messages are considered “useful.” So, let’s ban email! And of that less than 1 in 5 is spam–easily addressed with spam filtering software. Again, the decision to ban email seems heavy handed. The underlying message of reducing clutter, though, makes sense; PowerPoint should potentially be thrown into the internal productivity killer bucket.

How will employees respond?

That is the question. No doubt it will challenge them to think about their actions and consequences when it comes to internal communication. How many times have you received an absolutely frivolous email just so that an employee, or subordinate can get “a word in”. You know, something like this: “I second that opinion.” or “Let’s have a meeting to plan the agenda for the next meeting.” or “Let’s hire Justin Bieber for the sales conference.”

Twitter, Facebook, Wikis, even SMS, have all aided our ability to communicate effectively, depending on our goals. But none of them have supplanted email as the go-to tool of choice when work needs to get done.

Just a short while ago, Facebook was going to kill email. Why bother, the thinking goes, load an email app like Outlook or web site like Gmail when you can communicate as needed within Facebook? It turns out email is far more robust, far more useful, and far more essential than any of us could have predicted. Twitter, Facebook, Wikis, even SMS, have all aided our ability to communicate effectively, depending on our goals. But none of them have supplanted email as the go-to tool of choice when work needs to get done. I doubt that will change for the next 20 years.

Email has stood the test of time. From its humble beginnings at MIT in 1965 (some trace its history back as far as the Morse code), almost thirty years before the Internet would be invented (by Al Gore), its basic framework has remained fundamentally the same: you choose a recipient for your message, enter a subject, type a message and send. Over time, off-shore “marketing” armies invented spam, setting in motion an epic battle to control our inboxes. Thankfully, many of them have moved to Twitter, the perpetual, real-time, narcissistic spam-engine to rule them all.

If I had to, I could live without Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Tumblr, Foursquare, and Yelp. Life would be undeniably less fun, and I’d have to resort to old-school means of obtaining breaking news, connecting with distant relatives, and following tech trends. But I absolutely could not ever live without email–our business would die. (I also could not live without WordPress…).

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg boldy predicted email’s demise at the Nielsen Consumer 360 in 2010. Guess what? Oprah lives; so does email.

Will today’s kids rise up and burn emails in a historic stand against generations past? I doubt it. It hasn’t happened in decades; why now?

So the next time someone tells you email is dead, don’t believe it. There’s a reason why horror sequels live on. You don’t kill Freddy. You don’t kill Jason. You don’t kill Michael. And you don’t kill email.

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  • David

    “That’s interesting, no? 200 email messages are considered “useful.””

    Actually… If you read the article closer it says that only 10% of the emails recieved per employee is useful and 18% is pure spam.  That leaves the other 72% unproductive or inefficient.  The idea is that the 72% gets moved to instant messaging.

    Please read closer next time. =)

    P.S. I say this, but I didn’t read all of your rant because I saw that you said all 200 emails were useful when that is not what the article was trying to convey.

    • David

      P. P. S. I now feel silly for not realizing some of my misspellings.  I apologize for my negligence to use spell-check.

    • Peter

      Also grammar error. Example: “thats interesting, no? 200 emails are considered “useful.”” What SHOULD have been put: “that’s interesting no? 200 emails are considered ‘useful.'”. But hey, you tried.

      • David

        I see no such grammar error.  It’s neither in the article nor in my comment. (which was a copy-paste from the article)  So you, sir, have confused me. =S

      • David

        Unless of course, you are talking about my use of ” around useful.  To that respect, as I said, I just did a copy-paste from the article using the ” to indicate that I was referencing that part of the article. 

        You also had a grammar error (or maybe missing the ‘ key?) in your attempt.  Meh, you tried. ;)

  • Good
    points. I have been reading the same reports with special interest, seeing that
    we’re a small startup in the business of email productivity tools (Tagwolf). In
    addition to the points you mention, I think that email has a use-case that’s
    unbeatable or maybe just very deeply engrained in our heads. “Checking the mail”
    is a concept that has been around a LONG time and it has remained virtually unchanged.
    The bottom line is that any email replacement contender, needs to offer a
    better use case and that’s a challenge.  Seth Godin made this point in his blog post “What’s
    the use case?”

  • Lionello

    it is impossible to have 200 useful emails a day. For them to be of use you need to read them and probably do something useful with them. That-s twenty an hour in a 10 hour day. 3 minutes each. No. I am busy on the internet and emails all day long, and receive around 300 emails a day, but I would say that an average of 10 of them are actually useful