jump to navigation

Will email be dead in 5 years? September 17, 2007

Posted by jeremyliew in communication, Consumer internet, email, facebook, myspace, social networks, start-up, startups, VC, Venture Capital, virtual worlds.

I used to work with John McKinley at AOL where he was CTO and, later, President of Digital Services. I have enormous respect for him. In a recent blog post, he says that email in its current form is under attack and doesn’t have long to live:

We are in the midst of an important moment of truth – email as we know it is under attack, and the major firms are not moving fast enough to prevent it from becoming more of a niche form of communications in the next 5 years. The email experience of today is being threatened on multiple fronts by a variety of new forms of communication:

  • Twitter/short-form blogging
  • Asynchronous messaging in social networks (e.g., the Facebook Wall)
  • IM experiences now supporting queuing of messages to offline buddies
  • Away message/Status message utilization in instant messaging
  • SMS adoption (late to come to the US, but now pervasive)
  • Wikis and other new collaboration platforms
  • Comments (MySpace comments, Blog comments, et al)
  • Casual communication forms (the nudge, the wink)
  • New sharing experiences (Flickr, et al)
  • Email aggregators (e.g., I use Gmail to aggregate all of my AOL, Yahoo, and POP3 accounts. These other companies still bear all the cost of hosting my email accounts, but now get none of the pageviews.)
  • Email and IM integration into social networks (the new entrant risk).
  • People have more compelling, more contextual, more effective, and more convenient options to share and interact than ever before, and incumbent forms of communications will be the losers here.

    John hits on a very interesting broader point. Every few years a new form of communication arises and for some people this becomes their primary form of communication. Over time, earlier forms of communication lose overall share. This has happened to letter writing, telegraphs, talking on the phone, Usenet newsgroups, chat rooms, and message boards in the past. Email has displaced many of these prior forms of communication over the last 15 years, and is now under threat itself.

    I don’t think all of the communication forms John lists above are equally threatening to email. Some are just features, and others have communication as a secondary aspect to another purpose. But it is clear that SMS, IM and social network messaging have supplanted email use among teens. Kids and teens are also some of the earliest and most enthusiastic adopters of casual immersive worlds.

    As John points out:

    The risk is as follows: the major internet incumbents rely tremendously on having a robust base of consumer email account relationships to feed their ad/search businesses. Having that email inbox relationship can yield 2x the monthly page views, when compared with non-email-account consumers.

    The reason is simple – users are more likely to use their primary form of online communication as their homepage. This is why the social networks threaten portals. Being a homepage is an incredibly powerful position because as the first page a user sees, you have an ability to influence what other pages a user sees.

    The portals have long used webmail as the “milk at the back of the store” – a low margin product that keeps users coming back. But to get to the milk you have to walk past the high margin impulse purchase products in a supermarket – the candy and the cookies and the chips. Similarly, to get to your email you have to get past the editorial programming on the portals homepage. A few extra impulse clicks to which shows won at the Emmys or to read about the 700 foreclosure homes being auctioned in one city, and the portal generates some advertising revenue.

    This presents a real opportunity for startups. In the past, innovators that have driven mass adoption of new forms of communication have been bought by big portals well before they needed to show a revenue model, with ICQ and Hotmail being the two best examples. I’d be interested to hear what readers think are today’s most promising candidates for new forms of communication.


    1. Pvan471 - September 17, 2007

    This is how the media and communication technology work,
    the new and better one come to replace the old one.
    But I think e-mail won’t be dead in 5 years, although it will be less common way to use as a communication. The reason of that because e-mail give us more “formal” feeling so it’ll be use in more formal or business contact while IM will be use widely for daily life conversation.

    2. Charlie - September 17, 2007

    I really hope that email is on the way out. They’re great for formal, private communications between two parties but this is quite an antiquated way of communicating now. Hopefully businesses will catch on soon about all the communication tools which are at their disposal.

    3. Paul Sweeney - September 17, 2007

    Perhaps thinking about this in a different way might shed some light on the prospects: look at your own email, and the contents, and see if you have different categories of communications that are delivered via your email…. I am sure that some are from “friends – colleagues – stakeholders – etc.”; some will need “immediate action – no action – act as persistent record etc.”; some are “individual – group – organisational “, etc. etc. I think what is happening is that companies are needing to break down these “horizontal app” and get more specific, because the return on attention / intention is so low. If I have an urgent request for a known group, will I send an email? no! I might need a different form of interruption and request. From an investor point of view, maybe there are insights into opportunities to be gleamed from such an analysis. I could even suggest that running an “open categorisation competition” with your readers would add value to the exercise!

    4. Daniel Markham - September 17, 2007

    I think this is one of those questions that is best asked in a reverse fashon. How come we still have the telephone, telegraph, 2-way radios, chat rooms, and message boards? After all, the net has been hacking away at the telephone for over 20 years, yet we still pick it up to call the neighbors when their dog is in our yard.

    It’s fair to say that each new technology dilutes the other ones, but it is also worth noting that new forms of communication make the process much more nuanced. Should I send an IM to that girl I just met at the fair? Or is that too forward? Perhaps a short, funny introductory email with an invitation to lunch. If she accepts, I’ll send her a wink. Then we’ll call and set up the details.

    I think you’ll find people are communicating more with new tools because they are communicating more in general. Each tool has a strength and a purpose: I wouldn’t try to IM my concerns about how the new server farm might hold up under a DOS attack.

    This is going to make advertising a bit more interesting as well. In the past, we’ve had it easy: we knew when people wanted to communicate over the web they emailed. Now there’s a dozen ways to gab, and it’s growing every year. Advertising to online communicators looks like a tough racket going forward.

    5. Daniel Markham - September 17, 2007

    FWIW, ran across this today: “Why private messages suck” http://paulstamatiou.com/2007/09/16/why-private-messages-suck/

    6. Roger Matus - September 17, 2007

    By this logic, I guess the telephone must be dead by now.

    7. Michael St. Hilaire - September 17, 2007

    He doesn’t say it’s going to be ‘dead’ in 5 years he says it’s going to be ‘niche’ in 5 years.

    Email is the defacto standard for communications within corporate walls, and among people who don’t have computer-centric jobs/lives.

    All my friends have email, but none of them have a social networking site I can communicate with them on, and few of them log into their IM accounts.

    Corporations love email, and this your email inbox becomes your ‘homepage’ when you are at work. It’s the first place you go when you come into work and come back from lunch. Until that changes, email is here to stay for quite some time.

    8. Parker - September 18, 2007

    Interesting timing – YHOO just announced a $350M acquisition of Zimbra today. The stated rationale is to increase focus on email… Seems to be more indicative of an enterprise strategy than anything else. Thoughts?

    9. Jeff Barson: Sendside Networks - September 18, 2007

    Email is dead. It just doesn’t know it yet.

    10. Gina Winkler - September 18, 2007

    Fun to see you bring up this point, Jeremy. We conducted focus groups of roughly 150 people between the ages of 15 and 25 late last year – why? Because we found they are the ones driving the social networks, IM, texting and the imminent end to email as a predominant form of communication.

    In summary, it’s all about generations and personal critical mass. My critical mass is in email. I could try to send my co-workers or family members a MySpace message, but they’re not there. They’re in email.

    We have the 15 – 20 year olds who received an IM address before they knew email existed. Then came their cell phones. Then came their social network accounts. Their critical mass exists in these areas, and it’s too hard to move their group of contacts elsewhere.

    The majority of folks we spoke with mentioned they had to get email because their parents didn’t know how to text via cell, or they got a job that required an email account. How often do they send/receive text? ~50x/day. Check social network? 5-10x/day. How often do they check email? 1-3x/month.

    Email is the new “snail mail” These kids will receive a postal letter quicker than they’ll receive an email.

    A consistent reply to the question “why?” was presence. They know the recipient is present when sending the Facebook message, MySpace comment or text (used in special hierarchy order depending on a “presence factor” which we observed mysteriously calculated by some person:location:date:time ratio in the blink of an eye). When in doubt, check the friend’s IM away msg to know where to send.

    So, it’s actually quite simple when broken down to the basic human need for communication. I moved my parents to this cool thing called email 13 years ago. My younger sister moved me to add an unlimited text service to my wireless plan or else I’d never hear from her. My 7 year old is begging for a cell phone and is now bored with MSN Messenger. I’m excited to see what cool communication channel she moves me to in 8 years.

    Apologies for the long comment. I haven’t yet bee “moved” by anyone to the blogisphere šŸ™‚

    11. Brian - September 19, 2007

    On http://www.Yomod.com, a new safe social media site for kids, we see kids communicating with their friends through posts on their Yomod profiles. We definitely see the trend away from e-mail toward more social network communication amongst the youngest people on the Internet.

    Yomod, co-founder

    12. Communication, performance and birthdays « Lightspeed Venture Partners Blog - September 23, 2007

    […] in the past about the performance aspects of social network communication, and how this affects future email use. I’ve also posted about social design for social media companies, and how Facebook’s […]

    13. Big companies have led the latest surges in virtual worlds « Lightspeed Venture Partners Blog - October 11, 2007

    […] virtual worlds will become one of the dominant forms of online communication, supplanting email for this demographic, just as social networks have […]

    14. Could Email Die? | Provoke Thought – Seth Ponek's Blog - August 1, 2010

    […] full list at Lightspeed’s blog ….where I clipped this from….. This entry was posted in change, technology. Bookmark […]

    Leave a Reply

    Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

    WordPress.com Logo

    You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

    Twitter picture

    You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

    Facebook photo

    You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

    Connecting to %s

    %d bloggers like this: