A wave of new companies have recently tried to replace the communication channel people love to hate: email. Slack pretends to be “an email killer”, Asana promises “teamwork without email” etc. But the promise of a world without email is a fantasy.
To understand how powerful email is, let’s go back to the basics. Email is a protocol that was invented in the 1970s and that can be described as the communication layer of the Internet. Like Internet itself, a defining feature of email is its interoperability: two persons can use different systems and still exchange emails. If you send an email from Hotmail, someone using Gmail will be able to open it, read it, and reply to it.
For this reason, email is the best and most reliable way to reach anybody on the planet. Many companies have built tools based on this protocol: Gmail, Hotmail, Outlook, Yahoo!, AOL and more, and today email is a key component of our daily life:
– People sent and received more than 120 billion work emails every day in 2017.
The email protocol is simple and flexible. If you want to start building your own email service, you’ll be able to choose whatever feature you want and whatever interface you like. So when people complain about email and say it’s outdated, they are wrong: it’s not email’s fault, it’s the fault of email interfaces.
– Email is overwhelming? Make smarter interfaces. Even though the technology is decades old, people have always found ways of fixing problems as they appeared: from Gmail spam filters to smart inboxes, to services like unroll.me, which lets you unsubscribe from unwanted newsletters in a click.
– Email is not adapted to the enterprise world? Make it more collaborative. Here at Front, we introduce productivity and collaborative features in a standard email client and let companies work as a team on all their incoming emails.
– Email is not sexy? Design beautiful interfaces. Mailbox has managed to make email light, fast, and mobile-friendly. Sparrow was creating the most intuitive and pleasurable mailing experience etc.
Email is a platform that still has room for innovation, and better yet, without changing the basic premise of how email works.
I’m not saying that email will always be the most suited tool for the professional world as long as you add better interfaces, far from it. Email began as a simple communication tool and is now used to coordinate schedules, collaborate on projects, store files, manage and track tasks – business activities that email programs alone are not designed to manage. As time passes and a business grows, email is more and more ill-suited for those task and some other tools do a pretty good job at replacing it:
– For team collaboration: Asana, Yammer, Basecamp
– For customers interactions: Intercom, Customer.io
– For team internal communication: Slack, Hipchat
– For file storage and collaboration: Box, Dropbox, Google Drive
But the growth of these tools doesn’t mean the demise of email, for two reasons.
First because all these tools rely on email: either because they are built on top of it, or because when something noteworthy happens within one of those tools, guess what? you’ll receive an… email notification.
Second, because even if companies use every tool in the list internally, they will still have to deal with e-mail for tasks and requests coming from outside of their team. You can’t expect all your professional contacts to switch to Whatsapp or add you on Skype. For 1-to-1 external communication email as we know it today will remain. It is dominant, it’s the default professional means of communication, it’s standard, and it’s expected.
Yes, email is being replaced for some types of communication (personal and professional). It’s nothing to be worried about. We have more choices for how to communicate today, and can cherry-pick the best tool for every situation. It doesn’t mean email is dying. It simply means that the communication ecosystem has expanded.