Email – an old but powerful friend

I hear many times that Electronic mail (Email) is the most unexciting way to communicate with anyone. We just type the message, choose the recipient and press the send button. That’s all! No immediate response, no action, no fun! Wait for response and again follow the same process to discuss more.
It was many times announced on big journals and forums that Email is dead and has no future but here is the truth – Email is still alive – growing and working hard to make communication, deals and development happen inside and outside of the corporate world. First network (ARPANET) email was sent in 1971 and since then it has become one of the most trusted medium for any formal and business communication. Now days, Email communication can be deemed to be legal, valid and binding agreements as per local law too.

Email is growing

In May 2015, Google announced that Gmail has more than 900 million users that’s up from 425 million in 2012. There were 90.7 million average monthly users for the Gmail smartphone app in 2014. Yahoo has more than 273 million mail users as per reports published in 2014. Outlook.com (earlier Hotmail) has more than 400 Million active users. There are many other hosted/SAAS/Enterprise based email services which have many more million Email accounts.
The total number of email accounts is over 4.1 billion which are predicted to reach 5.2 billion by 2018 and there are 2.5 billion email users. The business world accounts for more than 108.7 billion emails sent and received per day, according to market researcher Radicati Group. That number is expected to increase to 139.4 billion by 2018. As per MarketingProfs, 122,500,453,020 emails are sent every hour. These are big numbers! Showing ongoing success and growth of email services.

For some time, We have been seeing evolution of many exciting web communication services like Facebook, Twitter, Slack, Skype, Chat Apps and other mobile based communication services (WhatsApp, Viber, Line) which provides an instant and real time communication possibility but still far to be considered as Email replacement. These services are good for instant and informal communication. An exciting service named “Google wave” was launched in 2010 with big idea to provide the alternate to old boring email with real time communication, videos and photos sharing and much more things to integrate together but could not get any considerable momentum in real world.

What makes email immortal?

The Simplicity: Any successful communication medium needs to be simple enough to be adopted by masses. Not everyone is willing to invest much time in sending information to other or receive from them and moreover when it needs to be done very frequently. Email is very simple – write in an email editor, attach items as per requirements, push the send button and it’s done! Reading and writing is in human DNA since hundreds of year and email provides a very intuitive way to extend it to digital world.

Negligible learning curve: Using email service requires no extra efforts other than knowing how to work with World Wide Web (www). Anyone who knows how to work with internet, can start communicating over email in few minutes. Google wave was a good attempt with much more advance features but it was not very intuitive and many users found it difficult to understand how the communication is happening, what are the message threads, they could be edited/modified, tons of extensions and much more. It might have done well for technical audiences who have good understanding of complicated communication suites but general masses don’t like bigger learning curve.

Ease of Access: Email services can be accessed from desktop, laptop or any other internet enabled (of-course with browser or thick client) device. Type the email service URL and you are ready to read or write emails. No extra configuration.

Delegation: Corporate world needs a simple communication service with easy features to delegate and share responsibilities. Email services provide facility to read and write mails on behalf of others. A secretary or an admin can filter out the not so important mails or respond on behalf of busy boss. They can send the meeting invitations, create schedules and do other routine scheduling with calendar services which comes with most of the messaging suites.

Legal: Email communication is considered a mean of legal communication in many countries. All the negotiations and discussions running over email can be considered as legal ones as per local law.

Business value: Email proved to have great business value for commercial communication. 81% of US online shoppers are more likely to make additional purchases as a result of emails based on previous shopping behavior and preferences. 72% consumers said that email promotions are preferred by them from the companies with who they do shopping or business. 68% of consumers find email to be most preferred way for receiving commercial messages. 66% of consumers have made a purchase online as a direct result of email marketing message as pet Direct Marketing Association in 2013.

Commercial service integrations: Many enterprise email solutions are integrated with other commercial communication or business service suites to run complete service and solutions. Email is an integral part of many automated business process to send reports, status, business outputs (invoice, statement, summary etc.) and any alert or notifications. Banking, telecom, online retail, Insurance, transport and shipping and many more big business infrastructures are connected through automated email communication services.

Email is changing

Mobiles and other handheld devices have changed the way to use the emails. By 2017, 1.779 million people will access email via their mobile device as per Radicati group email statistics report. Mobile email will account for 15 to 70% of email access depending on target audience, product and email type.
75% of Gmail users and 68% Yahoo! users access their accounts on mobile devices. Mobile email opens have grown 180% in three years as per campaign monitor.
As per Movable Ink report, 52.99% Android users spend 15 seconds or more viewing each message. Apple users (iPad and iPhone) spends 0-3 seconds per email.
Mobile email apps are used for short and quick communications. Mobile replies have a median reply time of only 28 minutes, followed by emails sent from tablets with 57 minutes and finally replies from desktop with 62 minutes.
Analytics has changed the world of electronic data. Many public email service providers uses the email data stored in their data centers as data mine to understand the preferences and behavior to target them with more specific online advertisements. They run very complicated and sophisticated algorithms to do the user data profiling to understand various traits. This data is used to provide the specific service to third parties as well as for internal purpose for service monetization.

Another interesting use of email addresses are as online identity. They are unique worldwide. Many online services encourage users to use them as unique web service identity or user names. It enables users to use easy and memorable login user names.

Now, many commercial solutions are built around various email services. They parse and analyze the email data to come up with various business decisions, organize the attached contents in separate repositories for later analysis, process the attached business documents as per data types, use data as input for transactional services, use with intelligent Optical character recognition (OCR) software and much more. Information age is all about data and emails contains tons of personal and business data.

Why to look for alternatives

If we know that email is doing the intended job perfectly then why to look for alternatives? Why to find ways to kill our old and beloved Email?
The business world is not all about what user wants or what is working perfectly. They need money to run these services and make profit too. One may say that free public email services earn from advertising. It’s true but they are not enough. Businesses need profit and value from the service provided to end user.

Generally, email communication creates “dump pipes”. In mobile network parlance, a “dumb pipe” is when a carrier simply transfers the data bits to and from without the ability to add services, applications or act as a smart gatekeeper. Carriers don’t want to be just “dumb pipes” as there are very thin business margins and requires huge and complex infrastructure to maintain. Emails traffic is ever increasing with bulkier rich content and heavy attachments. More than 70% emails were spam in 2013 which came down to 66% in year 2014 but it’s a huge unwanted data flowing through networks. In such a market, when data margins are dropping and many companies are finding hard to just be in positive figures, no one want such “dump pipes”.

Google tried to replace it by Google Wave, Google+, adding more customizations like prioritization, flagging, categorizing but couldn’t get much success.
Facebook, twitter and Slack is also trying to take this space and present their services as email alternatives. Short and informal communication has decreased quite a lot over emails with the help of such alternate services. People prefer to drop a short message over WhatsApp, Skype, twitter and other same kind of services but, still, they cannot cater the segment which needs continuous discussions, mail threads and professional communication.

I, personally, believe that it’s a long way to go before emails can be replaced or any better alternative would come into picture but who knows, it’s a dynamic and fast paced technology world! It would be really interesting to see what alternatives would evolve in future and how would they shape next era of digital communications.

Compiled By: Amitabh
[amitabh[at]amitabh[dot]guru]

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