Apparently "Web 2.0" types haven't tired of talking about the death of e-mail. CNet's Caroline McCarthy has an article about discussions being had at the "Future of Web Apps" conference that wrapped up last week. Here's a quote...
The way people have been talking about e-mail at the Future of Web Apps conference, you'd think it were a cell phone carrier or a domestic airline. It's antiquated, it's backward, and everybody hates it.
Kevin Marks, a Google engineer and Technorati veteran, said in a talk about the company's OpenSocial project and Social Graph APIs that e-mail is a "strange legacy idea."
"E-mail has died away for a group of users. For the younger generation, they don't use e-mail," he said, talking about the young Web users who have started to abandon e-mail for Facebook messaging and mobile texting.
And when a lively group of Web 2.0 elite (including Mullenweg, Digg's Kevin Rose, Pownce's Leah Culver, and Flickr's Cal Henderson) tackled a panel led by TechCrunch's Erick Schonfeld that involved creating the concept for a new Web app in 45 minutes, their end result was a product that would make e-mail less of a headache by making sure that users reply to everything. (It was done in 45 minutes, so the specifics weren't totally ironed out.)
There are basically two points here, (1) young people don't use e-mail and (2) e-mail is inefficient so businesses will stop using it in lieu of something else.
The first point is one I've addressed on this blog before. I hate to quote myself but I hate typing something I've already said more. Given that I quote from a post I made a few months ago entitled "E-Mail is dead, again, for like the 200th time"...
Point #1: Slate says that e-mail is dead because kids don’t use it and businesses usually end up adopting what the kids do rather than the other way around. To that, I say hogwash (though half of that is just because I don’t get to use the word “hogwash” anywhere near as much as I’d like).
Here’s the thing, I’m in my late 20s and when I was a kid I didn’t use e-mail. People seem to forget that IM has been around since the 70s and in some popular form for the last 12+ years (I used Compuserve, ICQ and eventually AIM when I was in high school). So why isn’t e-mail already dead?
Two reasons, One teenagers only talk to who they want to talk to where as adults have to deal with people they (a) don’t know and (b) don’t like. When you are an adult dealing with one of those two scenarios it helps to have e-mail. Two, adults sometimes need to document their conversations where teenagers do not. At work I e-mail as much as possible because I want to be able to trace the day I said a certain thing or prove that someone was told something they claim they never knew. Bottom line, e-mail will get adopted by today’s teenagers because it is the best tool for the jobs they will face as adults.
On the second point I have a better question..."Why haven't we just fixed e-mail?"
There have been dozens if not hundreds of e-mail solutions that would virtually eliminate spam (which is the main problem behind e-mail). All of these solutions were technologically viable so that isn't the problem and a new solution isn't going to fix anything.
The issue is universality not technology. Ever wonder why PCs STILL come with 3.5" floppy drives? Because universality is hard to come by and even harder to replace. If even a small fraction of people resist change it fails because everyone else still needs to interact with that small number.
Which is exactly why we still have e-mail. No one wants to maintain two solutions and everyone knows there will be hold outs who resist which is why we get stuck.
How do we get this fixed? The easiest way is to succeed at what people have been failing at thus far and convince the manufacturers of e-mail servers to agree on a secure e-mail standard. The second and much less effective option is for someone to create a hybrid solution that is backwards compatible AND THEN make their new solution an open standard that other manufacturers could adopt.
But even then your asking a manufacturer to put a lot of money into a solution they'll have to give away and which still has a very small chance of becoming the de facto standard.
It is a very difficult problem that goes completely unaddressed because everyone just wants to spout "e-mail is dead" and then discuss pie in the sky replacements. Software development is about defining a problem and then working to fix it. These conference discussions ignore the problem and then go on to talk about solutions that don't fix anything.
The reason this bothers me is because most computer users still use technology that is 10 years behind (e-mail, unconnected desktop apps, etc...) because the industry isn't addressing their actual problems. Just once I'd like to see an industry discussion that focuses on real world problems and not just impractical theory.