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The death of e-mail

“I hardly even check my e-mail anymore!” the giggly 20-something said to her companions.

The snippet of a conversation that I overheard last week seemed to confirm what Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg predicted when he declared that e-mail was dead in 2011 as he launched his social network’s own messaging platform.

 “We don’t think a modern messaging system is going to be e-mail,” he said at the time, adding that the “next-generation messaging will be seamless, informal, immediate, personal, simple, minimal and short, but not e-mail.”

Today, five years later, Zuckerberg’s prediction seems to be coming true as more and more Facebook users let their e-mail accounts go idle in favor of the more immediate messaging channels that their social network provides.

As one of the few people remaining on the planet that still refuses to go on Facebook (for reasons I have explained before), I tried to understand why this was so.

In the office, I notice, Facebook users have their home pages constantly on their screens. This makes it a natural and convenient platform for immediately sending or responding to messages from their own circle of contacts.

Another reason Facebook is so convenient is that it is easy to tell someone to how to reach you. There is no need to tediously spell out your e-mail address; just tell him or her to find you on Facebook.

 “There is also no spam,” one Facebook user says. “Because you control who your contacts are, nobody can send you spam without your permission.”

Facebook also makes sharing all types of content, including images and videos easy, the same user explains. “You just post it on your page and everybody in your circle of friends will see it. There’s no need to CC anyone,” she says.

These advantages notwithstanding, e-mail is still the de-facto communications platform for most businesses—although this, too, might slowly change.

A trailblazer in this shift is a French technology company, Atos, which launched its “Zero E-mail” program in 2011 in a bid to improve productivity.

Thierry Breton, chief executive of Atos, explained at the time that barely 10 percent of the 200 messages that his employees received on an average day was useful, and that 18 percent were spam. Managers spent between five and 20 hours a week reading and writing e-mails, he said.

 “We are producing data on a massive scale that is fast polluting our working environments and also encroaching into our personal lives,” Breton said at the time. “At Atos we are taking action now to reverse this trend.”

By 2013, the company reached its target of completely eliminating internal e-mails, using instant messaging and other tools instead for collaboration.

In an interview with the BBC in 2012, Breton recalled that the Zero Email program was the result of an initiative to enhance the quality of work conditions for his company’s 80,000 employees.

Among the things the company found was that most of the young people that it was hiring were not using e-mail anymore after graduating from universities.

 “They were instead mainly using instant messaging tools and social networks like Facebook--and for most of them, when they joined Atos it was first time they had ever worked with internal e-mail tools like Outlook,” he said.

Addressing other chief executives, Breton said: “I won’t say that in five years you won’t have internal emails - businesses will probably continue to have internal emails for the next 10 to 15 years.

 “But some companies will move quickly to these internal social networks and instant messaging tools--and again this will be pushed by the young generation.

 “In Atos the average age of our workers is 35 years--we are a young company.

Every year we hire roughly 10,000 new employees, most of them are below the age of 30, living in universities and college--they don’t use internal e-mail anymore, they are using a lot of new tools.

 “We have to adapt ourselves to this new generation that will become our business colleagues tomorrow,” he said.

Not everyone believes e-mail is dead, of course. Nylas, the San Francisco-based maker of a cool, open-source e-mail client N1, believes it merely needs to be fixed.

 “The world of e-mail is broken,” the company says on its website. “Old protocols, obscure data formats, and fragmented standards have left developers frustrated. And e-mail products woefully haven’t become collaborative or extensible...We want to change that, by creating a modern layer for email, contacts, and calendar. Our mission is to build elegant products for large complex systems.”

If you haven’t given up on your inbox just yet and want to take a peek at a modern and elegant e-mail system looks like, download N1 (https://nylas.com/) for free on your Linux, Mac or Windows PC. Chin Wong

Column archives and blog at: http://www.chinwong.com

Topics: Chin Wong , The death of e-mail , e-mail , Facebook , Mark Zuckerberg
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