John Naughton, writing in the Guardian has a good piece based on email he received from Mark Zuckerberg, forecasting the death of email. It will be replaced, if Zuck has his way, with Facebook’s new Messenger service. Naughton does a good job of refuting the self-serving prophesy, but I think there are more reason why the imminent death of email is less vision and more hallucination.
Naughhton is wrong on one point. Predicting the death of email is not new. I’ve been hearing such forecasts ever since blogging and social media started gaining momentum. Dr. Danah Boyd, the a professor at UC Berkeley researching the impact of social media on youth, made the prediction at a 2004 conference, and she built her case on the same premise that Zuckerberg uses: Young people are using less and less email.
Seven years have gone by. Many of the youth Boyd studied are now college graduates and in the workplace where I’m betting most of them now have to use email and see the wisdom of that requirement. Dr. Boyd herself is now at Microsoft Research, where I’m betting the company requires her to use email for her confidential business communications.
And that word “confidential” hits a nerve when we discuss Facebook Messenger eclipsing email. I can think of no company to trust less than Facebook with your confidential business information. Facebook has a much-noted and hopefully, long-remembered disdain for user privacy. They seem to think that if you post content there, then they own it, and they just might elect to reuse it in collaboration with advertisers.
There are other reasons that email will endure. For example:
- The archiving is better and more searchable.
- Managing and downloading attachments remain superior to Facebook
- It’s easier to review long threads that take place over lengthy periods of time
- It’s often easier to find a specific conversation in email
- With GMail, it is easier to manage and delete spam than it is in Facebook
But at the end of the day, with all the social networking we use, there is a time to communicate online in private. EMail remains an excellent choice in many, many situations, and for me, when Facebook and privacy are mentioned in the same sentence, I find myself becoming immediately uncomfortable.
I tend to avoid predictions, because the neat thing about the future is it always brings surprises when it becomes the present. But I will predict that email will outlive Facebook. Don’t get me wrong. I recognize that Facebook is the great success story of the first decade of this century.
Today the conventional wisdom is that the company is unstoppable in its attempt to transform the Web into one huge walled megalopolis called Facebook.
The tech cemeteries and old age homes are filled with other companies that held similar aspirations and positions in their times, companies that took down giants to become giants then, in turn, got taken down by some disruptive upstart that they had disdained.
Facebook is just a company. Like those before it will flourish, grow fat and old and be replaced. On the other hand email is a generic thing and in one form or another is likely to last a much longer time.