Why email is dead

by Jeremy Jones

c|net had a story up a couple of weeks ago entitled "Kids say e-mail is, like, soooo dead". The story was about how kids were moving away from email and using instant messaging and social networking sites for peer communication. Maybe I know why. Or maybe I know why that could be such a temptation. The reason is simple. Email sucks. All email clients suck. No one of them has the feature set that I would like. Their handling of the email protocols can be atrocious, particularly IMAP. And don't even get me started on having to interface with Exchange with anything other than Outlook. Also, you don't know when someone has read an email (unless you're using X.400, but that's another story) or when they're online. I can see why IM, social networks, and text messaging are gaining usage. Pownce, anyone? (BTW - I have a few invites left. If you're interested, email me.)

UPDATE: The Pownce raffle is now officially closed. Thanks for everyone who emailed me.


2007-08-02 05:56:23
Email sucks...If you're interested, email me

Hahaha! Keep up the thoughtful and insightful opinion pieces Jeremy, satire is best when unintentional.

And it's small wonder you hate email when your provider is bellsouth and you use Exchange! That's like saying "I hate food" while consuming nothing but microwaved sludge from Walmarts.

2007-08-02 06:12:17
email sucks. yes. why? mostly spam.
consider also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tragedy_of_the_commons
Jeremy M. Jones
2007-08-02 06:28:48

Ha! You got me! That is too funny. For the record, I use Exchange for work and Bellsouth as a POP3 waypoint to my own IMAP server. Not that it matters. It all still sucks :-) Thanks for the post!

Jeremy M. Jones
2007-08-02 06:32:53

Spam. Yes. I can see that, but I'm not so sure I agree with why so many folks are turning to social networking sites and IM over email for that reason. Blog spam is all too common here. I've seen spam on myspace a-plenty. And I know folks who get all sorts of IM spam. Not sure about text messaging spam, but, hey, if spammers spam fax lines, nothing is sacred!

And regarding the "tragedy of the commons"....wow. That's deep. I'll read that wikipedia article after another cup of coffee.

Richard Querin
2007-08-02 07:42:56
I must be in the minority here, but I use Gmail for just about everything. I find it eminently more useful than IM. Then again, I'm getting close to 40 and don't skateboard. ;)
Doug Hellmann
2007-08-02 10:54:14
Spam happens because your inbox is world-writable.
Jeremy M. Jones
2007-08-02 11:02:42

I think I'd rather IM than gmail, but depending on the conversation, I'd rather email with a *good* client than IM. And I don't skateboard, either :-)

Jeremy M. Jones
2007-08-02 11:03:38

All I gotta say is, "well said".

2007-08-02 13:28:46
I think gmail solves the biggest weaknesses (spam, email client, usability, etc.)
2007-08-04 04:14:43
"Also, you don't know when someone has read an email"
You think thats a problem? Anything different would be a serious breach of privacy.
E-mails like any other tool- it will be abused.
2007-08-07 00:38:36
Sure, email may be dead for kids. But kids don't have anything to say which needs more than a few words to say it. (Yes, a sweeping generalisation, I know, but most kids I know can't even construct a sentence, let alone a paragraph...)

If you're trying to have a serious conversation with someone, and need to put forward a cogent, detailed argument about your POV, then you can't do that using phone texting, or IM. You need email.

Horses for courses... IM/texting for idle chat, email for serious conversation...

Jeremy M. Jones
2007-08-07 02:04:12

Thanks for the feedback. I actually agree with you very much. The point of my post was that email sucks. And, honestly, these social networking sites are worse than email. I use IM quite a bit as you describe - quick chatty converstaions, particularly when presence-knowledge is important. I just have a near hatred of every email client I use. And I'm not too fond of the protocol, either. Blogging, however, is a means of communication I omitted entirely (accidentally, of course). I think blogging is a great way of carrying on a persistent, publicly visible conversation with the community. So there ya go. Thanks for the comment!

2007-08-07 15:29:47
Actually Im and Email both have their place, partly because of difference in message size and composition/editing ease as Rachel pointed out. But also for another reason: speed and simplicity differ as well. If I want to send someone a quick note or phone number or email address or say I am running late, email is cumbersome: it takes too long to start, compose, send, deliver, and be read. Instead I pull out my iPhone and IM them from my contact list from anywhere I happen to be. They can read my message quickly with less overhead in time and distraction. So both have their place.
Gallant Voyager
2007-08-08 00:08:17
I was under the impression that you can get a tool that tells you when someone has read your email? I found this one in a quick search - http://www.mailtracking.com/ - and I know there are others. I use Yahoo, and don't bother with Outlook (which I have) - why should I store my emails on my hard drive when they are willing to store them on their's for free? And IM's great, but I mostly need something that I can refer back to, e.g. receipts for shopping, tech newsletters, etc. IM's fine for socialising, but useless for work (oh!, maybe that's why kids use it a lot and I use it seldom - I work :))
James D
2007-08-08 02:18:46
As someone who used to enjoy writing letters the introduction of email was the greatest thing in the world (this was before the dreaded ICQ sound). As IMing got popular I saw my email usage go way down. It is now at the point where I get one email like once every 3 months. Instant Messenger really has changed email
2007-08-11 18:22:13
Not all email clients suck. Outlook has a comprehensive feature set and a mature, easy to use UI. Before I started using Outlook (years ago) I used both Thunderbird and Evolution and while neither of them were near as good as Outlook at the time, I still wouldn't say they sucked.

The email clients on BlackBerry and Windows Mobile devices are also very usable. Email - increasingly, mobile email - is still critically important to businesses and instant messaging isn't as practical in all situations.

There are some advantages in IM, and I probably use it more than email these days, but that doesn't make saying "email is dead" any less ridiculous.

Jeremy M. Jones
2007-08-11 18:42:51

Notice that I didn't assert that email was dead. I merely empathized with the folks making the assertion. And I've used Outlook. Actually, I'm occasionally forced to use it at work. Honestly, it does some things pretty well, such as calendaring. It's a nice one-stop solution. But the client itself has, in my opinion, little redeeming value other than its ability to connect to exchange. It is a memory hog. Maybe not such a problem now as it used to be, but still an issue. Its quickness to reconnect to Exchange when there is a network hiccup is only slightly better than Evolution. Its message searching is ... eh ... not really worth mentioning. It's an OK client for being so fat. But not great. For me, I would definitely put it in the "suck" pile.

I can't speak for mobile email clients. Not yet, anyways.

2007-08-11 20:11:27
Message searching works fine for me, although it wasn't so great in 2003. I don't consider memory usage to be a problem - it's not excessive and the program is very responsive, so who cares?

So you agree that it fulfills its purpose, is fairly comprehensive in terms of functionality ("a nice one-stop solution"), and does some things well, but it goes in your "suck" pile because of a few minor flaws (since when is "only slightly better" than something else a negative quality btw?)? You must have a very small "does not suck" pile :P

I can accept personal preferences but I don't think you're being very objective here.

I mention mobile messaging because it's something I work with a lot these days. Despite instant messaging being available on these devices email is still the killer app and the main reason for their deployment.


Jeremy M. Jones
2007-08-12 02:21:16

My "does not suck" pile is very small indeed. "All email clients suck." Notice that I didn't say "totally suck". All of the ones that I would consider using have their strong points. And regarding objectivity here, doesn't the word "suck" imply that I'm going to be subjective? I'll quickly admit that I'm being subjective. After all, these are email clients that I have to put up with. I really don't care what email client everyone else in the world is using. Actually, that's not entirely true. If you're using Outlook and you're very satisfied with it, that's awesome. I'm maybe a little jealous that you've gotten your email itch scratched and I'm still looking. But I'm not going to try to tell you that you should think Outlook sucks. But if an email client isn't pleasant for me to use, I put it in my "suck pile".

Now, in my subjectivity, I feel like I have a list of fairly objective criteria for not landing in said suck pile. Here's the list: excellent network (re)connectivity handling, solid imap support (with Exchange support as a bonus), either a decent set of default keybindings or the ability to customize them, the "standard" features (compose, respond, sort messages by various fields, show threaded conversations, etc), be multi-platform, and whatever it tries to do should be implemented well. The only caveat being that clients that are more work focused must have Exchange support to the same degree that I expect others to have imap support. There are some subjective "requests" in there, but I think they're all reasonable.

For the moment, I'm using Outlook when I have to login to Windows at work, Evolution when I'm logged in to Linux at work, and Thunderbird on my Mac. Of these, I'm least pleased with Evolution for its instability and its horrific handling of what messages have been read or not on an imap server. And I've been most pleased with Thunderbird. And I would quickly add that Mac's Mail.app is pretty good, too, but it wound up in my "suck pile" and was replaced by Thunderbird for how it handled certain network situations. Right now I can't think of much that TB sucks at except sometimes it's a pain to just copy a group of email addresses and paste them in the "To:" field. That kinda sucks. Otherwise, it's a pretty good little client.

2007-08-14 01:57:12
I definitely think it's a horses for courses thing. I use a combination of e-mail, IM, social networking sites, phone, SMS.

I have definitely noticed that I'm sending and receiving less e-mails and doing a lot more messaging in facebook. My e-mail tends to be more of the lengthy type of thing (and documents which need comments, etc) whereas my facebook messaging is more the quicker stuff (arranging meetings, checking the status of things, etc). I pretty much only use IM for chatting type of discussions.

@Gallant Voyager - Any system which tells you if someone has opened your message is a "bolt-on" to e-mail and not part of the core protocol. As such, it is not reliable. Even the site you point out says as much (admittedly in one sentence towards the end of its FAQ). Personally, a notification system which generates false negatives is not of much use to me.