Today, TechCrunch contributor Steve Gillmor asked, is social media replacing e-mail as the easiest, most effective means of personal communication?
While giving up your Gmail inbox may seem unthinkable, the debate on the direction of mass-messaging has been growing over the years. As early as 2007, Slate published an article proclaiming “The Death of Email.” They reach farther back for statistical proof, citing a 2005 Pew study indicating that nearly half of all web-savvy teens preferred IM to e-mail, and noting that, in 2006, “comScore reported that teen e-mail use was down 8 percent, compared with a 6 percent increase in e-mailing for users of all ages.”
Maybe it’s because e-mail can take longer to compose and send; remembering your “netiquette” is important, after all. The argument is, social media makes broadcasting your message much faster, and it lets you talk to a broader audience with less effort; no time wasted searching through your contact list and deciding who deserves a CC.
Plus, let’s face it: as Slate points out, “you'd never send an e-mail to 200 friends saying, 'It's Friday and I'm ready to party!!!' But with a Twitter tweet or a Facebook status update, you can broadcast such a message to all of your buddies without seeming like a total dweeb.”
Gillmor cites his own use habits as indicators of wider common trends; he notes that he spends less time staring at his inbox and more time using apps on mobile devices, relying on push notifications and alerts rather than proactively checking for new messages. And he feels his communication is made richer by the options offered on social platforms. “There’s a social history in email, but it’s based on a structure of authority, presumed or otherwise,” he explains. “It’s an FYI not FOI as in Our. @mentions are a blend of both, alerting both the mentioned and those interested or following.”
It’s undeniably true that your cause is likely to gain more support with a well-crafter hashtag than a round of email blasts, or that discovering new things is easier when you have access to messages from beyond your established peer group.
“Email is about a defined relationship, or a management tool for broadcast information. Newsletters and media pings take up the majority of the Gmail flow… Today email serves as a notification service for social.” Gillmor notes. True, but with the increasing number of brands, broadcasters and performers vying for attention on your Twitter feed, there’s plenty of SPAM-centric messaging coming at you either way.
The big battle right now seems to be in defining the “next big thing”; if e-mail’s truly on the way out, what’s next? Twitter and Facebook are both powerful social broadcasting platforms, but they are to the social flow what Hotmail or AOL were to e-mail a decade and a half ago. Will mass blasts of bite-sized content become our preferred way of creating dialogue? Or more private, curated social forums?
“It comes down to this,” Gillmor asks, “will social absorb email or the other way around?”