[Updated 13 October, 2009: 10 Reasons Email isn't Replacing Social Media]
[Updated 11 October, 2009: Why Email No Longer Rules... via Wall St. Journal - may require subscription]
[Updated 30 September, 2009: University of Nevada Eliminates Student E-Mail]
Most of us say we get "too much email." We wish it would just go away. But email never goes away. Or does it?
Email is going away. Slowly but steadily email is losing its pre-eminent position as the standard means of electronic communication and is being replaced by multiple tools:
- Text messaging (SMS) allows us to send a private message to one or more friends from our "phone."
- Microblogging (e.g., Twitter in its current form) provides a platform for short updates and direct messages to those who opt in to read them.
- The Facebook newsfeed (fed by status updates, Page postings, application usage, group discussions and even photo albums) and LinkedIn group discussions give us a way to converse on topics of interest to us and to our "connections."
- Instant Messaging (Chat) gives us an always-on channel for friends, family and co-workers. And it's embedded now into other services (like Facebook or Google apps) and easily supports video.
Still not convinced that email is morphing into many other things? Consider Google Wave's potential to change how we write and read the messages formerly reserved for old fashioned email. According to Gizmag, for example, Google Wave
combines the strengths of e-mail with the immediacy of instant messaging and the collaborative power of social networking – and wraps that all up into a killer web application that can then be embedded into any web page or used as a private communication system.
Click image to see early version of Google Wave software
Last fall I read that Boston College would no longer provide student email accounts. College officials, the article said,
realized that the students already had established digital identities by the time they entered college, so the new email addresses were just not being utilized. The college will offer forwarding services instead. Starting next year, freshmen enrolled at Boston College won't be given an actual email account...just an email address [that] will simply forward mail to the students' already established inbox, be it Gmail, Windows Live Mail, Yahoo Mail, AOL, or whatever else they may be using.
Ignoring for a moment that there might yet be good reasons to provide email accounts, think about this report from Nielsen: social networking has surpassed email usage as measured by time spent online.
What are the implications? Based on comments on ReadWriteWeb you might think the biggest implication is that Boston College students would lose their access to discounts at the local movie theater, which emails discount coupons to students. But there are bigger things to consider:
1. All those alumni email addresses we've worked so hard to collect will be useless for communicating with our alumni. We need to start using alternative channels and tracking the changes in our constituents' communication preferences.
2. Web-based registration pages will die. No more filling out a form to "sign up." Our digital identity will follow us across the internet and identify us automatically as we use "social-enabled" services.
3. We will have to change our definition of "lost alumni" (special thanks to Mike Teskey of Reed College for pointing this out). I believe we'll also need to rethink how we define "contact."
4. Finally, we'll need to make online content and interactivity portable so people can "take us with them" wherever they spend their time online (hint: that doesn't mean on our own web sites).
So instead of asking whether to provide email accounts, we need to ask whether students and alumni tomorrow will be using email at all.
Skeptical? Leave a comment.
NOTE: Alumni Futures is taking a break until the end of August or so.