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The never-ending quest to dethrone email

Serdar Yegulalp | Jan. 21, 2015
Pretenders to the messaging throne have been many, but email still reigns. Here’s how that might change.

InfoWorld's Galen Gruman has dissected several of the arguments about email's alleged harms: It's an old technology; it deluges the user with too much information; it's a pain to maintain. Each of those arguments, and some of their proposed solutions, have been echoed here in various forms.

But each stance, as Gruman pointed out, also invites a potent counterargument. Email overload is more a failure of users' filtering habits than one of the technology itself (although there's certainly room for a smarter inbox). Maintaining any enterprise infrastructure isn't easy, and moving away from email might mean moving to new and untested management tools. Most important, a new technology isn't always a better one; in email's case, it's hung around because it's widely adopted, broadly supported, nonproprietary, and well-understood.

Back in 2010, Gartner analysts predicted some 20 percent of corporate email use would be replaced with social networks of some kind by 2014. Some of their predictions came true: Email clients certainly have more cross-integration with social networks. But what email brings to the enterprise, like an automatic audit trail, remains immensely attractive. It may not be surprising to hear that, in a survey conducted by the Pew Research Internet Project, 61 percent of workers with Internet connections rated email as "very important" to their job, whereas social networking ranked at around 4 percent.

That isn't to say email won't morph into something better over time, only that the process is likely to be incremental, laborious, and cautious. If Inbox's experiments with wrapping new protocols around the old ones takes off, and IBM's experiments with email curated by machine learning prove successful, and enterprises decide that much of their internal communications can be done outside of email -- that might bring everyday messaging to an entirely new place. But only because we would have walked down many different roads in parallel to get there, and not any one of them alone.


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