Everything in tech seems to be evolving. Everything, that is, except for email.
Email is inflexible, old-fashioned, and there’s way too much of it. The average person now receives more than 100 emails per day, and the average corporate employee receives more than 200. In total, Google counted 24,000 mentions of “email overload” last year.
Unwanted email continues to be a major problem for many businesses and their employees. Some companies have even gone so far as to ban email internally.
But replacing email has proven to be more difficult than expected. Several apps have been introduced in an attempt to send email to its grave, but few have caught on or been adopted widely.
In 2014, an app called Slack made a bid to takeover email, and actually made good headway. At one point, more than 125,000 people reportedly adopted it, including teams at companies as large as eBay, Sony, Yelp and NBCUniversal. But a year later, there isn't much buzz around Slack on a wide scale. Several other apps have made similar promises to replace email with simpler and more convenient modes of communication, but then faded away.
Microsoft to the rescue?
Microsoft’s introduction of the Send app last week is interesting. Perhaps it will take a heavyweight like Microsoft to make real headway when it comes to replacing email. The Send app is designed to let workers send quick, brief messages while forgoing subject lines and signatures. The aim is to make conversations fast and fluid, the company said.
"With Send, there are no signatures, subject lines or salutations required," Microsoft's Outlook team explained in a July 22 blog post. "Our design principle for the app was to make conversations fast and fluid while keeping the people who are important to you at its core."
Email still #1?
The fact that Microsoft is now getting into the mix may signal that email is far from over. The fact is, email is good at what it does, and some experts say it is still truly the best technology for most business communications.
For example, the social collaboration tools introduced to replace email so far have provided no means of working with attachments or archiving messages. Most companies require messages to be stored — both for legal and internal reference needs — and old-fashioned email handles this easily.
While CIOs may be overwhelmed with managing all those email boxes, replacing email with instant messaging or a social tool would still require the IT department to set up and manage those accounts. Finally, replacing email with a social collaboration tool likely won’t reduce the main complaint most users have about email: messaging overload. More likely, it will just move the overload to a different spot.
The truth is, most complaints aren’t truly about email, but about communications of any sort. Today, employees have more contacts to manage, and that means more communication. Email may be dated and inflexible, but emerging communication protocols — while they may be more streamlined and slick — aren’t likely to solve the ongoing problem of communication overload.