Musings from Mike Atkinson on Internet strategy, usability, and more...

The death of email

Yes, it’s on the horizon.

The Pew Internet & American Life Project released a report this summer – “Teens and Technology: Youth are leading the transition to a fully wired and mobile nation.”

Forbes had a great summary of the findings:

According to a study by the Pew Internet and American Life project, barely 5% of American teens aged 12 to 17 prefer e-mail over instant messaging as their digital communications method of choice. Teens view e-mail as a way to talk to “old people” or institutions like companies. Kids, it seems, prefer the immediacy and mobility of instant messaging and text messaging to e-mail, which they might some day refer to as snail mail, the same way most people over 30 refer to the U.S. Postal Service.

Will someone get me my Metamucil?

I can attest to this finding, at least anecdotally. My own high school kids just don’t do email anymore. I now have to tell them when I’ve emailed them something important.

I also run a website and email list for their water polo team at high school. This year we made the effort to get all 50 boys’ email addresses to add to the list. Almost every parent told me that their sons just don’t check their email anymore.

So where are they? IM, text messaging, and social networking services like MySpace. They want instant communications. None of this waiting 15 seconds for an email to deliver!

I’ve talked to other folks in business (at least the Internet business like me) and more than half of our communications are done over IM now. It’s much more efficient than email for project work.

How does this affect your organization? If you want to reach a younger audience, what changes should you start to put in place? How about IM for customer service? There are chat services you can sign up for, and they do have some cool, proprietary features built in there. But using just plain IM works too.


  1. I view them as completely different communication mediums. When I want to drop someone a note, but not actually “talk” with them right now, email is it.

    When I need to really interact with someone, IM is it. I was amazed when speaking recently with a web developer from a camp we both know of, and he told me IM was blocked.

    I can’t imagine being a web developer and not being able to collaborate with other developers on the fly.

    I have 326 names in my buddy list, across AIM, YIM, MSN, and Jabber. It’s my primary mode of communication on the internet these days.
    Topher    Wednesday, September 21, 2005    #
  2. I’ve written a couple of blog articles on this, but with the twist that it will have a lot to do with spam. Spam can be managed, but companies expend a lot of time and effort. Eventually, they are going to morph it into something less susceptible to abuse simply because all that a company really can do is constantly try to just keep up.

    Basically a reactionary response to a problem that needs a constant reaction.

    In the IM world, I’m looking forward to standards coming into use like XMPP that Jabber and GoogleTalk use. This way companies can have their own servers that they can keep track of, but still talk with the rest of the world. I should get myself a sign on a stick that reads “No more proprietary IM systems!” :-)
    Josiah Ritchie    Wednesday, September 21, 2005    #
  3. Sure, I agree with this to a point. I would love for all my office mates to have IM, this way I wouldn’t get short, annoying emails that clog up my inbox. I get enough of those from people I don’t know.

    IM should take over for short, to-the-point, back-and-forth banter (typical of kiddies like myself) ...but when you work in an office with lots of people and structure, there are times when you need a “cc” trail. That is why email probably won’t go away completely, at least in an office environment.
    NathanL    Monday, September 26, 2005    #
  4. Mike, I love this stat from PEW. It points to how totally out of touch most adults are to youth culture. So many of my clients think they’re doing a cool thing by setting up programs that email messages to younger audiences. From the PEW stats you quote, these guys may as well use bulk mail and send catalogs b/c the message ain’t gettin’ through.

    For a really FOOLISH solution – stop using email. Now THERE’s an idea whose time has probably come.
    Jim Seybert (on FoolsBox)    Monday, September 26, 2005    #
name Remember