Forward-looking social media enthusiasts like to predict the end of email as we know it. Indeed, there are plenty of signs that millennials, in particular, prefer other methods of electronic communication, using email primarily to communicate with their clueless parents and various other Luddite institutions. In fact, I know of one teenager who lost his place at University because he didn't check his email for months, and thus never saw -- or paid -- the tuition notices he was sent.
But even if the younger generations drive the technology choices of the future, email is not about to go the way of the carrier pigeon.
Let's look at four reasons why email will be around for the foreseeable future:
1. Email is permanent.
Except in cost-obsessed corporations that strictly enforce those 200MB limits on Outlook mail storage, most people hang on to their emails indefinitely. Thus it's easy to go back and dig up messages and documents sent months, years, or even decades ago. That tuition message the college student never saw? It's still sitting there in his inbox. That message the CEO sent authorizing the bank to sell loans it knew were dogs? Still in the system, even if it got deleted from individual mailboxes. Email creates an ongoing record of communication, that the law increasingly recognizes. That can cause problems as well -- just ask General Petraeus -- but it's a huge differentiator from all the social media communication alternatives.
2. Emails are scalable.
Sure, you can post pictures along with your text or status update, but email lets you attach multiple large documents to your messages. That means it can include everything from images to presentations to highly formatted text documents -- or just about anything else you might need to share. New technologies are coming online that make it easier to share files held in a central repository, usually in the cloud, but even then, they usually use email to alert folks that the files are there.
3. Email is a great low-cost marketing medium.
Marketers love email because its relatively easy and cheap to broadcast messages to lots and lots of people at once. (Sure, the spammers love email for the same reasons, but that just shows that email marketing actually works.) Once you gather a list of addresses -- opt-in, please -- you don't have to pay big bucks to reach them every time. Try that on Facebook or Twitter!
4. Email is a ubiquitous standard.
Unlike all the competing social media networks, all the email services actually work together properly. If you send someone an email, you know they're going to get it, no matter if they use Outlook, Gmail, Yahoo Mail, or a corporate system. And even if those kids don't check their email much, it's pretty likely they at least have an email account. Pretty much everyone does, even if some of them are on Facebook and others are on Twitter and others prefer Snapchat. Email is the place where they all come together. And I don't see anything about to usurp that place at the center of conversation.
Sure, email has plenty of problems, and I'll take a look at them in an upcoming post. But make no mistake - email remains the cornerstone of online communications. Now and forever.