Checkin’ The E-Mail

As Strongbad from Homestarrunner would say, “e-mail, the e-mail…” and it appears that the e-mail is getting a second set of legs. George Siemens encapsulated the last week or so fairly well, which got me thinking about what makes e-mail so durable. It’s not a particularly friendly social tool – you have to know an address before you can make any sort of connection. It’s not very searchable, as anyone who’s had an e-mail for any amount of time, you probably also have a lot of junk, despite your best attempts to get your inbox to zero, which reminds me, why do we need to get the inbox to zero again? Why is it so bad to have e-mails unread?

I think the real hook for e-mail is that it’s not complicated to use, the entry point for e-mail is really low. The idea around it is familiar, there’s 20 years of history, and people who otherwise don’t get the Internet and computers get e-mail. It’s a perfect storm of a digital analogy that’s gone right. So what can be learned from this?

First of all, don’t try to create an e-mail killer, try to create an enhancement for e-mail. That’s what Google has done with the¬†prioritize¬†feature (they learned that trying to create a killer ahem, of e-mail is not what people want). Sort it differently, view attachments inline, these are sense making tools that help. E-mail is an increasingly private activity, well, as private as plain text is, in a social web. People want a level of privacy in their lives, which e-mail can provide. Any e-mail killer (really, you shouldn’t try to do this, but if you insist…) will have to have some privacy attached if you’re going to get converts.

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