When Slack was founded nearly 10 years ago, it quickly gained the reputation as an aspiring “email killer.” It’s worth noting, however, that none other than Slack co-founder Stewart Butterfield described email in 2015 as “the cockroach of the Internet.” As in, you can’t kill it.
And he was right.
The most recent evidence of email’s durability is Zoom’s announcement this week of an email and calendaring component to its platform (see Dave Michels’ excellent No Jitter analysis of the move). Zoom intends to build a complete platform to challenge Microsoft Teams and has decided email is a critical part of any such platform.
For me, the most telling part of Michels’ post was his statement that, “our inboxes have become a central repository of all sorts of data.” It’s true. When I need to find a report from eight years ago, I search my email archives. Even now that many of us use Box or SharePoint or other online repositories, invariably if someone else needs to let you know they’ve created a document for you to look at online, they (sometimes via the repository) send you an email with the link.
Longer-term, communications and collaboration technologies are converging with workplace productivity, project management, and similar systems, and this trend could diminish email’s role as that central repository Michels described. But it likely won’t eliminate this role, because of the interoperability challenge he cites. Workplace apps tend to be used by internal teams, but there’s still a need to collaborate and exchange information externally as well, which usually requires an interoperable lowest-common-denominator tool.
Another key feature of email is that it’s asynchronous. The value of asynchronous communications comes out in the phrase you see a lot on the Internet, “This meeting could have been an email.” Sometimes (often?) people prefer email to more “modern” forms of communications, for its convenience and efficiency. We’re starting to see collaboration vendors push asynchronous video to help people communicate in a way that fits with post-pandemic work styles. But since we’ve already got email, video will have to prove itself more useful than asynchronous text if this mode is to take off.