ups such as Superhuman, Edison, and
Basecamp position their products less
as messaging tools than as personal
assistants, organizers of the threads of
your digital life.
“It’s hard to tell if email is on its way
to becoming obsolete, or on its way to
becoming even more central to how we
do things,” says Jon Kleinberg, Tisch
University Professor of Computer Science at Cornell University and an expert
on social and information networks.
As an example, Kleinberg cites
TripIt, a smart organizer of travel-re-lated email messages. TripIt will sift
through your inbox, harvest travel-related items, update your calendar,
and send you master itineraries. TripIt
combines rules-based heuristics and
artificial intelligence (machine learning and natural language processing)
to recognize and make sense of travel
information from hotels, car rental
companies, travel agents, and the like.
Kleinberg applauds the emergence of
such email-based organizing tools, yet
he cautions, “With all these artificial as-
sistants, there is this trade-off between
the effort they save and the concerns
that they will miss something.”
Microsoft thinks of its Outlook
email product as the basis for personal
time management, and in recent years
Group, 3. 8 billion email users world-
wide will send 281 billion messages
That’s 3. 2 million messages a second—hotel reservations, meeting notices, greetings from friends, product designs, receipts, flirtations, complaints,
requests for help and, of course, spam.
You may feel like a substantial number
of them end up in your inbox.
And yet, some observers say email
is dying. It’s so ‘last century’, they say,
compared to social media messaging,
texting, and powerful new collaboration tools. The youngest computer users don’t use email much, as you know
if you ever tried to email your teenager.
When Alice texts Bob about lunch, she
doesn’t care that her message won’t be
filed in a “lunch” folder and stored in
an archive; she wants something fast,
easy, and informal.
Meanwhile, even the most mature
users decry the manifold faults of email:
its sometimes-cumbersome interfaces,
slow response, lack of flexibility, security holes, and spam.
Finally, a host of software entrepreneurs want you to believe their replacements for old-fashioned email are better in every way.
On the other side of the issue stand
email power users such as Craig Par-
tridge, chief scientist at Raytheon BBN
Technologies (which started out as Bolt
Beranek and Newman). “Email is not
dying,” he says. “It has a core set of func-
tions that no other service has effec-
tively replaced. It gives people tremen-
dous control over how their messages
are handled. Users are not locked into a
particular user interface, and they know
their email will be around, and search-
able, as long as they decide to keep it.”
Partridge, who was voted into the
Internet Hall of Fame last year for his
invention of mail-exchange records for
email routing, praises email’s use of
vendor-independent open standards.
“It prevents walled gardens—the in-
evitable attempt by someone to control
your email flow. That’s especially im-
portant in the corporate world.”
Indeed, Radicati Group says reports
of the death of email are greatly exagger-
ated, predicting email message traffic
will grow 14% over the next three years,
to 319.6 billion messages a day by 2021.
So, is email dying or not? It’s a matter of definition. Just what is “email,”
For decades, basic email has been
And that’s not all. Email is not what it used to be.
based on open standards within the
TCP/IP suite of protocols. These include
SMTP, for sending messages between
servers, and POP and IMAP for reading
or retrieving messages from servers.
Most applications users think of as
email today go way beyond those basic
message-handling functions. Popular
email clients such as Gmail, Outlook,
Yahoo, and Thunderbird include pow-
erful and intuitive user interfaces, inter-
faces to other applications, spam filters,
and tools for managing, organizing, ar-
chiving, and searching messages.
The newest offerings from start-
You’ve Got Mail!
2017 2018 2019 2020 2021
Total Worldwide Emails Per Day,
Technology | DOI: 10.1145/3213776 Gary Anthes