E-mail lives, but do we need it?

Web 2.0 tools and cloud computing, which are supplanting e-mail in many cases, will become embedded in the business environment, and employees will expect them to be available.

E-mail has long been the easiest way to communicate and store information, moving from an ad hoc tool in the late 1980s to an indispensable information pathway. Desktop office automation tools for word processing, calendars and e-mail became embedded in the business and military environments, and employees expected them to be available at all times.

But now, collaboration is king, and the Internet is the pathway. Web 2.0 tools and cloud computing, which are supplanting e-mail in many cases, will become embedded just as e-mail did before, and employees will expect them to be available.

Does this mean that e-mail is dead? Not quite yet. It means that the use of e-mail has peaked and Web 2.0 and emerging media tools are gradually becoming the predominant communication tools. This is no different than the rise and fall of other tools, such as the newspaper, Morse code, telegraph, typewriter, and broadcast television. These technologies are used today, but not to the degree that they were used in the past.

E-mail is one tool in the messaging and communication toolbox that is rapidly becoming a faithful hammer. The evolving e-messaging environment includes tools such as e-mail, Short Message Service, chat, instant messenger, voice mail, and voice over IP, to name a few. Added to e-messaging are new Web 2.0 tools such as wikis, blogs, RSS feeds and social-media sites that allow for integration of documents and multimedia feeds to enhance content. The government requires proper security and privacy to protect the confidentiality, integrity and availability of the e-messaging content.

Why has e-mail peaked? Frankly, we baby boomers are no longer the majority of the workforce. We number about 75 million and face about 80 million millennials. As these talented young individuals enter the workforce in increasing numbers, they will use tools they are accustomed to. Today, millennials — and others who are willing! — can post information on the Internet for friends and colleagues to see, or they can send a text message to communicate. Opening e-mail messages is so last century.

We are seeing a blossoming of social-media sites that are organized to share information and collaborate. For example, wikis allow authorized users to edit the same document in one location. When e-mail is used to edit documents, version control and aggregation of multiple comments are much more time-consuming and cumbersome. E-mail stores and forwards information to specific users, who in turn can reply or forward the same or updated information to others. Web 2.0 tools open a dialogue in a single location where anyone who has authorized access can contribute to the conversation and content. That allows for more subject-matter experts to participate, more informed opinions and facts to be presented, and more collaborative decision-making. Consequently, the playing field is leveled. Autocratic media is replaced with democratic dialogue, making information more transparent to the community of interest.

E-mail will be here for a while longer. It’s our dependence on it to communicate that won’t be.

NEXT STORY: Web 2.0 can recruit new workforce

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