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It's writer's block, not spam, that's killing email


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September 10, 2006

It's writer's block, not spam, that's killing email

Stephen Baker

Fred Wilson blames AOL's bad spam filters for ruining email for his kids. I disagree, and believe that even the best spam filters would leave lots of young people indifferent to email.

The problem with email is that it obliges writers to come to some conclusions about what they're doing. To sum things up. Even when writing an email about, say, a vacation, the writer has to think: OK, What am I going to say? Should I write about the kid who almost drowned, or about how my father's embarrassing me with his stupid jokes? This involves editorial decisions. One bad decision, one ill-advised email, and yesterday's friend can send it to an entire mailing list, and everyone will get a good laugh (if they're checking their inboxes). So writing involves work, and it has consequences.

It's far easier to type "What's up?" (in one spelling or another) into instant chat and just go with the flow.

I ask my 14-year-old about email. He tells me he checks his Yahoo box about once every two days, mostly for e-commerce and game news. I ask him if he ever writes e-mails. "No," he says. "I don't have long-distance relationships. Why would I write e-mails if I'm going to see the kids at school? I can get on AIM and talk to them."

Of course, the less people in a community use email, the less value it has for those who would. This is the inverse of Metcalfe's Law, and as Fred notes, it's undermining email.

10:30 AM

society, spam and other abuses

The coming End of Email has been predicted by Jakob Nielsen, who I largely agree with, for years. Tech pundits point out how email is considered old fashioned in South Korea and Japan. Business people are using text messaging, blogs, and wikis as alt email apps.

One of my best online techniques is using the comment box of a blog as a faster, more sure way to communicate with a person who has a blog.

If you email that person, your message could be filtered due to some word in the Subject line or an IP it doesn't like. Or your Subject line don't intrigue the recipient, perhaps the recipient thinks your message is spam, when it's not.

But post a comment on that person's blog, and watch what happens.

Video chat and web conferencing may replace email to some extent. People prefer to hear a voice and see the person "live" in real time, to viewing a typed message, in most cases.

In some cases, typed messages are faster and easier to file and archive.

How amazing to live in a time when we are seeing radical, magical technology exploding all around us.

The #1 business survival skill now is Experimentation for mastering new communications tech and gaining competitive edge.

Posted by: vaspers the grate aka steven e. streight at September 10, 2006 01:12 PM

No offense intended to anyone but email seems to be the means with which the, shall we say, older generation likes or prefers to communicate.

There are other ways of communicating on the internet that just seem to elicit quicker responses and are thus preferable to many people, especially the younger generation(s).

Vaspers makes an interesting point about communicating via the comment box of blogs. I have often seen conversations and friendships sprout from that very box. If you watch the timestamps (and are that bored), sometimes you'll see responses within a minute of each other.

In a similar vein, you have large group forums which turn into their own communities. There are at least two forums, for example, that I check, at least, 3-4 times an hour. Similar to the comment box on a blog, you can hold conversations via a forum or have long-winded discussions as you prefer. It also allows you, much like email, to give your responses a bit more thought instead of simply being off-the-cuff.

And then there is always the instant messaging clients. The name speaks for itself.

Increasingly, all of these mediums are also providing means so that conversations or interactions can be saved in some form or other (be it archives or simply logs of conversations). One of the things that, I think, many people used to love about email is that everything could be saved and you wouldn't have to worry about anything being lost short of your email company's servers crashing and burning.

It could be theorised that we young people (I still think of myself as a member of the younger generation although I believe I'm pushing the limits of that term at 23 years of age) are simply impatient and prefer mediums which will facilitate rapid responses. After all, even with my handy Gmail notifier, I may put off replying to an email if I'm just not in the mood to deal with that person. If you were using an instant messaging client and you just ignored it, the person on the other end might message you further asking what happened to you and why aren't you responding.

Personally, I use all the mediums I listed and often find myself typing email-length responses anyway.

So, my point. I agree that spam filtering has little, if anything, to do with the lack of email usage. With the internet, people expect things to move faster and that includes responses to things that are said. Email is simply becoming a much slower alternative to everything else, only used for sending attachments or a last resort means of communication. I could see email becoming the snail mail of the internet (if it isn't already there).

Posted by: Joyce at September 10, 2006 09:05 PM

Well, Vaspers, I agree with you. But just looking at the other side for a moment, there are millions of people raised in the pen-and-ink era who are revelling in the magic of email. I have an elderly cousin who responds to my mails within minutes. Ditto a dear friend of my parents, a priest in his 70s. These people have come across something great. They're bothered, but not deterred, by spam, and not too interested in new alternatives. Also, a lot of school teachers are only now getting into e-mail. It's amazing to me that some of them still resist it.

Posted by: steve baker at September 11, 2006 07:58 AM

Steve Baker: wait till you introduce your email happy older friends to YouTube videocasting.

A $50 webcam from your favorite tech supplier and they'll be uploading videos, broadcasting themselves, they'll be "on tv" in a sense.

We taught older folks that emails are like memos, blog posts are like public emails, podcasting is like radio shows, and vlogs are like your own television channel, starring you.

End of Stardom. Rise of Everyone.

Watch out for the appreciation. New communication venues are sprouting up all around us, why let the shall we say, younger generation, have all the fun?

The leading edge is where all the goodies are. You either heading toward the future, or you're being left behind in a technologically apocalyptic sense.

Posted by: Vaspers the Grate aka Steven E. Streight at September 12, 2006 10:55 PM

In the future, everyone will have his own television channel.

---Tom Hayes

Posted by: TomBomb.com at September 16, 2006 04:30 PM


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