Following Zuckerberg’s announcement about Facebook’s new messaging system, I can hear everywhere yells from people more than glad that something is finally changing the way email is supposed to work in the 21st century, despising the very essence of traditional email itself and spitting on how Google is tied to its “old” Gmail while Facebook is yet again reinventing the wheel.
Jeez, is email so bad?
Not about “what”, but about “how”
It’s not what you use to communicate, but how you use it.
A multitude of people complain about email for the most various reasons. And they are right, just, probably it’s because they are doing it wrong.
I am not the only keeper of email truth in the world, I just think most reactions are a bit exaggerated. It depends on the amount of emails you get everyday, that’s for sure, but it’s a kind of problem that Facebook’s solution won’t solve. Instead of 1000 emails, you’ll get 200 emails, 700 instant messages and 100 SMS.
I don’t exactly call it an improvement.
What people hate about emails
- they are too spammy, often used to push unwanted advertisements, usually regarding the enhancement of your manly performances. If “get an anti-spam filter” sounds too cliche, I’ll go with the unconventional answer: use Gmail or Google Apps for your business, they have an awesome ant-spam filter and it’s free (for most uses);
- they are the spawn of all viruses, fair enough, but it’s full of good anti-virus solutions out there (which you will need anyway), and if you followed the suggestion of step one, Gmail will spare you the trouble altogether. Besides, don’t forget, viruses/trojans are everywhere anyway, so if you get an email with a weird attachment, just don’t open it, really;
- they are too formal, which is one of the reasons behind Facebook’s new system, but I do think that sometimes people perceive the necessity of “formalness” while there really isn’t much need for it at all – adding a “Good morning” on top and a “Best regards” at the end of your email isn’t really troublesome anyway, is it?
- they are too distracting, that’s for sure, but it all comes down to how you use email in your everyday life. A lot of people suggest to limit to 2 times a day your email downloads, so that you can get the replies from customers/business partners in the morning and answer to inquiries in the evening. That’s a good way but, overall, you just have to apply some discipline on your own. Disabling alerts when you receive new mail is a good way so that you can plan in advance when to actually check your Inbox. If you feel too stressed by constantly checking your email, take action and things will get better. Besides, IMs are distracting too (far more, if you think about it), and similarly text messages. They are not a solution;
- they are hard to use, come on, really? I hear this objection sometimes and I am puzzled, especially ’cause most of the times it comes down to some real problem related to the classic Outlook screwup. Get an alternative client (like Thunderbird, for example) and you should be at least saved from sudden changes of mood.
And to counter these objections even more…
What to love about emails
- they have legal value when used through certified email services with official delivery receipt, some countries (like Italy) are planning to switch all official public documents to certified email, aiming to go paperless (it’ll take a while but I appreciate the effort);
- contrary to popular belief, they can save you loads of time, especially when the #1 form of communication preferred by customers still is the dreadful telephone: compare the amount of time and attention needed to answer and engage in a telephone call with the amount of time needed to simply reply to an email;
- they still are very private, probably the last form of private communication if you self-host your email. We did it for a while in my company, a Qmail server with SSL connections, messages are ours and no one else’s. Perfect for the privacy obsessed;
- they are straight to the point, if you go past the need for formal communications, sending an email is as quick as sending a text message, and you can write a lot more in it (unless you already are too used to write 140 characters at a time);
- they are a great excuse when you forget to do something, just pull out the “mmm I didn’t get that last email” stunt and you’ll automatically gain a couple hours to finish that last cumbersome task. Warning: don’t abuse this one;
- they are “effort-reward” friendly, sending an email is instant gratification, a nice endorphin release straight in your brain.
The next big thing
I am fairly sure Google won’t be sitting watching Facebook’s moves for too long.
Back when Wave was released in beta – and I spent weeks trying to get an invite – I had the feeling it was a sort of experiment in the field of a new kind of communication, something not to replace emails completely, but to enhance them and make them more suitable for our modern uses.
I still think that, despite Wave’s lack of success – or rather, Google’s lack of patience with it.
The next innovation in emailing will surely have to take into account the social aspect of it, like Facebook correctly envisioned.
But with Facebook’s past records in privacy issues, who is fully willing to give them access to even more information about our personal sphere?