Thursday, October 15, 2009

Mobile Gives Life to Yet Another Channel: Email

In last week's blog posting, I mentioned how mobile devices are giving new life to a dying industry: printed publications. Wouldn't you know it, but thanks to an article by Wall Street Journal reporter Jessica Vascellaro - or more specifically the firestorm that is caused, it appears to me in a round about way that mobile devices are extending yet another venerable means of communication: email.

In her piece, "Why Email No Longer Rules...And what that means for the way we communicate", Vascellaro makes the argument that "a new generation of services is starting to take hold—services like Twitter and Facebook and countless others vying for a piece of the new world. And just as email did more than a decade ago, this shift promises to profoundly rewrite the way we communicate—in ways we can only begin to imagine". While I agree with that statement to a certain degree, I do disagree on other points. Social media have not displaced email as a communication platform; rather, I submit, it is that social media have replaced email for only a specific classification of communications. Twitter and Facebook (in the U.S., that is) have replaced the email containing the pithy witicism which was then forwarded to a friend which was forwarded to a friend which was forwarded to a friend which was forwarded to a friend which was forwarded to a friend which was finally forwarded to you which you then forwarded to a friend which was forwarded to a friend...

Now, thanks to tweets and retweets, I can get my fill of banality without having to scroll through three quarters of the email content just to get down to the original topic. Also, thanks to mobile apps like Echofon, I can be connected at all times through my iPhone.

Also, thanks to Flickr and other photo sharing sites, you are spared the merciless torture of sitting in your friends' living rooms watching slide after slide of what they did on their summer vacation, stalking the Speckled Greeb in the underbrush of Albuquerque. You can now choose to view or not view them
at the time and place on your terms.

Since SMS, micro-blogging and social sites have become the media choice for quick bits, email is still the channel of choice for all the things that you'd like to say in more than 160 characters.

Thanks to mobile devices, email is enjoying another growth spurt. Email service provider Exact Target recently published its email utilization report for 2009. According to Exact Target's findings as people grow older, they tend to use email more and more for their communications. This is not to say that they don't eschew the other channels. In fact, according to the CTIA, the average age of a "Texter" is 38 years old.

Also mentioned in Exact Target's report are the findings of Professor Mike Handley, director of the Institute for Mobile Media Research at Ball State University. He explains that "as of September 2009, 38% of students at Ball State University said that use a smartphone. And one of the biggest winners is email. Two-thirds of smartphone owners say they use email on their phone. Only 9% of feature phone ownsers use email. The increased use of mobile email is significant because computer email use by college students has declined over the past five years. The ability for students to have email on their smartphones fits their mobile lifestyles perfectly."

The Radicati Group reports in its latest study, "Wireless Email Market, 2009-2013," that "in 2009, the wireless email market will total 139 million users. Over the next four years, we expect this figure to increase at an average annual rate of 68%, totaling over 1 billion mailboxes by year-end 2013."

So there you have it. The mobile platform is on one hand a platform killer (think PDAs, low-cost digital cameras and GPS devices). On the other hand, it is a platform extender: (printed media and email).

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