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What does the future hold for e-mail?

3 min read

Marketing Strategy

As of this writing, Google hasn’t formally announced its plans for integrating some form of social-status updates into Gmail. I’m not going to speculate about what they’re planning — though I encourage you to give it a shot — and to read Augie Ray’s provocative take on the subject.

Instead, I wanted to open up the floor to thoughts on the future of e-mail.

Modern social platforms combine the features of three grandfather platforms: e-mail, instant messaging and message boards. Message boards are almost exclusively public and instant messages are usually private — now that chat rooms are an endangered species. E-mail combines the public and the private in a way that’s so elegant we rarely stop to think about it. You can easily flip back and forth between responding to one, some or all recipients — or even forward it to an unrelated party.

The underlying weakness of every single social network on the Web today is that none of them has managed to emulate the versatility and simplicity that every e-mail service has by default. Of course, e-mail has a huge weakness, too — you can’t use it to speak publicly or contact a person unless you know their address. That weakness is a part of why pundits love pronouncing it dead — something that understandably makes me nervous. But I don’t think it’s dying — I think it’s due for an evolution.

Google tried something really brave and interesting with Google Wave: a product that moves between groups of users and individuals in a fluid way. I’m not prepared to call it a failure at this stage — after all, most people don’t even have the ability to sign up for an account, but I can say that it hasn’t clicked for me yet. It’s not as intuitive as Google seems to think it is, and it doesn’t have potential as a broadcast tool.

Let me tell you my dream. My dream is that Google will take what it learned from Google Wave and use it to make e-mail a really fluid social platform. I want to be able to send a message to small groups about something I’m considering, then easily switch to chat with group members in real time about their input. Then, when I feel the message is ready, I’ll be able to broadcast it across all my networks.

I don’t want to ever have to think about platforms again — only intended recipients. Sure, there are fragments of this now — blog posting via e-mail, Facebook posting via Twitter, etc. But they aren’t integrated and they aren’t elegant.

Whatever Google announces, I know it won’t be that simple. But I hope that someday it can be.

What are you expecting from Google’s announcement? What does your ideal social platform look like?

Image credit, Pablo631, via iStock