Spammers have got a lot to answer for haven’t they? They are like the noisy children in the theatre, spoiling it for the rest of us and that’s part of the reason for this provocatively titled blog post.

So let’s start by asking, what exactly is wrong with email?

Email is not efficient

When you send a new email message all is fine. When you reply to an e-mail, that generally includes the previous e-mail as part of the message. Some email threads can get very long and each time the message that is being sent has a new reply, it just keeps getting bigger. It is inherently an inefficient way to communicate.

Compare that to instant messaging software, where you retain the history of the conversation and anything new that is sent is just that. The new stuff. I remember from my days as an IBM employee that when they started using instant messaging internally, they found the network bandwidth that was being used dropped dramatically and it was in line with the drop in e-mail usage.

Think also about sharing files. There are much better and more efficient ways to share files than using email. For instance, if you want to share a large attachment with fifty different people, sending an e-mail would send fifty copies of that same attachment to fifty different people, filling up fifty different mail boxes. If you want to share something large, a much better option is to use cloud storage and simply share a link to the file instead, and you don’t even need email to do that.

Spam is a real issue

If there was no spam or junk email in the world, everyone would benefit. Spam accounts for a lot of network bandwidth around the world. In March 2014 spam accounted for over 63% of all email traffic.

Imagine where we would be if all of that congestion was removed. Just imagine.

Now, the sheer volume of spam is not just an issue from a network perspective. It affects each and every one of us that uses email on a daily basis. All of that junk needs to be sorted somehow. Sure there are spam filters, but they don’t always work and they sometimes even mark things as junk that we actually want to read!

The problem is the spammers – the ones that want to sell you viagra or Russian brides or cosmetic surgery, yeah those ones – the problem is the spammers are getting better and more sophisticated at copying regular writing styles. What this means is that a simple e-mail to a friend may well end up appearing to be spam to a junk filter and that is a real issue.

So spam is a problem, but where did it start?

Junk mail

We have had junk mail clogging up our letter boxes since the idea of post was begun. So much marketing material gets posted through our doors it is disheartening.

The problem is that we didn’t ask for it. We don’t ask for junk mail through our front door and we don’t ask for junk mail to our email accounts. It just appears, like an ever increasing pile of human waste.

It is a waste.

I dread to think how many thousands of marketing leaflets and emails get sent out daily to little or no effect. The trouble is, someone somewhere will pick up that leaflet and ring the number, or click on that link and accidentally give away their credit card details. As long as that keeps happening and spammers see a return on their investment, then they will feel justified in spamming.

We are no longer content

The chances are that when you receive junk mail of any type, you automatically delete it or mark it as junk (that’s if the junk mail filter hasn’t already gobbled it up), just like the junk mail through your letter box automatically gets cast into the bin. If junk mail does anything, it is to annoy and infuriate the people that it is targeting.

So, if email is broken and email marketing is not working, how are brands engaging? The answer lies in social media.

Our on-line lives have changed the way we look at brands and expect them to behave. If there is something you like, you can follow the brand on Twitter, Google+ or where ever you choose. The point is, it is your choice. If you decide you no longer want to hear from a particular brand, you can simply stop following them. Easy.

What  is more, if you are following a verified brand page, you can be sure that the messages are genuinely from that brand and not some criminal sitting in a boiler room somewhere unpronounceable, trying to scam you out of your money and soul.

The proof is in the social pudding

The internet is moving ever onwards in so many ways. One trend of which I am personally in favour, is a removal of anonymity.

Anonymity is great you might say, as people are free to say what they want. Well, yes that is true, but it is also the crux of the problem. Without some form of social proof that so and so really is who they say they are, anyone can say anything without fear of reprisal. It is the heart of the problem with email and the reason spammers exist.

Google for example, have been working hard with Google+ to create a social layer for all of their services and by extension that means any website or app that uses the Google login.

Come on, email isn’t really dead

It would be silly to believe that email is dead.

It may not be silly to think that email has been diminished by the actions of a few bad apples. It may also not be silly to see a day when new technologies have superseded the (un)trusty old inbox.

The thing is email may survive, but it may not be how we remember it now. Technological changes may alter the email into something else. A blend of the old with the new perhaps. Gmail is already undergoing changes with the integration of Google+, but it doesn’t have to stop there.

If you have some ideas about where you think the future of email lies, respond in the comments. Certainly don’t send an email, it’s dead after all.

Published by Alan Stainer

After more than a decade as a Lotus Domino admin, Alan set up Alan's IT Solutions. A local business servicing the IT needs of SMEs and domestic clients in the south of England. The creative freedom of running a business led to the creation of Local Hive. A web based project aimed at raising the visibility of small businesses in their local communities, by creating a virtual high street. Alan also writes a column for the West Sussex County Times, giving people practical advice on computing.

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