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Email, Mother of all Social Networks or just a Parallel Universe?

Posted on | January 6, 2008 | No Comments

In Email Blows Away All Other Social Networks, Max Kalehoff makes a fairly straightforward case for email’s dominance as a communication platform. Quoting a recent Pew Internet & American Life Project survey which found that 91% of Internet users between the ages of 18 and 64 send or read e-mail, far more than any social network.

In fact – he says – email is so dominant that it’s the single open-source backbone of nearly every social network. Think about it: Most social networks require your email address to sign up. Then they try to upload your email address book in order to communicate with your contacts.

There’s a lot of hoopla about email losing relevance with younger generations, and therefore heading toward extinction. Baloney. The fact is that kids’ primary communication devices are mobile, not computers optimized for email. Therefore they use those devices’ best application: SMS and voice. But once kids graduate, take on business responsibilities and (many) sit in front of a PC all day long, email becomes a hard fact of life.

Consider, however another point of view by Joshua Porter who wrote Social Networks are Killing Email:

According to [Joshua’s friend] Bill, who teaches [at Michigan State], 94% of the 45,000 students – in a recent survey at [the] University – have Facebook accounts. That’s a high percentage of people! This number is probably not indicative of the whole campus, but it suggests that it could be well over 50%.

… so many students use chatting tools and social networking sites that MSU is even considering phasing out the #1 internet tool of the last 30 years: email accounts. Because students are online all the time and messaging through other means, there is little need for personal, school-based email accounts. Everybody simply uses the built-in tools in the virtual spaces they inhabit.

I wonder how many use Gmail or Yahoo Mail instead of an MSU account.

Josh quotes the father of a MySpace user who said that he tried to email his daughter using regular email and she never responded. He asked her why and she said, “I use MySpace for email. Send me mail there”. So he created an account and now he messages her there. Wow.

This tremendous uptake seems to make sense. Why email someone outside of the context that we’re in?

Another problem with email is spam.

None the less, as college students move on – joining other tribes – like the workforce – what then? Does email die with the current generations who covet it or does it become a parallel universe to the social networks we increasingly inhabit? And what does the future hold for social networks?

In another article, Max Kalehoff complains of his bought of socialnetworkitis (sounds itchy Max). He offers the following insights which offer some thought to the future:

How will online social networks evolve? Already, we’re seeing that the most successful ones are often those that enable preexisting networks of people to pursue their networks’ objectives more easily. While that trait will continue , I believe the more successful social networks will be those we take for granted because they elegantly fall into the background while still creating value. Many will even become as utilitarian as search, where the objective is not to hang out and spend time, but to connect, transact and get the heck out. Some social networks will even travel with us wherever we go, and be present when we need them — versus us going to them. The best ones will be open and compliant with one another, for often the best way to deliver value is to direct someone somewhere else.

How email fits into this picture is still a question of evolution – interesting none-the-less. What this means for marketers, is subject for another post…

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