The Future Of Email, 2010 Edition

I thought I'd resurrect a column from the past and see how accurate my predictions were.   Roll your calendars back to July, 2006, when I wrote a column on "The Future of Email." I quoted from an article by Paul Gillin, "New Technology, New Media and New Paradigm," that had just appeared in  BtoB magazine:


"We hear a lot about blogs, but blogs aren't important. What's important is personal publishing, or the ability to communicate a message to a global audience almost instantaneously. Personal publishing will permeate electronic media, providing counterpoint to mainstream sources and adding depth and color to the conversation.

"We hear a lot about podcasts, but podcasts aren't important. What's important is time-shifted media. The phenomenon that started with TiVo has spread to digital audio and will soon capture portable video. Information consumers will no longer be beholden to program schedules or even their living rooms. Our TV shows will travel with us.



"We hear a lot about RSS, but RSS isn't important. What's important is the ability to subscribe to information that really interests us. RSS is mainly used to subscribe to blog posts and podcasts. But in the future, they will use it to subscribe to ideas."

Then I continued: "So, as someone who aspires to effect a change in the paradigm of digital communications and consumer behavior, I put my spin on the future of email using this same logic. I conclude that we hear a lot about email, but email isn't important. What's important is our ability to communicate in a synchronous and asynchronous fashion in a mixed media world. Email will be our notification agent, alarm clock, Post-it Note, pager, cell phone, fax machine, instant messenger, and document management system all combined. It will be supported on any device via many different sources."

I was suggesting that email will evolve and people will develop their own digital signature, voice, personalities, behaviors and preferences, all of which will lead to the customization of the devices and communication patterns. There will be a blur as to what e-mail, RSS and mobile messaging are to the consumer.

Roll forward the calendar and it's 2010.  It seems the challenges we had in making email more effective as a marketing tool are virtually the same: SPAM, deliverability, email's viability as a channel, technology and data challenges.  So, what's changed -- and where will it go in the future?

The thing that has changed the most in our space is awareness:  while email alone gets only a small piece of the pie, organizations have readily admitted that email is critical to customer engagement. Then there's governance. While not many organizations have faced the wrath of the Federal Trade Commission or state governments, there is much more awareness of consumer rights to privacy and respect for permission. There is a much stronger governance in the use of email and database marketing.  

I see amazing progress in the next five years, specifically the speed at which data is made available to fulfill the many needs of a marketing and sales organization.  I see real-time modeling trumping sequenced messaging.  I see dynamic ad presentation that shifts with real-time buying patterns, self-learning models and in-market advertising.

I also see the inbox morphing to be a simpler thing to manage all in one interface. This will allow all the functional values of email to survive. I see the allure of "social" as a cheap viral tool, changing how we build containers for our message.  I see our view of customer value changing to accommodate direct and indirect, synchronous and asynchronous.   I still see email as a critical spoke in your time management hub and spoke system. and the business will not move away fast enough to trump. 

As the history of communication began with simple flashes of information, email will become more of a communication tool, as it was designed to be initially, and less of an information tool.  Watch out, publishers, this will put increased demand on how you evolve your reader bases, how you monetize your lists and how engaged consumers will be in the inbox with reading anything but 400-character chunks.  There is brilliance in the concept of Twitter and microblogging, and I see email returning to the core of this communication chain, at least from a personal prospective.

While the hub may not be your laptop or desktop in 5 years, it will be a super portable device, with amazing memory and connections to your community tools.   Hang tight, all major technological advances in mankind have an impact on "time" and "space" -- so our next generation of email may be so convenient it's not even called email.  

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