Email: An Endangered Medium?

Unless you're behind the push to use alternative web-based mediums for communication, the idea of email becoming extinct anytime soon may seem dubious. But chances are strong that you used web-based email less in 2010 than 2009.

A recent comScore report, The 2010 U.S. Digital Year in Review showed that web-based email usage was down for just about every age group under 55 from 2009-2010, with the 12-17 age bracket showing the largest decline at a staggering -59%!

Web-based email, or webmail refers to email accessed through a browser, so think Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo mail, etc. as the majority of email usage analyzed in this report.




This means that the groups of people who make up the majority of internet users and have the most experience with email are now actually shifting away from the medium.

The report also noted that email usage among seniors has increased, which isn't surprising as a larger percentage of seniors today have had more exposure to the web than their predecessors.

So what was attributed to the shift? The report also went into detail on what sites people spent their time on. It showed time spent on webmail sites declined while social networking sites increased drastically.


People are spending more time on social networking sites and less time on email sites and there's no doubt a connection: the purpose of both channels is centered around connecting and communicating with one another.

Perhaps Zuckerberg Was Right

Last fall Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg predicted the death of email when he introduced Facebook's new messaging interface.

"We don't think that a modern messaging system is going to be email," Zuckerberg said at a press conference in San Francisco. "We want people to be able to communicate in whatever way they choose: email, text or Facebook message."

Facebook has simplified the way users communicate with the new email system, modeling it after instant messaging and other online chat boards. Users are now able to communicate through Facebook via text, email or instant message and receive communications from all of these avenues through one news feed. Users typically value when related information from a variety of channels is consolidated into one place and that's what Facebook's messaging interface is trying to accomplish for users. And with over 500 million users with active Facebook accounts, it's certainly playing a big role in the decrease of web email usage.

Will Business Email Follow Suit?

Many organizations with well established IT departments have typically hosted email in-house, whereas others as of lately have turned to cloud email services like Gmail in an effort to cut costs. While many companies and large universities are making the switch to cloud-based email services, will they make another shift towards using social networks to communicate?

If the usage of social networks continues to increase, which it's expected to do,  then we can probably expect more workplace-focused social communication tools to gain adoption - the kind of social sites business managers would actually like their employees to be on all day.

4 comments about "Email: An Endangered Medium?".
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  1. Liz Lynch from Demandware, June 14, 2011 at 3:54 p.m.

    Hi Sean,
    There was a lot written about this report and the implications for email marketers when it first came out.
    While it's true social time increased and email time decreased, I don't think that means email will eventually disappear in favor of social communications, either for consumers or businesses.
    In a report from ForeSee, consumers said email was their preferred channel for communications from retailers. They like brands on Facebook and follow them on Twitter, but they still want to get personalized offers in their inbox.
    Facebook messages is great for personal communications, but looking at HTML messages sent to my Facebook email address is not a great experience, since it's text-based only, so I don't see people giving up Hotmail for Facebook unless they have HTML support.

    You can check out our take on some of the other data in the report on our blog here:


  2. Kurt Johansen from Johansen International, June 14, 2011 at 5:20 p.m.

    Hi Sean, this is an interesting observation with a major flaw for me and that is: Email is presumed to be 'the' channel of social interaction. For business purpose email is a channel to do business or communicate with clients as they sit at their desks or are mobile with Smart Phones etc.. What this means to the email marketer is nothing really changes. Email Marketing is about the 1. The List 2. The Relationship with the List and 3. The Offer. Whether people receive their emails via a PC or a hand help device it will still come through email - personally and direct to a person. Nobody knows but I can't see businesses giving up email in favour of allowing social networking sites into the lives of their staff. In fact many organisations have strict rules against it because of the distraction it can create. So for me Email Marketing will live on and be a necessary arrow in the armoury of business marketing. Kurt Johansen Australia's Leading Email Marketing Consultant to the Small/Medium Business Sector.

  3. Andrew Kordek from Trendline Interactive, June 14, 2011 at 11:01 p.m.


    Lets look at the operative terms in use here. "Web based email" usage is down. Did anyone stop to think that the reason web based email usage is down from 2009-2010 is that the rise in mobile usage to check email? I mean hasn't the smartphone and the use of tablets coupled with desktop clients usage theoretically eroded the numbers associated with people checking email on their web clients?

    While I believe that comScore's report has some merit, I wouldn't hang my hat that most people are abandoning the email platform altogether in favor or social networks.

    In fact, I would be willing to bet money that the usage of email has in fact increased with the ease of deployment with such mobile devices.

    The notion of business' moving to a more social platform to conduct communications is somewhat silly and counterproductive. Not sure you have logged into FB messages lately, but that is quite possibly one of the most horrific email/communication experiences I have ever seen. The mere notion of large scale organizations such as IBM, GE or Oracle moving their entire communications structure to a social platform for communication would require a UBER fundamental shift in how these and the many thousands of organizations do business. It would be a compliance nightmare, a privacy tsunami waiting to happen and an IT integration FUBAR.

    In fact, I would challenge ANY organization in today's climate to take this leap and switch their email platform to a more social form of communication.


  4. Liz Lynch from Demandware, June 16, 2011 at 11:22 a.m.

    Hi Sean,
    I've been using Salesforce Chatter a little bit with a couple of groups, but it's not something I can monitor all day, so I have it set up to email me when something is posted!
    I agree with Andrew that it would take a huge shift in mindset to switch to a corporate social communications platform, and I don't think the benefits are there yet. However, as the workforce becomes more saturated with "digital natives" who grew up using social tools, that could change.

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