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Back in the 1990s and early 2000s, email was the killer application of the Web. With the proliferation of spam, it lost its luster. But it’s back, baby! And the main reason is mobile computing.

Better email spam filters and firewalls, many based on collaborative architectures, have made email safe and effective again. But it’s the advent of the iPhone, the (Cr)Blackberry, and similar smartphones, that has put email squarely back in killer app mode.

Email is growing again. Email is reliable again. Email works again, and it’s wandering around with us, enabling social networks, publication sites, and news sites.

A recent article about Newsmax’s experience with a mobile email launch reminds us not to forget the power of this seemingly retrograde technology. Nothing beats email for awareness, even in these days of Twitter and text messages. Especially for publishers.

So, while the siren song of social networks, Twitter, text messages, and other novel technologies may beckon, remember the old stalwart — email. It still dominates, and even moreso in the world of wearable email devices.

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Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson is the CEO of RedLink and RedLink Network, a past-President of SSP, and the founder of the Scholarly Kitchen. He has worked as Publisher at AAAS/Science, CEO/Publisher of JBJS, Inc., a publishing executive at the Massachusetts Medical Society, Publishing Director of the New England Journal of Medicine, and Director of Medical Journals at the American Academy of Pediatrics. Opinions on social media or blogs are his own.


5 Thoughts on "Email — The Killer App (Again!)"

Email is still the killer app because it is the Internet’s best implementation of push technology (although actual receipt of an email is generally achieved via continuous polling). That’s pretty remarkable considering SMTP is more than 25 years old.

It’s worth nothing that CrossRef and PubMed, two heavyweight systems in our industry, still make extensive use of email for guaranteeing the persistence of message delivery. And that’s on an enterprise application integration level.

Kevin Cohn
Director of Product Management

I totally agree with Kevin. It’s been a bumpy ride, though, and I remember when email seemed imperiled due to spam and phishing and other problems. Now, my iPhone is primarily an email device for all intents and purposes. It is the best push implementation as Kevin notes, and now has a very useful place to go — the device in the palm of my hand.

Luckily, true spam is becoming an anachronism. But my reading, peoples’ problem isn’t spam anymore, it’s volume. Too many e-mails = many get ignored.

One more thing. My teenagers almost never use e-mail, except to reach me, my wife and their teachers. They text everyone else. If teens aren’t using it, what is its future?

True, the younger generation does gravitate to texting . . . and Facebook. In a panel of teens at last year’s O’Reilly TOC, one commented that “e-mail is so ’90s!” and another said they use it just when they have to communicate with adults or when they want to “look professional.” . . . But that was so 2008. . . . I agree, I think e-mail is more important than ever, and I really deliberately use it as my hub of information flow. Case in point: although I’m aware there are many cooler ways to do it (RSS, etc.), I rely on that convenient e-mail alerting me every time there’s a new post to SSP’s Scholarly Kitchen, which is how I saw this one.

“Solitude is painful when one is young, but delightful when one is more mature.”–Albert Einstein

The texting behavior of teenagers, it seems to me, says very little about the value or future of email.

We all know that teenagers do more texting than emailing (especially the ones with unlimited text-messaging phone plans) because texting is a conversation, real-time social interaction, immediately gratifying in a way that email of course is not. (It’s also probably true that most teenage phones are not email capable.) It has long been a cliché to portray teenagers spending inordinate amounts of time on the phone socializing. They now apparently text 7 or 8 times as often as they call to talk, according to the study I saw. But they text for pretty much the same social reasons they used to call, with the added advantage that they can do so with no fear of eavesdropping and in lots of situations in which phone conversations would not be tolerated by their adult tormentors.

Teenagers become adults and, lo and behold, their modes and habits of social interaction change. Even if as adults they continue to text socially, they’ll join the work force where email remains, and for good reasons, extremely important.

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