Yesterday Sheryl Sandberg proclaimed that “email is probably going away” because teenagers don’t it as their primary mode of social communication. It’s not. Here’s why:
- Teenagers have never used email as their primary mode of social communication, or any form of communication for that matter. Before the explosion of social media, most teenagers opted to use instant messaging to communicate online. Only after people move into a situation where they are forced to coordinate with others who they don’t know very well or don’t have very much face time with (think college professor or business contact) does email become the preferred way to correspond. Once we adjust to email, we start to use it socially.
When old fashioned snail mail was the standard, parents got a lot of mail; kids did not. Teenagers didn’t really need mail then, and they don’t really need email now. The only reason teenagers have email addresses is to sign up for online services, which brings me to my next point….
- We need email as the greatest common divisor of the web. Now that oAuth is widely adopted, email appears to be less important. You can register for almost every new service through twitter, or facebook, or foursqaure, but when push comes to shove, every account you have can be traced back to your email address. It is your unique identifier. While I agree people will start to use email less often, it will never cease to exist. It’s like social security. We’re probably all going to start getting less of it; we may get none of it; but the system isn’t going anywhere because too many other processes would fail if we couldn’t be identified by it.
I’m sure Sheryl Sandberg hopes email goes away; it would only drive more traffic to facebook. In reality, it isn’t going anywhere.