The number of deplorable email products on the market today is staggering. Whether you use a private email service at your firm like Microsoft Exchange or you’re using a cloud based product like GMail or Yahoo Mail you’re faced with the same headaches: SPAM, volumes of interesting but unsolicited email, organizational headaches, attachments, folders, contact management and, inevitably, a 1990s user interface. 

But we’re at a technological inflection point where the convergence of social media, cloud storage, ad hoc peer-to-peer technology and mobile, always on platforms should provide us with a means to reinvent the email.

I suspect that among certain demographic groups the amount of email among trusted friends has dropped dramatically due primarily to products and applications that connect to Facebook, Twitter and SMS. But that gives rise to another organization problem: where was that last communication from my friends: in a Tweet, a LinkedIn email, and SMS on my phone or in an email.

Then there is the attachment problem; physically linking a file and not a reference to a message. How do we ween our peers from the habit of attaching multi-megabyte files to emails instead of referencing them through a shared public or private location accessible though a URL.

The sheer number of ways in which we can communicate has led to social media unification products like TweetDeck which tries to combine all social media streams into a singular interface. It’s handy for real time streams but it lacks access to a historical memory and provides rudimentary, agonizingly slow search. 

Facebook has created Timeline that does a great job of cataloging communications across the time dimension but provides little in the way of categorization or search. That works well if you only use Facebook to communicate to friends and family. 

Google is attempting to solve this problem by integrating G+ with Gmail and Google Search. Yet the G+ APIs are immature and provide no way of integrating multiple social streams, unless of course they all terminate as a plug-in to G+. 

On the enterprise side of the equation we have the eponymous Jive and Yammer as well as Chatter from Salesforce.com. Each attempts to manage micro blogging, the creation of trusted groups, security, cloud based attachments and a set of rich APIs that support the integration with intranet, extranet and internet properties.

Unfortunately these enterprise tools are islands. Each survives through differentiation, price disruption and through an integrated product offering. They don’t integrate with each other though and this poses a problem that email just doesn’t have.

But our email infrastructure does possess: 

  • a well documented and standardized protocol (iMAP and SMTP) that all email services and service consumers understand.
  • an addressable endpoint - an email address that supports delivery from any sender.
  • the ability to deliver message payloads across heterogeneous service providers - due to the protocol and the adherence of the service community to that protocol
  • the ability to forward, attach and reference content within the message payload.
  • an infrastructure supportive of various clients capable of consuming messages.
  • the capability to thread discussions
  • a secure store requiring authentication to allow access

So how will social media kill email. It won’t be easy, but in future posts I’ll try to outline what I believe can be done to support the aggregation of the social stream.