WBUR

Is Email As We Know It Dead?

Twitter Android application on a generic smartphone (hankenstein/Flickr)

Twitter Android application on a generic smartphone (hankenstein/Flickr)

Email use is declining as more users adopt social media platforms and real-time mobile-chat applications, according to Wednesday’s conversation on WBUR and NPR’s On Point.

The shift from email to newer forms of communication is the result of a consumer trend favoring real-time communication methods offered by applications like Twitter, SMS text messaging, WhatsApp and Kik.

“You see things like email — and even Facebook to some extent in terms of how it’s evolved — looking more like it’s five minutes ago, it’s 10 minutes ago,” Mashable tech editor Pete Pachal said in the interview with Tom Ashbrook. “It’s not what a lot of people demand in their communication all the time, and so they’re turning to these other, more specialized apps that serve that very specific need to communicate with people in real-time.”

Some mobile apps also lower the bar to activate and engage in conversation. Snapchat, a real-time photo-sharing app that self-destructs a message within seconds of it being received, enables a user to open and send a photo with a few simple hand gestures. The time between thought and message is reduced.

“I think mobile and instantaneous go hand in hand,” David Gerzoff, professor of media relations at Boston’s Emerson College, said in the same interview with Ashbrook. “And when you’re thinking about email it does take a while to send and receive.”

The decline in email use also has economic roots. Many applications being used instead of email are free to download. The only cost the user incurs is measured in the form of data, which costs much less than the $0.20-per-text message some carriers charge.

“It’s really one of those things that’s a bit overpriced,” Pachal said. “If you look at what it actually costs the carriers to use and to implement SMS on their networks, it’s much less than what you’re actually paying for. And that’s a huge factor.”

But email isn’t the only platform to suffer. With the rise of mobile and chat-based apps, some young people have even abandoned Facebook, opting to use it only in certain cases.

Alex Hermacinski, a 15-year-old freshman at Wellesley High School, is one of those people. She joined On Point’s conversation and explained how she uses the platform:

I really only use Facebook for study groups. Say there’s 90 kids in my grade that have the same teacher — we’re all in one group so we can communicate, ask questions, and maybe share study guides.

That the next generation is leap-frogging some platforms may not be surprising; that often happens as new technologies are introduced and improved upon. But from a business perspective, the speed at which these platforms are being replaced is remarkable, Gerzoff said.

Perhaps the Facebook-Android event expected on Thursday will lend some additional insight into what the platform will do to address the emerging real-time communication trend.

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