Will Twitter Kill E-mail?

| Editorial

The emergence of Twitter has everyone talking. And, of course, talk is cheap unless one makes a strong point. These days, I see a lot of talk about e-mail dying, supplanted by Twitter. Here's why it isn't going to happen.

Those who know me know that I like to make points by synthesizing disparate ideas, not by making bold, emotional claims. The truth is almost always deeper, more complex, and bound by competing considerations than a simplistic move by everyone.

Physicists like to talk about the probability, calculated by Statistical Mechanics, of all the air in a room moving to one side and suffocating the inhabitants. It can happen, but the probability is such that it's unlikely to happen or have ever happened in the lifetime of the universe. Similarly, the probability of everyone abandoning e-mail and moving solely to Twitter is also remote.

On Thursday, Loren McDonald wrote, from an e-mail marketer's perspective: "Because so much personal communication is happening on social networks now, what's left in the inbox is commercial messages, social-network notifications, time-sensitive alerts like payment-due requests or appointment reminders, and, of course, a bit of spam."   

I think that's right on. What e-mail did well in some limited sense, Twitter does better and faster. (No Spam.) What e-mail is still good at is the things listed above, and so, its texture as a communication medium will change.

In addition, e-mail is 30 years old, and Twitter is about two years old. Twitter may change a lot in the next few years as the hype drives it in new directions with new capabilities. Of course, duplicating e-mail is not one of the features needed in Twitter, so we can expect to see e-mail continue to be used for certain purposes.

In a sense, Twitter cures the Spam problem of e-mail, speeds up communication, and socializes us better. It's essentially the idea of a New Internet (free from Spammers) implemented instead as a new technology on the Old Internet. With that kind of creativity, we can expect to see Twitter grow enormously, but in its founder's and the community's desire to cash in, also suffer problems that we haven't yet foreseen.

E-mail will continue to thrive as a result, also morphing into something that complements Twitter and Twitter's descendants. The net result is that life won't get simpler, it'll just get more complex.

Time to buy a bigger display.



I just submitted my monthly expenses to my company. A spreadsheet, a PDF snapshot of another spreadsheet, and a multipage PDF of all my receipts. Over 3Mb of data. Could you do that with Twitter? How about two years from now when they audit and want to see all my correspondence. Will Twitter be backed up on our server? For that matter we send data interoffice via e-mail on a secure network. Is the data on Twitter secure?

Twitter will continue but it just does not do what me and my business need. E-mail will continue for the foreseeable future because it does do what we need. 

John a couple of weeks ago we corresponded about Twitter. I was going to give it a try. Well I did. This morning I deleted the client because I found it utterly useless. I subscribed to TMO and found it duplicated my existing RSS feeds. My company does not use it because of the above mentioned lack of a permanent record. Lastly I looked around and quickly realized that I really don’t want to hear anyone’s stream of consciousness thoughts. If it’s important enough for me to give a **** about, put it in an article or at least a blog. Otherwise I have too many things going by me in a given day to care.

So you all have fun, but not all of us are as enamored with Twitter as you folks at TMO seem to be. It is another tool, but for me it’s like handing a scalpel to a carpenter. Twitter just doesn’t do anything I need.

Lee Dronick

As Geoduck says.

John Martellaro

geoduck:  The physicist in me agrees completely with you.  However, have you considered that the brand of social communication you’ve just created in your comment itself is essentially what many of us achieve on Twitter?  Except we’re bound by 140 characters and, maybe, a tinyurl.

Everyone has to approach Twitter on his/her own terms. Don’t follow those stream of consciousness people and tune in to stuff that’s valuable to you.  Believe it or not, the guy some love to hate, John Dvorak, had some good insights on this. 


- J.M.


geoduck, I think he means in regards to personal usage of email. Not so much for important docs and business/work related emails.

More so email between family, friends, and associates. By the use of such things as twitter, and facebook for that matter, the only people that can contact you are people that you allow into your circle (for lack of a better word), therefore completely cutting out spam and unimportant emails.

I don’t think that email will ever be 100% replace - kind of like the fax machine. But I definitely think new technology will replace its dominance as todays main communication.


Cell phones haven’t replaced land lines, and text messaging hasn’t replaced phone calls. Twitter definitely has its own little niche market, and at present it seems like most people are either completely enamored with it or wish it would die. In any event… it certainly won’t replace email.


Yes I’ve noticed the parallel between Forums and what we now call “Social Networking”. The difference is 140 characters. That’s just too short for me. Could I have distilled this message, or my first message into a line and a half? I think not. At least not without being absurdly trite.

I can see that it would be more of a personal tool. The people who love Twitter are connected through Twitter. That’s not true of my circle. Not one single member of my family, including my 20 something nieces and nephews, are on Twitter (including my niece with the iPhone). Also, a high proportion of my personal e-mails are of the “hey look at this picture I just took” variety. Twitter won’t make a dent in that unless it will carry attachments.

Twitter is a tool. If it works for someone, that’s great. Maybe someday it will evolve into something that fits my needs. E-mail does. My web site does. Right now Twitter doesn’t even come close.


I don’t know guys. Between Twitter, text messaging, push and RSS through mobile Safari on my iPhone, this actually might hold some water. It’s like my own personal internet, and it’s awesome. I definitely agree with John that at the very least, the future is beginning to take form here.

Glen Bledsoe

140 characters? That’s about what you get in the wall around the urinal, ain’t it? About as personal as well. “Dear Everybody. Gotta make this quick…” Twitter ain’t for me. If I want to write somebody, I write somebody. I am what I am, and I ain’t no mewling twitterer.


I’m going to go in a different direction with this. I actually feel sorry for those for whom Twitter can and will replace email. I mean, what kind of life must you be living for it to be summarized in 140 character snippets? Maybe I’m getting old, but the whole concept bores me. Oh, sure! I could follow Lance Armstrong’s daily musings, gaffs, etc. but why? I gain nothing. He gains a following. What do you know! A new method of creating a pecking order…. of flexing your muscles…. Sorry, but if Twitter is the height of mobile tech, then it is also the depths to which we can sink. I’ll pass.

And, since I know I’m not alone in my thoughts, I think it is safe to say (as you tried to put it with a physics model) “It ain’t gonna happen” that Twitter replaces email. Nor these forums, nor anything else.

I think it’s also safe to say that there is no spam on Twitter—yet…


Lee Dronick

I mean, what kind of life must you be living for it to be summarized in 140 character snippets?

Sometimes I get the feeling that the movie Idiocracy isn’t a comedy, but a prophecy.

Twitter is just a tool, but not the only one in the box.


This just in: the “Smile and Nod” will make “Hello and a Handshake” obsolete.


there are a host of other emails, which twitter can sadly not be a substitute to. these are business emails which relate to collaboration - working together on documents, assigning and tracking tasks, having discussions etc. this greatly contribute to email overload as everyone tries to talk to everyone in these many-to-many situations.

a good alternative is online collaboration tools, which are growing in popularity and offer many productivity benefits. we had recently done a whitepaper on the subject - http://hyperoffice.com/business-email-overload/

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