Will Twitter Kill E-mail?

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.