Is email here to stay?

Earlier this month, Google Wave celebrated its first birthday, and in May it stopped being an invitation-only site and opened up to everyone. So I felt it an appropriate time to raise the question in the title.

When Google Wave was unveiled, it was touted as the way email would have been created it was invented today. For brief communications email is fine, and if a ‘snail mail’ type of communication is required, but in the modern world where email has become more of a collaboration engine, a plethora of emails get created around a discussion issue and it can be difficult to track or recall the full flow of the discussion. Google came up with Wave as a better way to communicate and collaborate using the Internet, HTTP and a browser.

Actually, the original title of this blog was “the end of as as we know it” – but I started planning it some time ago before I (and others) discovered how difficult it was to get people to use Google Wave. In my opinion, the problem for Google is that email has been a paradigm that has developed and strengthened over 40 years, and it would take something extremely innovative and convincing to get people to move from email en masse. Nevertheless, the introduction of Wave has led to other IT companies getting on the same band-wagon, so IBM is working on Vulcan, and SAP is developing StreamWork.

To answer the question in the title, the answer seems to be ‘yes, email is here to stay’, that is until a sufficient motivation can be found to get people to stop using traditional email, or the transition is relatively seamless. This conclusion was also reached by the Forrester analyst group. In discussing why Google Wave wasn’t successful, an interesting comment was made:

 Google’s decision to release Wave as a platform, instead of a product, was both a curse and a blessing.

If Google has held back on Wave for a little longer and released it to the developer community without all the fanfare that it had, it might have been able to release a ‘product’ which was easier for the average user to adopt and leverage.

When it comes to technology innovation, Microsoft has proven that it is not necessarily at the cutting edge but it catches up pretty quickly. This can be seen in the announcements around Office 2010 and Sharepoint 2010, including co-authoring and unified communication. I think it is quite likely that Microsoft could deliver a communication and collaboration tool that runs inside Outlook, making the transition from email to the ‘new communication style’ easier for the vast  majority of Office and Outlook users.

I would be interested to get some opinions – can Microsoft do it, will Google Wave ultimately triumph, is the ‘new communication paradigm’ valid and feasible?

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