Are we facing the death of email?

First the Twitterati logged off. Now a high-tech office has abandoned it altogether. So is the writing on the wall for our most popular form of communication? Adam Sherwin gets the message

Imagine it: a life freed from the drudgery of deleting an inbox full of "unbeatable offers" and the latest missive on paper clips from head office. Email could follow the telex into the dustbin of communication tools we have loved and discarded if Thierry Breton, CEO of the information technology services company Atos, is a guide to the future.

Breton is to ban his staff from sending each other emails, complaining that they waste time and are outmoded. Only 10 per cent of the 200 electronic messages his employees receive per day turn out to be useful, Breton claims. "The deluge of information will be one of the most important problems a company will have to face [in the future]. It is time to think differently," he claimed.

Internal email will be phased out inside 18 months at Atos. The 75,000 staff will instead use instant messaging and chat-style collaborative services inspired by social networking sites such as Facebook or Twitter. Atos staff used to spend between five and 20 hours a day dealing with email, but use of Breton's replacements has cut its use by up to 20 per cent, the firm claims.

His strategy has already been adopted by teenagers, who are shunning the now middle-aged email, which was first developed in 1971. Email use is down 31 per cent among the 12-17 age group this year, with a further 21 per cent slump among those aged 18-24.

Mobile Instant Messaging (IM) services such as Blackberry Messenger and Yahoo! Messenger, designed to facilitate low-cost, real-time communication around each X Factor performance, have supplanted ponderous email for the tech-savvy next generation. Mobile IM users are predicted to exceed 1.3 billion worldwide by 2016.

It's a development which Mark Zuckerberg sought to capitalise on with Facebook Messages, the social network's "modern messaging system", which merges text messages, IM and email into a single interface for 750 million users. "High school kids don't use email, they use SMS a lot," the 27-year-old technology pioneer said. "People want lighter-weight things like SMS and IM to message each other." For users, IM offers the immediacy that an email, often left unread, cannot.

However, if those teens are fortunate enough to find jobs, they are likely to still find themselves enmeshed in email's spam-blighted, sclerotic grip. The proportion of companies sending more than 50,000 emails each month has gradually increased in the last four years, from 40 per cent in 2007 to almost two thirds (60 per cent) in 2011. Spam still accountsfor an estimated 89 per cent of all emails.

Tim Walters, senior analyst at the technology research company Forrester Research, said: "Email is disruptive, wastes a great deal of time and it's miserable as a collaborative tool. But it's still used daily by 85 per cent of workers." He added: "Email isn't a beast to be killed. Sometimes it's the most appropriate tool for communication. Other timespeople send them thoughtlessly or to coverthemselves at work. And in government, emails have much greater potential for future discovery than IM."

What could replace email as a hassle-free, more collaborative communication tool? Yammer, a micro-blogging "Facebook for business" which allows groups of employees to share ideas through private communication, is now used by more than 80,000 firms.

Breton has introduced the Atos Wiki, which allows all employees to communicate by contributing or modifying online content, and Office Communicator, the company's online chat system which allows video conferencing, file and application sharing.

If email is dying, it will be a lingering demise. Without a ready audience through email, deal-a-day website Groupon would not have built a network of 143 million subscribers. More than 107 trillion emails will be sent this year, while the IM industry is hampered by fragmented services whichdo not communicateeach other.

But the Instant Messaging Generation Y, when they break into the workforce, are likely to demand new, liberating communication tools and free us from the web of email despair. Mr Walters said: "The Atos directive is working because the average age of their employees is 35 – it reflects their young workforce."

How to switch: The alternatives replacing email

Twitter

Widely used for newsgathering, broadcasting and simply passing time, but has not become a major communications tool, although it does have a private messaging service.

Facebook

What unites most users is that it is a personal communications tool, rather than one to be used at work.

Google Docs

Create a document, save and publish it and allow people to share and edit it: simple and effective. Could be used to post messages to large numbers of people at once.

BBM/WhatsApp

Instant messenger services are already widely used; the newer version is mobile instant messaging apps.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - ASP.Net, C#

    £28000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This business IT support compan...

    Recruitment Genius: Software Tester

    £20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Software Tester is required t...

    Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst - 1st Line Helpdesk - West London - £25,000

    £18000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst - 1st Line Helpde...

    Recruitment Genius: Fundraising Manager / Income Generation Coach

    £21000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A smart software company locate...

    Day In a Page

    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project