In a post by Himanshu Sareen, founder and CEO of Icreon Tech, entitled Enterprise Social Networks May One Day Replace Email, the author makes a case that we’ve heard again and again over the past 4 to 5 years that social will replace email. I understand his point, but excuse me if I disagree.
While there has been much talk of social replacing email, I think this energy is misplaced. The problem with this concept is that our collaboration needs (with email being a major part of those needs) has expanded, and yet email usage has not decreased. IF a company were to only be using a single mode of communication and collaboration (email) THEN a wholesale replacement could happen. In other words, email alone is an insufficient collaboration mechanism, and if given a choice between email or a social collaboration tool, I would argue that the trend is to move toward social.
But the reality is that people want email IN ADDITION TO other social collaboration and communication capabilities. Beyond a few heralded efforts to “turn off” email, the overwhelming majority of firms see no benefit to a one-or-the-other strategy.
Part of the reason is that the walls between networks are coming down. While every social platform provider (Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Apple, and many others) is primarily building a closed network, or possibly with loose ties to other networks, generally speaking one must be a member of — and working inside of — that network to benefit from the social interactions. But increasingly, APIs are being made available that allow organizations and individuals to leverage the capabilities of one network within another. A great example is Slack’s use of bots to leverage actions and notifications across other tools and platforms – even those of competitors. Microsoft and others answered back with their own bot strategies, giving more cross-network power to the end user than ever before.
Back in the early days of instant messaging (IM), if you wanted to communicate with your buddy on AOL’s Instant Messenger platform, you needed to download, install, and run AIM. And if you wanted to chat with a friend who only used Yahoo Messenger, you had to run Yahoo IM. There were a handful of vendors who built unified messaging platforms (I used Trillium myself), but the OEMs were constantly changing their APIs and standards, making it difficult for any of these vendors to truly catch on and become a standard.
Most IM platforms now offer federation out-of-the-box.
And to contest the premise of Sareen’s article — email was one of the first technologies to embrace this openness. I can use my Hotmail account to contact and communicate with someone on Gmail, Yahoo, or any other email platform. And most email apps for iOS, Android, and the 4 people using Windows Phones all allow you to integrate with multiple email platforms. Email is ubiquitous, and remains essential.
The early days of social collaboration had a fundamental flaw in that they limited communication across social networks — the ability to link social activities across platforms and solutions. That flaw is being removed. Microsoft is certainly going after this problem area, between bots, cloud integration, and a robust partner ecosystem. And that is just one ecosystem.
Change is happening at an incredible pace within this space.