Is the end of email near? Tech media pundits have been heralding email’s demise with increased frequency lately. But I can’t say I agree. While email’s doom might be on the horizon, I have not yet met anyone not one person, let alone a whole company who has been able to successfully detach himself from email. On the contrary, we now check our email during every waking hour, on our computers and phones. Perhaps the world’s most-used email system is Google’s Gmail, with more than 425 million active users clicking through their daily barrage of messages in more than 57 languages, including Cherokee, Swahili and Tamil! Despite privacy concerns, Google seems to be betting that we will gladly allow them to continue tracking our behaviors and likes online in exchange for all their free productivity tools, particularly Gmail.
Earlier this year, Gmail celebrated their “pottery anniversary” (that’s nine years for all of us husbands who do not keep track of traditional anniversary gifts beyond silver, gold and diamond). That’s it? Just nine years ago there was no Gmail? It’s hard to believe, as they are so present in our daily tech routines today. In our company, we traded our email servers years ago for Gmail under Google’s Apps for business service. A very savvy move, which saved us a ton of money and made our IT guys giddy with the freedom that came from letting Google be the administrator of all our email tech-headaches, thus liberating all of us to sell more parts.
Gmail captured our hearts and minds with its ease of use; but, the killer feature was its ability to search through old emails using Google’s search technology; it’s so quick and accurate that we have turned Gmail into a data warehouse where any message or file attachment can be recalled in seconds often while you’re talking on the phone with the person who you sent the email to originally, but who never read it!
While we find Gmail’s search feature essential to run our business, I can see how this aspect of the service can become one of the shortcomings of email.
I’m certain no email system was ever designed to become a data warehouse; but, leave it to us users to reconfigure systems based on our needs! Usability trumps purpose, yet again. We use Gmail as a data storage repository for fast recall; many of our colleagues save their files right on Gmail, as they find it far easier to find the files later than on their PC’s filing directories. Not to mention, there is really no practical way to save a file on our smartphones other than storing it on email. Google clearly nudged us into this behavior with Gmail’s gargantuan free storage in the cloud, now pegged at 10GB. For most users, that’s years and years of accumulated emails with no need to delete them.
For many of our collaborators, Gmail is indeed a data repository and a very good one. I’m certain many IT experts will raise flags with security concerns and certainly some public companies can’t even use Gmail due to trading and commodities rules; but, from our experience of using Gmail since day one, we have seen it provide us with optimal usability to save data that can then be recalled from any computer or phone around the planet. We have been able to do this, with no downtime and, knock on wood, with not one security concern so far in nine years. I often find myself emailing files to myself, just to know that they will be waiting for me on Gmail when I need them in the future.
Clearly there are many aspects of using email, or more to the point, of abusing email, that are detrimental to the communication efficiency of any company or organization. Oftentimes, we simply use it to assign tasks to one and another instead of doing the actual work ourselves. Moreover, each of us must have our own workflow to manage the unending hourly stream of emails (Have you heard of Inbox Zero?). Truth is, I can easily live with all of this. Our company is widely spread over many states, with customers and suppliers all over the planet. Email keeps us in contact with one another, and better yet, it keeps the data we need to collaborate with each other at our fingertips for instant recall. For that I say: Happy pottery anniversary Gmail, hope to use you when silver and gold rolls around (hint hint, might need more than 10GB free storage by then).