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E-mail is for old farts

Ars Technica article on a fascinating audience trend: Teens – E-mail is for old people.

It’s something that’s come out in interviews I’ve had with people that are 19 or younger. Rather than using e-mail, instead they use text messaging or IM or MySpace. For someone who’s an e-mail/Blackberry addict, this sounds pretty strange. But the reasons underlying the shift make sense:

1) E-mail is hard to use
Although it seems trivial to the rest of us, e-mail is actually reasonably hard to use. Does your friend use andrew1923@hotmail.com or andrew1293@hotmail.com? I forget! The last thing you want to do is memorize another arbitrary string to get ahold of people. Although address books can help, in practice, it’s slower and less convenient than other types. In our interviews with younger folks (again, 19, 20 or younger), people simply didn’t know the e-mails of their friends. Makes me wonder if all those "E-mail to a friend" features will become worthless over time.

2) I want it now now now!
It amuses me that a century ago, the only real way to communicate long distance was by letter, over multiple weeks. Then you had the telegraph. And then the phone. And now everyone has a cell phone – in fact, I remember seeing a little girl about 10 years old riding a bike here in Bellevue (an upscale suburb of Seattle), gabbing excitedly while she rode down the street. It’s as if she was practicing to be a future soccer mom in a Humvee, also gabbing on her cell phone. Either way, all the types of media and interactive communications tools make consumers more and more impatient.

E-mail has a great characteristic, at least for me: It’s asynchronous. That means, for introverted extroverts like me, if I feel like just relaxing for a bit, I can. But for other audience groups, it’s really not that interesting.

3) MySpace is the replacement
One often-known fact about MySpace is that the vast majority of pageviews for the site, other than profile views is checking your messages. In fact, if you ever hang around heavy MySpace users, you’ll hear them talk about how they "need" to check their MySpace. Some people check it hourly. Does that remind you of e-mail? Well, it is – that’s exactly how they use it. But rather than memorizing random addresses, instead, they can click on the picture of their friend (which is already in an "address book" as one of their Top 8) and easily send a message.

I’m curious, though, if this trends holds over time. After all, I don’t see Corporate America moving off of e-mail and e-mail addresses anytime soon. I don’t think Microsoft will have a big MySpace page where all the employees can look each other up (Although Fox Interactive employees might). Furthermore, universities still expose their students to e-mail. So the question is, for those students that go into college and then join the workforce, maybe they will go through an indoctrination and end up on e-mail just like before. Only time will tell.

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