Will Social Networks Replace Email? 

Author: Jim Lundy
Date: September 30, 2011
Topic:  Social Software, Collaboration
Research Note Number: 2011-13

Issues:  What are the trends in Social Software?

What are the trends impacting Collaboration in the enterprise?

Summary:   In the Facebook era, social networks have begun to replace email as the primary form of interaction between coworkers, customers and partners. Email will not disappear soon but its role in enterprise collaboration is beginning to shift.

People today use multiple ways to communicate and collaborate, and one of the fastest-growing is via social networks like Facebook. Email is a proven way to communicate, but today it is often used primarily to share content. As a result, a lot of critical information is locked inside email repositories. This RN discusses how email’s role in the enterprise is changing and beginning to be superseded by other collaboration modalities, such as social networks and real-time collaboration.

Email was designed to mimic and replace the physical delivery of paper mail and memos, and it has faithfully fulfilled that mission for most of the past 40 years. Email was ill-suited to many of the tasks it was being used for, but because it was available to nearly everyone – and other applications such as content management were not– email took on the heavy burden of serving those needs as well.

The result has been “email overload” and user fatigue from wading through hundreds of emails a day. Younger workers entering the workforce have already shunned email in their college years partially due to their comfort level with other mediums, such as texting and wall posting on consumer social networks like Facebook. Today, other collaboration options can speed up information dissemination (see note 1), leaving email to play a smaller role than the central one it once had.