MIAMI--The way people have been talking about e-mail at the Future of Web Apps conference, you'd think it were a cell phone carrier or a domestic airline. It's antiquated, it's backward, and everybody hates it.
Kevin Marks, a Google engineer and Technorati veteran, said in a talk about the company's OpenSocial project and Social Graph APIs that e-mail is a "strange legacy idea."
"E-mail has died away for a group of users. For the younger generation, they don't use e-mail," he said, talking about the young Web users who have started to abandon e-mail for Facebook messaging and mobile texting. "They see it as this noisy spam-filled thing that annoys them every day...they see it as how you talk to the university, how you talk to the bank." Marks pointed to technologies like OpenID that promote the notion that online identities these days are defined by so much more than e-mail addresses--URLs and social-networking profiles, to name a few.
Marks wasn't the only one expounding upon e-mail's suckiness. Earlier in the day, WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg inferred that overwhelming volumes of spam were making Web users explore options other than e-mail.
And when a lively group of Web 2.0 elite (including Mullenweg, Digg's Kevin Rose, Pownce's Leah Culver, and Flickr's Cal Henderson) tackled a panel led by TechCrunch's Erick Schonfeld that involved creating the concept for a new Web app in 45 minutes, their end result was a product that would make e-mail less of a headache by making sure that users reply to everything. (It was done in 45 minutes, so the specifics weren't totally ironed out.)
To top it all off, when I had a meeting with Marks on Friday morning, we used Twitter direct messaging rather than e-mail to confirm the time and location.
That was before Twitter suffered a downage when the start-up's architect, Blaine Cook, was giving a talk later in the day at FOWA and his phone kept ringing with calls from the site's server administrators. Twitter's unreliability is well-known, and certainly calls into question the fact that all these messaging start-ups and social-networking features that are supposedly killing e-mail still might not be stable enough to overhaul the way we communicate.
The recent high-profile e-mail provider crashes, however, provide a counterpoint.