Ghost Sites of the Web

Web 1.0 history, forgotten web celebrities, old web sites, commentary, and news by Steve Baldwin. Published erratically since 1996.

June 05, 2004

The Death of E-Mail

John Dvorak - one of the brightest, most seasoned columnists around, believes that e-mail, once heralded as the golden key to a truly connected world, is dying.

In his May 24th column for PC Magazine, Dvorak cites Spam as the main culprit in e-mail's decline, but does not spare who have lost a proper degree of "dedication" to the instituion of e-mail from his wrath:

E-mail is a system that requires dedication from all users. You cannot take a month off and discard all your messages from that month. Years ago, before the spam problem, people could go on vacation and come back and clear out their in-boxes. But if you go away for seven days today and let your in-box languish, you can have up to 5,000 messages to clear. Mail gets lost in this process. Besides getting less mail myself, I'm noticing more and more messages disappearing into the ether, never to be answered.

This is a shocking statement coming from Dvorak, considering his weight in the technology business. I don't know a person in the world who wouldn't reply immediately to an e-mail from Dvorak (except, perhaps for Walter Mossberg). If his messages are "disappearing into the ether", well, one can only imagine what's happening to the messages of 2nd and 3rd-tier tech journalists.

Dvorak sees, accurately, that another force killing e-mail is "the lack of sustainable addresses and directories", i.e. users' drifting e-mail addresses, plus the unwillingness of institutions such as Hotmail and AOL to allow efficient forwarding. Don't look for this to change anytime soon - I suspect that the only reason that AOL is even alive today is that people are unwilling to give up the e-mail addresses they got years ago, and if AOL suddenly decided to let them transfer them, the service would collapse within weeks.

Is Dvorak full of crap? Well, don't try to IM him about it (he doesn't use it), or send him e-mail (he's got a multi-layer heuristic spam protection system that's so sophisticated that it's probably capable of deleting your message before you even finish writing it). You could chat about it in PC Magazine's forums, but you'd have to divulge a lot of personal information (and you know where all that leads).

My advice is just to shut up and weep quietly. E-mail is dead, another pillar of our unified knowledge economy has collapsed, and we should all just get used to it.

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