Sunday, May 1, 2005

Is email dead?


By James Booth

Email is dead; it just doesn't know it yet. As of now, email is in its death throws, and I can hear the rattle of its last breath.

Once the savior of the business world, email communication has slipped down the ladder below even traditional snail mail. What has signaled the death of this wonderful method of communication? One word. Spam. The inundation of spam and junk mail has turned what was at one time the chosen method of business contact into a communication pariah.

Efforts such as CAN-SPAM, Bayesian filters, blacklists and whitelists, all attempts to thin out the garbage, have in actuality killed the best method of communication since the invention of the telephone. No sooner does a new method of filtering and spam blocking come out, than the creators of all this garbage develop a method to lick those filters, inundating us with even more. And once you get tagged as a spammer, even if you're not, how do you correct the error and get "unflagged" so your communications can get through? Should it be easy? Or should it be as difficult as getting erroneous negative credit removed?

So how serious is the junk mail problem, really? Well, I'm just one person, and on a daily basis I get in the neighborhood of a thousand emails a day, 99.5 percent of which are junk and spam. Imagine if you were the public relations representative for a company like Microsoft, IBM, Nikon, Canon, or palmOne. Even using the strictest of junk mail filters, the majority of the mail that makes it to your Inbox is still going to be garbage.

The problem with email in its current state isn't the junk mail itself, but the filters designed to get rid of it. Of those thousands of emails a day that get filtered into the Junk box, how many are actually valid, legitimate communications that for one reason or another are labeled as junk? Herein lies the problem. In an effort to remove the annoyance of spam, we've relegated legitimate contact attempts to the junk bin, making email useless.

In a recent discussion of this problem with a PR associate, I was informed that people aren't even bothering to read their email anymore. Then what's the point in even having an email address if you aren't going to bother checking it?

I have seen and experienced firsthand the damage spam has done to email communication. Recently, multiple attempts to establish contact with one company went unanswered, until as a last-ditch effort I initiated contact from my personal email account. Finally, success in penetrating the inner circle of their spam filters.

In another recent incident, my contact attempt was labeled as junk and only caught when the recipient was cleaning out their Junk folder. Fortunately, my email caught their eye and we now have the relationship I was attempting to establish.